Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now (formerly World
Development Movement) and former director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

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Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now (formerly World Development Movement) and former director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

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Ecuador rips up 16 toxic trade treaties

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President Correa continues to blast the interests of corporations and international finance, reports Nick Dearden.

Ecuador struck another blow against the power of big business last week, ripping up 16 trade deals with countries including the US and Britain. President Rafael Correa cited the notorious ‘corporate court’ system as the key reason for ending the deals.

Officially known as Investor State Dispute Settlement, these ‘corporate courts’ allow foreign investors to sue governments for taking action they believe to be unfair. Such courts have been used to challenge government’s attempts to prohibit smoking, raise minimum wages and renationalise parts of the health system. And they do so in secret, and without the right of the country concerned to appeal.

This blatantly undemocratic system was at the heart of the protests around TTIP, the US-EU trade deal, which was defeated last year following opposition from millions of European citizens and hundreds of local authorities.

President Correa of Ecuador has railed against the damage which international finance and trade has done to his country throughout his tenure. Early in his first term he set up a debt audit, which declared large portions of Ecuador’s debt illegitimate and saw his government wiping out billions of dollars of payments. With Correa’s term due to end this week, he seems determined to go out fighting.

Ecuador’s latest move is the result of a second commission, created in 2013, to look into the damage and benefits brought to Ecuador by trade and investment deals.

The commission found that so-called bilateral investment deals had failed in their central purpose of encouraging foreign investment into the country. In fact, most of Ecuador’s investment was from countries which don’t have such deals.

What the deals had achieved was to undermine Ecuador’s development, preventing the state from fulfilling its constitutional duty to regulate investment so that it works in the interest of Ecuador’s people. Again, this mirrors concerns around TTIP, namely that such deals inhibit governments regulating in the public interest, in case their actions are judged ‘unfair’ to big business.

Ecuador has faced 26 corporate court cases, and lost the majority, owing a whopping total of US $21 billion. One infamous case, brought by Chevron, has been used to try to evade justice on the part of the oil company.

When Texaco, Chevron’s predecessor company, dug for oil in Ecuador, it dumped billions of gallons of toxic water into the Amazon, poisoning the land of thousands of Amazon residents. It is one of the world’s biggest environmental disasters. But Chevron claimed the government’s attempt to seek compensation was unfair, and succeeded in getting a ‘corporate court’ – consisting as usual of three arbitrators – to overturn the ruling.

Last week, Correa signed decrees terminating 16 trade and investment deals, including with the US, Canada, China and Britain. Importantly, they also agreed to develop specific rules on how the state can regulate investment going forward – something every country needs to do if investment can work for the majority of its citizens.

The president of the audit commission Cecilia Olivet commented ‘Ecuador has taken a sound decision by terminating its investment protection agreements. The auditing process revealed that these treaties not only failed to attract additional investment or advance the country's development plan, they also diverted millions of dollars of government money to fighting costly lawsuits. We hope other governments will learn from Ecuador’s example.’

Ecuador follows the lead of South Africa and Indonesia who are also in the process of terminating corporate court deals. And last week the European Court of Justice ruled that while trade deals in general don’t require a lengthy process of ratification involving all European member states, the corporate court system does. This only adds to the headaches of the European Commission, desperately trying to reformulate its trade policy while maintaining some sort of corporate court body.

The EU is scrabbling round for an alternative which preserves the essence of the corporate court system, while introducing a more formal process – with transparency, appeals and ‘proper’ judges. But with even the Financial Times running editorials calling for corporate courts to be removed from trade deals, could this system finally be on its last legs?

This article was first published on Global Justice Now.

Don’t praise Trump for the defeat of TPP

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Anti TPP action in Dallas, US Backbone Campaign under a Creative Commons Licence

It’s good news that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is dead. In fact, the toxic deal – a pacific version of US-EU deal TTIP – was already dead before Trump took office. Popular pressure from trade unions and campaign groups in the US and elsewhere had killed it. Even free-trader Hillary Clinton turned against it during her campaign. So let’s not thank Trump for something which campaigners defeated.

