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The end of the Third World

The tectonic plates of global politics shifted in Copenhagen last week, and it was tiny Tuvalu that exposed the rift. For more than a decade, developing countries have maintained an uneasy united front at climate conferences, one resolved to force the big polluters of the West to cut their emissions and to defend the innocence of developing countries.

The rift that was exposed last Wednesday has profound geopolitical significance. Third World solidarity — indeed, the idea of the Third World itself — dates from the Bandung conference in 1955, a meeting of Asian and African nations aimed at resisting colonialism and neo-colonialism.

At every climate conference, the G77  — or more usually G77 plus China — has been the developing country bloc that faced up to the big powers of the United States, Europe and Japan. But is has always been an awkward alliance, combining nations mired in poverty with those industrialising rapidly, and nations rich in oil with those dependent on imports.

Frequently, the G77 was represented by oil-exporting nations, such as Saudi Arabia, bent not on defending the interests of the South but on protecting oil revenues by sabotaging any agreement to cut emissions.

On Wednesday, Tuvalu finally broke the veneer of solidarity. Speaking for the most vulnerable countries — the small island states and the mainly African least-developed countries — Tuvalu called for the creation of a contact group to discuss a Copenhagen Protocol, which would require large developing country emitters to take on legally binding emission reductions.

The move was blocked on the floor of the plenary by China, India and Saudi Arabia, the developing nations that would be most affected.  But Tuvalu would not be cowed and, in a tactic that shocked the conference, moved that proceedings be suspended.

The intransigence of the big developing countries had come up against the desperation of the least-developed nations. The stridency of the vulnerable is new to international climate talks; they understand that Copenhagen really is the last chance to head off the unthinkable.

Morally, there is a world of difference between calls by the United States for China, India and the like to take on binding emission cuts and calls for the same from Tuvalu, the Maldives and Bangladesh. China is now caught in a pincer, but one of its own making, because with economic power comes responsibility. China was a significant player at Bandung, but in recent years it has begun to look more and more like a colonial power, especially in Africa with its huge investments in resources.

If Tuvalu, with the population of a small Australian suburb, is at the sharp point of the fracturing of one of the three blocs that defined post-war geo-politics, the man who has precipitated it is an unassuming Australian. Ian Fry has, for a decade, been Tuvalu’s lead negotiator. Previously a Greenpeace employee, he lives quietly in Queanbeyan when not travelling to climate conferences.

It was Fry who last Wednesday refused to bow to the Chinese juggernaut and called for the conference to be suspended. It was an act that required a deep knowledge of how these conferences work, a measure of courage and a steely determination not to let the moment pass. He put it very simply: “Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and our future rests on the outcome of this meeting.” It was an heroic act.

For 50 years, the Third World remained united in the face of a common threat, the influence of the United States and, to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union. But for least-developed countries a greater enemy has now emerged, the threat to their survival posed by global warming, and they are no longer willing to subsume their demand that all the world’s polluters curb their activities beneath the imperative of maintaining the appearance of G77 unity.

They know that the US and China are locked in a struggle in which one will not move without the other, a struggle that is an environmental version of the mutually assured destruction of the Cold War era.

If the Copenhagen conference has announced the end of the Third World, it has also exposed the unbridgeable divide within the First World. The US position, we can now see, was not an artifact of the Bush presidency and the ascendancy of the neo-cons in Washington, but is deeply embedded in the American political system.

The characterisation of global warming by conservatives as a left-wing scam is uniquely American (although it has been imported by those temporarily in charge of the Liberal Party in Australia). Indeed, even before Kyoto, American conservatives were just as likely to attack global warming as a European plot to achieve world governance. (In Australia, the earliest documents of the Lavoisier Group promote this bizarre notion.)

Never has the Atlantic appeared so wide. The weird conspiracy theories of the neo-cons and sceptics are nowhere to be heard in the Bella Centre, but the entire conference is being held hostage by them because of their influence in the United States’ Senate, the spectre present in every back-room here.

Every move made by US lead negotiator Todd Stern is conditioned by the numbers in the Senate, and its ability to block any treaty will be the ball chained to the leg of Barack Obama when he walks into the conference arena on Friday.

Everyone will swoon before the Obama magic, except for the hard-heads of the Chinese delegation. And they are the only ones who count if a breakthrough is to be had.

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  • 1
    jc123
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    What a truly stupid post. Anyone with a modicum of common sense watching the climate festival is more than aware that it is not Tuvala that is rupturing an agreement. There was never ever going to be an agreement as the big emitters were never going to reach a bargain.

    Crikey editors why do you allow Hamilton the opportunity to post delusional crap and ruin your site? Hamilton is an extremist and perhaps one of the most disliked people in the country.

    He never has anything worthwhile to say other than sermonizing, self-aggrandizing drivel.

    Tuvalu… Jeez Louise.

  • 2
    gaustin
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    hi JC123
    Stop asserting
    Hamilton is only guilty of a truthful history lesson
    Unless you can point to some factual error
    Otherwise seems to be a reasonable prediction

  • 3
    jc123
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m not asserting, Gaustin. The moralizing Hamilton is with the delusional assertion that some small island is running the Copey Climate Festival.

    Hamilton is better off sermonizing to kids, scaring them about tidal waves and trying to get them to dislike their dads.

    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2765351.htm

    When he gets into this sort of discussion he’s skulking around like a headless chook as analysis is his strongest side: self-aggrandizing sermonizing is or frankly writing strange and disturbing polemics such as this in trying to justify censorship.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/web-doesnt-belong-to-net-libertarians/story-0-1111118869227

  • 4
    Elan
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    It is an absolute delight to see a small nation-any small nation, stand up to the domination of the usual nations. As Hamilton has said, there is a pecking order system, where the smaller nations tacitly ‘know their place’.

