Negotiators in Doha, Qatar just finished their second week of negotiations of the UN Climate Summit, have just barely managed to extend the current Kyoto agreements in an extra day of overtime, which would otherwise expire at the end of this month. This sets the stage for negotiations on a new treaty in 2015 which would take effect in 2020. Doha was intended to deal with simple “housekeeping” matters in the lead-up to these new talks, but when negoitations began to break down earlier this week, these questions turned out to be anything but simple.

As the Philippines grapples with the damages caused by Thyphoon Bopha, the issue of “financial compensation” for those regions which suffer most has forced its way onto the agenda, in spite of the efforts of many wealthier nations. The “Green Climate Fund”, which emerged from the Copenhagen summit, hopes to reach $100/billion a year by 2020, would aid nations afflicted by severe weather along with helping them transition to low-carbon economies. Unfortunately, the fund is already running empty. Very little has been pledged by wealthier nations, and none of that is new funding or currently available. Other conflicts have arisen over issues like the refusal of the EU and US to face concerns about International Property laws preventing poorer nations from accessing green technologies.

Negotiations were overshadowed by a growing body of evidence that climate change is setting in faster than even the “worst-case scenarios” put forward a few years ago imagined it could. Estimates are being revised – on our current path, we’re headed for a 3-5 degree increase in average global temperatures, a level considered mildly apocalyptic. This year alone witnessed an incredible Arctic ice melt, especially in Greenland, a record-setting drought in North America and then “Superstorm Sandy” which hit New York City with $50-100 billion in damages. To top it all off, figures just released showed that global emissions had risen again last year.

At this point, even if a new, Kyoto-style agreement is reached in 2015, it won’t be implemented until 2020. To put that in perspective, many scientists fear we’ll see a full melt of Arctic summer ice as early as 2014 or 2015.

Why such slow progress when the fate of the world literally hangs in the balance?

At their core, these agreements ask states to voluntarily curb their industrial economies. That flies in the face of every other goal and priority these bureaucrats have, especially for wealthier nations like the US, UK and increasingly, India and China. These economies are the (financial) lifeblood of governments and their relative scale says everything about where a nation stands among others, including which states hold power over the rest. These negotiations will play an important role in deciding where the manufacturing powerhouses of the 21st century are located, and that’s just too tempting a prize.

These people aren’t stupid, they understand that change is coming. The challenge, for these delegates, is to manage it in a way which leaves them in control, or ideally, grants them even more. From ’emissions trading’ to the refusal to speak about Intellectual Property, the priorities are clear – they must be able to profit from any “solutions” presented. Ruling the world is the goal here, and saving it a distant second.

The vast majority of this planet’s people, in rich nations or poor, are not included in decisions about industry or development, whether they involve the climate or not. Despite the throngs of activists, we still don’t have a real seat at these tables, locally or globally. Only the governments of some of the world’s poorest nations showed any leadership over the past two weeks, or any real regard for the billions of people who stand to be affected. Those of us in the wealthy and “democratic” West, were “represented” once again by a those who preferred to bicker, dither and whine.

The people of earth need a “Plan B”. If another agreement isn’t reached soon, or if it is and fails to slow the rising tides, we’re going to need an option which doesn’t require a consensus decisions from all the world’s most obstinate bureaucrats. That may mean working together to voluntarily reduce our own emissions or, like those in Wet’suwet’en and Texas, putting our bodies on the line to halt new petrochemical infrastructure. Either way, we’re going to need to get organized in ways which have so far eluded our “leaders”, on a scale which has never been seen before. I won’t pretend that’s an easy or simple task, but unlike those in power, we have nothing to gain by failing.

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