It’s good news that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is dead. In fact, the toxic deal – a pacific version of US-EU deal TTIP – was already dead before Trump took office. Popular pressure from trade unions and campaign groups in the US and elsewhere had killed it. Even free-trader Hillary Clinton turned against it during her campaign. So let’s not thank Trump for something which campaigners defeated.

More than that, don’t assume Trump even remotely shares our vision on trade. On Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders said:

‘Now is the time to develop a new trade policy that helps working families, not just multinational corporations. If President Trump is serious about a new policy to help American workers, then I would be delighted to work with him.’

Trump isn’t serious about helping American workers, you only have to look at some of his other proposals – and his business history – to know that. But more worrying still, pitting the interests of American workers against everyone and everything thing else – workers elsewhere, climate change, public services – takes us in a very dangerous direction.

In the 1930s, many governments responded to the Great Depression by trying to shift their economic problems onto other counties. State’s pushed up tariffs and quotas, competitively devalued currencies, underwrote big business monopolies. These policies aren’t always and everywhere wrong, but in the 30s they were used to promote exports (and national employment) at the expense of imports (and foreign employment). Other governments retaliated in a downward spiral that eventually fuelled the Second world War.

Trump’s economic theory is not so different. He doesn’t object to the impact of TPP (or the North American Free Trade Agreement) on Mexican workers or farmers, or on the environment, or on inequality. He simply believes American power could be even more blatantly used to force more extreme concessions out of other countries. He believes that the state should work far more closely with big business, in some ways becoming indistinguishable from it.

Here’s what Trump’s new Commerce Secretary said at his Senate hearing last week:

‘I think [Trump] has done a wonderful job pre-conditioning the other countries with whom we're renegotiating that change is coming. The [Mexican] peso didn't go down 35 percent on accident; even the Canadian dollar has gotten somewhat weaker -- also not an accident.’

Trump is going to use state power to allow big business to even more ruthlessly exploit other countries – not to mention pillaging the environment. No wonder many corporate stocks – fossil fuels, pharmaceuticals, big finance – rose in the wake of his election. When you figure in the deregulation promised for many of those businesses, some of these corporations will do very well from Trump.

Trade in our world has always reflected geopolitical power rather than being ‘free’. We still ‘dump’ products, pushing subsidised goods onto developing country markets at below the cost of production, and wiping out industries and livelihoods in the process. We still promote huge monopolies and allow them to hide behind strict and extreme intellectual property rules. Trump isn’t against this. In fact he wants it to go further.

There are different ways of doing trade. Global Justice Now is working on an alternative trade policy which would allow those negatively affected by trade to take action against big business, which would prioritise human rights, the battle against climate change and the growth of public services, and which would help poorer countries to develop skills and technologies and to develop better labour standards.

Trump stands for the complete opposite of this. So let’s celebrate the death of TPP, but be ready to fight Trump’s trade policy just as hard as we’ve fought free trade policies for the last 30 years.

On 15 February the European Parliament will be voting on CETA, the toxic trade deal between Canada and the EU. If you're in the UK, tell your MEP to vote against it. Find out more at globaljustice.org.uk/stopCETA

Three more reasons why we need to stop CETA

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by Jacob V Joyce

Last week I joined activists and campaigners from across the globe who came to Canada for the World Social Forum. A major topic of discussion was the problems with TTIP-style free trade agreements and how we can stop them.

For us in Europe the big one is now CETA – the Canada-EU trade deal (formally the Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement) which could become law as early as next year. Unless we stop it.

RELATED: How the Dutch could derail CETA by Niels Jongerius

Our allies from across Europe and Canada gave some strong reasons for us to get more active on CETA.

1. CETA really is TTIP by the backdoor.

Many US corporations now operate in Canada because the two economies have been heavily integrated since the signing of another big trade deal 20 years ago, NAFTA. The infamous corporate court system – which allows foreign corporations to sue governments for pretty much anything they don’t like – is in CETA just as it’s in TTIP. It’s a somewhat reformed version in CETA, but not reformed enough to stop any of the cases we don’t like such as countries being sued for protecting the environment, introducing social protection in regulation etc.

So if CETA comes into effect, hundreds of US-based corporations will be able to sue the UK, through Canada, whether we have TTIP or not. And let’s not pretend Canadian multinationals haven’t aggressively used these corporate courts too!!