    There should be a lot more of it in any sphere!!

    This DID occur, and frankly I care little who reports it. God forbid that ‘Crikey editors’ should restrict the site to reports from only those of whom members support!

    (Come to think of it, that would probably lead to what it has now…).

  • 5
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    JC123, I read both of the articles for which you posted links and I agree that the attitudes expressed there are appalling. The first one where he tries to turn children against their fathers is a disgrace. And then there is the second article where he writes with extreme disdain about freedom of expression. I am proud to be a supporter of Electronic Frontiers Australia.

    I think Crikey has managed to find someone who even makes Guy Rundle look respectable by comparison!

  • 6
    alexraf
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    This is the worst analysis I’ve ever read on Crikey - because it ignores a couple of FACTS like:

    1. tuvalu is not in the G77. pretty hard to split the G77 when the ‘splitter’ is not in the group.

    2. the third world remains united on the need for a second committment period of the KP. that includes all the G77 and AOSIS (including tuvalu) that’s why we saw the boycott of the negotiations yesterday (led by Africa and not all of G77).

    3. China oppossed the formation of a contact group on a new protocol under the LCA track last week - because tactically it feared this would collapse the two tracks of negotiations and remove the kyoto protocol. ian fry did not agree but it’s not like his proposed text would actually force china to take on emission targets like those under Kyoto so it’s not really fair to say the chinese jaggaurant was bearing down on him or that he was being particularly heroic - more like gaming the outcomes and figuring the rich were going to win in the end so might as well be at the top of the wave.

    4. China SUPPORTED the formation of a contact group the next day when tuvalu proposed it (with the condition that its mandate was focussed on actual amendments to the KP). It was the EU that crashed it.

    Expected a lot better from Clive Hamilton and thought Crikey could have kept this one in the blog section and off the front page.

  • 7
    Jim Reiher
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Dont we get some fascinating blogging. While those who don’t want to accept climate change keep ridiculing the messager, or find some fault in his research and facts, the FACT is that Tuvalu is sinking.

    I was at the World Parliament of Religions (hosted in Melbourne this year) last week. I sat through a session with a Tuvalu leader who explained their situation there. Without pulling up my notes, let me share with you the main key points that were overwhelming. I trust I am remembering them accurately.

    Tuvalu is made up of 10,000 people. 9 islands. Nothing higher than about 3 meters above sea level. The tides are so severe now that the thin and low lying islands are being destroyed. The underwater fresh water supplies are now salty for the first time in any one’s memory and history. Their sandy soil that grows their food is now salt affected from the extreme tidal movements, and they are importing processed foods for the first time. And importing health problems that goes with that. They use to be self-sufficient in food production, so even though poor, they were not going hungry. Now they have to buy imports of food. Their fish supplies have been reduced by multinational fishing groups that just come into their waters and take what they want. (They have no navy: their army is 9 soldiers).

    And none of them want to move, by the way. Australia has made no commitment to accept any of them anyway. (We are pathetic when it comes to refugees). New Zealand has offered to take 70 a year. Generous aren’t they - not! But none of them want to leave anyway. They fear that their culture will be lost and they don’t want to leave the land of their forefathers. They are hoping for help: to fight the worst effects of climate change.

    How about this: we stop playing our own version of politics and ridicule of people we don’t like (for some that is obviously Hamilton), and we start caring about the hurting: The most poor and under-resourced peoples of the world who are going to suffer the most from climate change.

  • 8
    Andrew
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Play the ball , not the man.

    As soon as a commentator resorts to ad-hominem, he loses credibility, even if anything else he/she may write may otherwise make sense.

    In most instances its those who are either ignorant of the science or/and do not care about the consequences of climate change who use this tactic.

  • 9
    jc123
    Posted Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Andrew:

    Hamilton has been abusing people and looking down his nose at them for years. I haven’t read one piece by him in Crikey where people- mostly left wingersincidentally- don’t blast him.

    He’s as popular in country as a dead skunk by a highway. His writing doesn’t deserve any respect and should only attract opprobrium.

    In a similar fashion to what he’s done, someone ought to write a letter to his own kids and tell them just how disliked and appalled people are by his strange self aggrandizing antics.

  • 10
    Jim Reiher
    Posted Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Some lessons in argument:
    - because you don’t like some of the things a person says, does not mean they are always wrong on other things
    - don’t attack the person, attack their arguments
    - attacking the person makes an audience reject not just you but also your arguments
    - don’t use “pen names” - it appears cowardly

  • 11
    Rohan
    Posted Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    JC123 - you’re obsessed.

    Drop the sentiment and find a real enemy.

  • 12
    alexraf
    Posted Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Jim, Andrew - don’t think I played the man and I’m certainly not a sceptic - waiting for clarification on the factual inaccuracies….

  • 13
    jc123
    Posted Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Rohan:

    I would suggest that you directed that comment to Hamilton, as he’s the one writing porn scripts and aksing kids to hate their dad.

  • 14
    Posted Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Good article. Ratty comments didn’t influence me.

  • 15
    jc123
    Posted Thursday, 17 December 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Hamilton tells us about gallant little Tuvalu, facing inundation as ocean levels rise. But in Copenhagen it rises up and leads developing nations in a walk out.
    Funny, but in other stories on this event I found no mention of Tuvalu.
    Hamilton does mention that leader of the Tuvalu delegation is Ian Fry, former Greenpeace employee now part time PhD student living in Queanbeyan.
    Just possibly a friend of Hamilton?

    Crikey editors, if this is true, Hamilton is just dishonest in not pointing this out. Get rid of him and never let him back here to ply is dishonesty.

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