2. Canada’s law could threaten our own protections.

CETA has less resonance on the streets than TTIP – perhaps because Canada doesn’t seem as ‘big and bad’ as the US economy. But Canada has some terrible regulations which are a real threat to our laws. For instance, Canada is the third largest producer of genetically modified products in the world. They’ve just invented a genetically modified salmon, we were told, which wouldn’t require any special labelling. They also have terrible animal welfare conditions.

If British farmers have to compete against big agribusiness using these techniques, they either face going bust or we lower our own standards in a regulatory race to the bottom.

3. Our negotiators said ‘yes’ to tar sands so they could rip open Canadian local government.

It seems pretty clear now that the deal on CETA was made something like this: First, Europe would drop its objections to the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet – tar sands oil, which is turning vast swathes of Canada into a devastated moonscape. This has happened already. In return, European big business would get access to Canada’s huge local procurement market. Canada still has strong public services and protections which allows local authorities to use their purchasing power to support, for instance, local farmers and local businesses selling to schools and hospitals. But that could be over with CETA. No wonder dozens of local government bodies have asked the Canadian government to be exempted from the deal.

This links to another worry for Canadians, which could affect their small farmers. Canada uses government purchases of farm produce to give farmers price stability. Canadians fear this will be challenged by CETA as an unfair form of protection, throwing farmers even further onto the mercy of the ‘free’ market.

So what we see with CETA, it seems, is European and Canadian governments risking environmental and social protections in order to bat for their own big business interests on both sides of the Atlantic. As we always thought.

If our governments want to protect the interests of their corporations, it’s for the people of Europe and Canada to stand up for their own interests – and make sure this awful deal never becomes law.

A version of this blog was originally posted at Global Justice Now. Their CETA briefing can be found here.

The EU-Turkey summit exposes our inhumanity to refugees

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Fotomovimiento under a Creative Commons Licence

Europe is disintegrating before our eyes. Open and democratic societies cannot be built on fear and hatred, writes Nick Dearden.

The European Council met yesterday to discuss giving billions of euros to the brutal Turkish government to keep the thousands of refugees trying to get to Western Europe inside Turkey. At the same time they propose authorizing NATO to patrol the Mediterranean. Europe is now a grand version of the gated community, patrolled by private security guards, surrounded by a sea of misery.

But even if these measures were a good idea, they can’t work, because European states have effectively taken control of migration policy from the European Union (EU). Walls are being erected, borders secured and the most vulnerable people on earth are being shot with teargas.

More fundamentally, these measures are deeply unjust. What we call a ‘migrant crisis’, is actually a crisis of global injustice caused by war, poverty and inequality. A ‘migrant crisis’ assumes the crisis is caused by migrants. It misses out what those people are fleeing. That might be war in Syria; but the number one cause of global migration is escaping grinding poverty and hopelessness in any number of places.


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To demonise those making a rational choice on the part of themselves, their family and their community, obscures the truth. There comes a limit to how much a small elite can drain the rest of the world for their own profit. Migration simply brings those of us in Europe face to face with the reality of the world our leaders have constructed.

Our whole economy is based upon the cheap labour of those from outside Europe – whether they’re here as migrant workers in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) or whether they’re toiling away in sweatshops in Bangladesh, in plantations in Kenya or in service centres in India.

Our transnationals – the real ‘economic migrants’ – plunder the world of its resources. Our military infrastructure tears the world apart, creating decades of conflict. Our financial centres and tax havens channel that wealth to elites in the West. Our trade agreements lock in these arrangements, with fear of legal sanctions.

RELATED: 'Humanity adrift: Why refugees deserve better', New Internationalist magazine Migration issue, January 2016

Today, even migration itself provides an opportunity to profit. This week will see two protests. The first targets Yarl’s Wood detention centre, one of seven ‘immigration removal centres’ run by private companies for profit.

The UK is the world leader in privatizing detention, and detainees can now spend months or even years behind bars, having committed no crime, while someone makes a profit. Serco runs Yarl’s Wood on a $14.2 million per year contract, but G4S, Mitie and Geo Group are also in on the act, while City investors are raking in profits from private detention worldwide.

The second protest is aimed at the government-organized Security and Policing Exhibition which promises a ‘discreet environment’ for hundreds of companies, from Serco to BAE Systems, who want to ‘display products which would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment’.

Surveillance, border fences, patrols, and ‘crowd control’ all benefit these parasites on crises and suffering.

When we understand the extent to which our whole economic model is dependent on the rest of the world, we have a choice. First we can accept the injustice and pretend Europe is not disintegrating and our democracy is not being eroded. Second, we can cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, pull up the drawbridge and try to survive on our own.

Or, most reasonably, we can work to build a more hopeful an optimistic Europe, which welcomes migrants whether they are escaping poverty or fleeing war. We recognise that this is not simply our duty, but our first step in building a world based on different values than those of profit and greed.

Europe is not ‘full’. Lebanon, a country half the size of Wales, has taken in 2 million Syrian refugees. It is perfectly possible for Europe to take far more migrants than we currently see. In fact, our ageing population may depend upon it. Public services like the NHS would collapse without immigration. And even where migrant labour is undermining wage levels, the answer is to boost and properly enforce laws like the minimum wage, and encourage unionization.

It is impossible to stop immigration, but it is also undesirable and immoral. In a world where people who hold the right passports can pretty much travel and live wherever they want, it’s time to accept the racism inherent in the hypocrisy about immigration. A world in which people’s destiny is determined by where they are born is not a progressive vision.

We can no longer accept that free movement is only for people with privileged passports, but that it is both a universal right and the impetus we need to fight poverty and reduce inequality.

Plan B for Europe

EU flag

Bob under a Creative Commons Licence

A former Madrid slaughterhouse, renovated to show the awe-inspiring beauty of its architectural design, was last weekend’s venue for the rebuilding of Europe. Two weeks after former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told the European Union (EU) to ‘democratize or disintegrate’, Spain played host to this convergence of political parties and movements to thrash out what our ‘Plan B’ consists of.  

After Greece, Spain has been on the frontline of the battle against austerity, with mass unemployment, a crisis of housing evictions and draconian laws to prohibit protest. Political tensions are running high here, after a hard-fought election produced no workable coalition. Last week two puppeteers made headlines when they were jailed for ‘glorifying terrorism’, after unfurling a flag of armed independence group ETA in a satirical glove puppet show. After a public uproar, they’ve since been released.

But Spain has also produced the most vibrant and creative resistance to austerity – from the 15-M movement, which saw mass occupations of public space and inspired the various Occupy camps around the world, and decision-making by local neighbourhood assemblies, to a civil disobedience anti-eviction campaign which propelled an activist to the position of Mayor of Barcelona, and the formation of political party Podemos born of the movements.

The vibrancy of Spanish civil society was on display in Madrid, but most interest was reserved for former Syriza MPs Yanis Varoufakis, Zoe Konstantopoulou and Costas Lapavitsas. The European Left were eager to learn the lesson of how Greek sovereignty had been undermined by an unelected Troika. Konstantopoulou insisted that ‘no more people must be sacrificed for the Euro’. What’s more, she said, ‘when we get the chance of power again, we must be bound by this Plan B.’

After two days of discussion, a declaration was published – a framework for building a democratic Europe. Primary in this document is the need to overthrow the domination of debt. Spain’s movements are working on a debt audit to show which of the country’s debts are illegitimate and unpayable. ‘Not a penny should be paid until we know who we are paying and why.’

The 1,500 people attending (nearly 5,000 tried to register) needed no convincing that the EU had been captured by corporate interests. The campaign against trade deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has brought together those fighting for democracy in Europe and must be escalated. But it must go further, by building alternatives to food and energy systems controlled by big business, and by working with countries like Ecuador, which sent a government representative to the conference, to create global rules to bring corporations to heel.  

A common refrain was: ‘A Plan B will be for women or it will not be.’ Women have been affected particularly badly by austerity, and Europe has become more and more unequal. Panels were generally very well balanced, but we need to work on economic models which transform women into equal actors in a new Europe.  

Perhaps more than any other issue, the refugee ‘crisis’ was seen as one which would define the Europe of tomorrow. Speaker after speaker condemned the way the EU has ripped up international law in its treatment of refugees. There was condemnation of the steps underway to militarize the refugee ‘response’ – with NATO discussing Mediterranean patrols, and the brutal Turkish government being offered billions of euros to keep refugees out of Europe.

It is impossible to imagine a fairer Europe while we treat human beings from the rest of the world in this way. Europe’s economy is based on those from outside Europe – whether they toil within our borders or outside. Building higher walls, topped with more powerful weapons, represents the end of any possibility of a democratic Europe. It must be resisted at all costs. 

The framework ends by stating that the state of Europe is now so dire – a political project taking its final heavy steps – that our task is urgent. Civil disobedience is the only way to restore our democracy. We democratize or disintegrate.

On 23 June, Britain has the opportunity to help that disintegration. But what will we be left with? Exit from the EU on the basis of less immigration, fewer human rights and more financial power is unlikely to inspire activists across Europe. Rather, Plan B surely gives us an alternative to the choice of an unelected, corporate-controlled EU and a ‘little Englander’, human rights-free Britain. We can reject both – and join activists from across Europe in rebuilding a very different politics.

Another Europe might just be possible.

Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now.

This blog originally appeared on the Global Justice Now website and is reproduced with permission.

German judges issue damming indictment of TTIP

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If you’re worried about our sovereignty read the judges’ statement, writes Nick Dearden.

A group of German judges have just dealt a serious blow to the European Commission’s desperate TTIP ‘compromise’. They’ve issued a damning indictment on the proposal for an ‘international investment court’, which the EU Commission hoped would get them out of the deep mess that the TTIP negotiations are in.

To recap: millions of people across Europe have expressed outrage at the proposal in the US-EU trade deal – known as TTIP – for a corporate court system which allows foreign corporations to sue governments in secret arbitration panels. Formally known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), the corporate courts are already being used in countless other treaties to sue governments for anything from raising the minimum wage to protecting the environment.

So the EU trade commissioner Malmström came up with a ‘compromise’. Rather than operating an ad hoc corporate court system, she wants to set up a proper, permanent international court for investors, with proper judges and more transparency. The problem, of course, is that this simply lends a whiff of legitimacy to a system which puts the profits of corporations ahead of the rights of ordinary people.

But the #noTTIP campaigners feared the compromise might win a few important votes over in the European Parliament. Thank heavens, therefore, for the Germany’s biggest association of judges, who’ve injected some sense into the discussion. Their statement ‘rejects the proposal of the European Commission to establish an investment court’ saying ‘neither is there a legal basis nor the necessity’ for such a court.

A primary concern of the judges, and one shared by campaigners, is that ‘the creation of special courts for certain groups of litigants is the wrong way forward.’ Creating special legal privileges for big business and other investors (who can already afford more access to the law than ordinary people), is clearly the path to further inequality in our already deeply unequal society.

In fact, the judges question whether ‘the European Union has the competence to institute an investment court’ given that it would force member states to submit to that court, and therefore undermine their sovereignty. The court ‘would not only limit the legislative powers of the Union and the Member States; it would also alter the established court system within the Member States and the European Union.’

The judges are really clear on this point: the court would be ‘outside the institutional and judicial framework of the Union’ and would ‘deprive courts of Member States of their powers in relation to the interpretation and application of European Union law and the Court of its powers to reply.’ Anyone who says they are concerned about our sovereignty in the upcoming debate on the EU, surely has no choice but to oppose TTIP.

The judges also criticise the independence of ‘judges’ foreseen under the investor court proposal, saying ‘The pool of judges will be limited to the circle of persons already professionally predominantly engaged in international arbitration.’ In other words, the investment court merely becomes a permanent version of the ISDS system that is proving to be so unpopular. Which is exactly what campaigners are worried about.

This is a really important opinion. The judges show that the assumptions behind the corporate courts – that investors aren’t properly protected – lacks a ‘factual basis’. What’s more, even if it was the case, such concerns ‘should be taken up with the national legislature’.

Of course, this hasn’t happened. That’s because the whole point of TTIP is not to redress a genuine problem, but to rewrite the rules of the global economy in favour of big business.

A group of German judges just made that a little bit harder to do.

Venezuela’s food revolution

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Venezuelan campesinos. Bernardo Londoy under a Creative Commons Licence

The country has fought off big agribusiness and promoted agroecology, explains Nick Dearden.

Just days before the progressive National Assembly of Venezuela was dissolved, deputies passed a law which lays the foundation for a truly democratic food system. The country has not only banned genetically modified seeds, but set up democratic structures to ensure that seeds cannot be privatized and indigenous knowledge cannot be sold off to corporations. President Maduro signed the proposal into law before New Year, when a new anti-Maduro Assembly was sworn in.

Since Hugo Chavez’s day, Venezuela has always held out against agribusiness, including GM, famously halting 500,000 acres of Monsanto corn in 2004. In fact, Chavez’s formal strategy for the country talked about creating an ‘an eco-socialist model of production based on a harmonic relationship between humans and nature’. The aim, explicitly, was food sovereignty – democratic control of food production.

But that didn’t stop agribusiness trying to get a foothold in the country. A war is being waged by big agribusiness, which is trying to monopolise the very means of life – seeds – right across the world. In Africa, Latin America, Asia, even Europe. Agribusiness is lobbying for new stronger intellectual property laws so that they can more easily take traditional knowledge and resources and patent them, profiting from monopoly rights.

Agribusiness has been lobbying law-makers under the pretence that GM seeds will end food shortages the country is currently experiencing. But Venezuela’s strong peasant movement, part of the international peasant network La Via Campesina, fought back. They defeated a 2013 bill that would have provided a ‘back door’ to GM and initiating a two year democratic process, involving deputies, campaigners, peasants and indigenous groups, to forge a genuinely progressive seed law.

The result is the law passed before Christmas. It promotes agroecological production methods – that’s a form of farming that works with nature and avoids chemicals, pesticides and monocultures. It aims to make the county independent of international food markets. It outlaws the privatization of seeds and promotes instead small and medium scale farming and biodiversity. Article 8 ‘promotes, in a spirit of solidarity, the free exchange of seed and opposes the conversion of seed into intellectual or patented property or any other form of privatization’.

Venezuela’s step is hugely impressive, first because of the food shortages the country is undergoing – a result of deep dependency on the international market and destabilization efforts coming from inside and outside the country. One commentator points out ‘Venezuelans are not being fooled by promises of a quick fix to increase food production.’ Food sovereignty can produce far more than more intensive methods of farming, especially over the long-term.

But second it is impressive because it extends decision making deep down into Venezuelan society. Ordinary citizens have an ongoing role to play in regulating seeds. In an attempt to decentralize power, a Popular Council has been established, which will join officials and politicians in setting long term food policy. Ultimately Venezuela realizes, the only way to make the vision of food sovereignty a reality, is economic democracy.

To all those countries fighting off agribusiness, Venezuela has lit a beacon of hope.

Nick Dearden is Director of Global Justice Now.

Will Paris promises lead to catastrophic warming?

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'Kick Big Polluters out of COP21,' action at Paris climate talks. by Young FoEE

The ‘high ambition coalition’ is really about undermining developing world groups, argues Nick Dearden.

Interpreting text at the UN climate summit is a work of art. Every painfully constructed phrase contains layers of power politics which even experts find difficult to assess. Behind positive words, is a not so positive truth.

This is well demonstrated by the United States and friends as we wind up the second week of COP21. Rich countries are trying to make it appear that they desperately want to halt climate change, while their actions prove they want nothing of the sort.

In recent weeks the US administration has talked of limiting global warming to a 1.5 degree rise. This is more ambitious than the 2 degree cap often heralded up till now. It sounds welcome. But unfortunately it comes with a pile of baggage which is anything but.

First, the promises of all countries for limiting emissions have already been submitted, and they put us on the path to a catastrophic degree of warming which is nearer 3 degrees. Worse, even those promises will be completely non-binding if the US gets its way.

And now the 'high ambition coalition' has been brought together by some pretty unambitious countries, which suggests that this is really about undermining the developing world groups like the G77, and gutting a new climate deal of principles of equity which have been accepted for 20 years.

Over and over again at this summit, the US has tried to say ‘we’re all equal now’ to undermine the distinction between rich industrialized countries who have the lead responsibility for climate change, and everyone else. This means the US would be able to say ‘yes we want less than 1.5C global warming, but we’re one country, what can we do?’ We also know that the US does not want to set legally binding targets and wants to dump its pollution on other countries through the notion of ‘net’ reduction.

Of course global warming needs to be capped below 1.5C. That recognition is welcome. But that can’t be achieved through pushing some countries into never-ending poverty. The principle of equity must not be abandoned at COP21. The only group consistently saying this is the G77. No wonder the rich world want to undermine it. We shouldn’t be fooled by the talk of 1.5 degrees. The purpose is to make it look like the US and allies are doing all they can, while those pesky developing countries are spoiling things for everyone.

Neither is the US alone. The EU has been doing a fair bit of its own lobbying to make sure, for instance, that trade agreements get no mention at all in the climate text. It’s obvious to all that new trade agreements like TTIP – the US-EU trade deal – are a disaster for climate change, given they support corporate interests above environmental protection. But let’s just pretend we didn’t notice.

Our job now is to be completely clear. The US and rich countries must not be allowed to shift the responsibility for halting climate change onto developing countries. They must be held to account for deep, legally binding emissions cuts, serious financing of alternative development, and a restructuring of the global economic model. And we must say it in clear language that cannot be mistaken.

In the likely event that they fail us, the movements we have built in Paris will push forward, towards a people’s climate solution.

Nick Dearden is Director of Global Justice Now.

The UN sustainable development goals miss the point

Sustainabile development goals

Reedz Malik under a Creative Commons Licence

Not many people enjoy the existence of poverty. Some think it’s inevitable, others that tackling it is politically impossible. But for those with ambition, an end to poverty is a worthy enough goal. Naturally, the self-congratulation will be in full flow this weekend, as celebrities and world leaders gather in New York to launch their latest effort to do just that, in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But something will be missing in between the speeches and performances by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé, Bill Gates and Meryl Streep. That thing is power. Because unless you understand that the poverty of some flows from the wealth and power of others, efforts to fight poverty will not truly work.

The SDGs consist of 17 objectives which aim to build a better planet – from eradicating hunger to building more sustainable cities. Each objective contains a number of targets which cover everything from having better public transport to helping artisanal fisherfolk get better access to markets.

The goals do represent the many dimensions of poverty – it isn’t simply about a certain number of dollars a day. While some targets are limited or problematic (‘preventing trade restrictions in agriculture’ could cover a multitude of sins) others are very good (‘encouraging local involvement in water management’ and ‘improving the incomes of small farmers’).

The real problem is that this wish-list comes with no historical background of how we got here, and no political strategy for how we get out. As such, it relies on a mixture of more market and more technically competent governments. There’s no sign that the economic model itself is broken – just that it needs some tuning.

Take one obvious gap: transnational corporations. They aren’t mentioned in the SDGs, yet the power of corporations is fundamental to the staggering levels of inequality which afflict the world, and are at the centre of an economic model quite prepared to burn the planet in its drive for ever more profit. It is impossible to realize the targets of the SDGs without tackling corporate power.

Nor is there any acknowledgment of colonial history, of slavery, of racism, of desperately unfair terms of trade, of structural adjustment policies which flushed dozens of countries’ economies down the drain only 30 years ago. Far from critiquing the control of the market, the SDGs exhort world leaders to ‘remove market distortions’ and ‘ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets’.

The SDGs’ answer to ‘hunger’ is growing more food – despite the fact that we have more than enough food in the world to feed everyone. Technology plays a key role in the targets – for instance in the eradication of epidemics of HIV and malaria – but with no sign of how governments will improve the flow of knowledge around the world without breaking the ever more ferocious intellectual property regime that allows corporate giants to monopolize that knowledge. More foreign investment is encouraged, but without a framework for controlling that investment, how is it supposed to benefit the majority?

In short, power doesn’t exist in the SDGs. The chapter on inequality nowhere mentions that the problem of poverty is inseparable from the problem of super-wealth; that exploitation and the monopolization of resources by the few is the cause of poverty.

Of course, this lack of analysis isn’t accidental. In the world of fighting poverty, of ‘development’, corporations and the super-rich are no longer problems, but partners. How on earth will the SDGs be financed, especially since a global tax body has already been vetoed by rich countries 3 months ago? By big business, of course. With a captured public sector unable to fund the SDG promises, big business will happily come in, with state backing, to run healthcare and education, communications and transport, food and water. The market is the answer.

Perhaps it’s unfeasible to think that the UN could advocate such seemingly radical proposals as democratic control of the world’s resources? Actually, that doubt shows how far backwards we’ve gone. Because in the mid-1970s the UN adopted a policy which, while less detailed (mercifully, it fits on a few pages), laid out a far better analysis of the world’s problems, with a clearer set of solutions for moving forward.

It seems incredible now that the New International Economic Order (NIEO) was really UN policy, but it passed the General Assembly in May 1974 and was regarded as much too moderate by many campaigners of the time. The NIEO declared that ‘the remaining vestiges of alien and colonial domination, foreign occupation, racial discrimination, apartheid and neo-colonialism in all its forms continue to be among the greatest obstacles to… full emancipation and progress’. In an era when few people knew what a transnational corporation was, its recommendations included the ‘regulation and supervision of the activities of transnational corporations’, as well as radical reform of the global trade regime.

The world has changed and the NIEO is not a blueprint for a perfect planet. But it highlights the poverty of ‘development’ thinking, the pinnacle of which is represented by the SDGs. The answer to world poverty can’t be found among the development professional and celebrities in New York this weekend. Rather it will be found among the many thousands of activists, community organizations and social movements who are really confronting power in the world. Let’s join them.

Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now, on whose website this post first appeared.

Greece for sale

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Privatization of Greece's port of Piraeus is moving forward. Nikolaos Diakidis under a Creative Commons Licence

The selling off of the country’s valuable assets is a blow to democracy, argues Nick Dearden.

I've just had a look at the latest privatization plan for Greece. It's been issued by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund – the vehicle supervised by the European institutions, which has been tasked with selling off an eye-watering $55 billion of Greece's ‘valuable assets’.

The fund was a real sticking point because the European institutions wanted to move it to Luxembourg, where they could keep a better eye on it. Anyhow, it's still in Athens, and this document, dated 30 July, details the goodies on sale to international investors who fancy buying up some of the country.

We've attached it to this blog to give a flavour of what’s up for grabs at the moment. Fourteen regional airports, flying into top tourist hubs, have already gone to a German company; but don’t panic, because stock in Athens airport is still on the table, as well as Athens' old airport, which is up for a 99-year lease for redevelopment as a tourism and business centre.

Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports are up for sale – the former case has caused the chief executive to resign and industrial action has begun. A gas transmission system looks likely to be sold to the government of Azerbaijan but there’s still a power and electricity company, the postal service, a transport utility which allows trains and buses to run, the country’s main telecommunications company, a 648-kilometre motorway, and a significant holding in the leading oil refinery, which covers approximately two-thirds of the country’s refining capacity.

Holdings in Thessaloniki and Athens water are both on sale – though public protest has ensured that 50% plus 1 share remains in state hands. Nonetheless, the sale will mean that market logic will dictate the future of these water and sewerage monopolies. Finally, there are pockets of land, including tourist and sports developments, throughout Greece.

A second document, also linked, details the short-term work programme of various government ministers, detailing actions they must take in order to add value to these assets. This includes introducing toll booths on roads to licensing casino rights to declaring sites of archaeological interest. The document begs the question: why government ministers are even needed? It would surely be easier to cut them out of the equation altogether and let European Union (EU) institutions directly administer the country.

Why does this matter? First, because it makes no sense to sell off valuable assets in the middle of Europe’s worst depression in 70 years. Those industries could generate revenues to help the Greek government rebuild the economy. In fact, the vast majority of the funds raised will go back to the creditors in debt repayments, and to the recapitalization of Greek banks.

So the privatizations aren’t to do with helping Greece. The beneficiaries are corporations from around the world, though eyebrows are particularly being raised at the number of European companies – from German airport operators and phone companies to French railways – which are getting their hands on Greece’s economy. Not to mention the European investment banks and legal firms that are making a fast buck along the way. The self-interest of European governments in forcing these policies on Greece leaves a particularly unpleasant flavour in the mouth.

Most important is the inequality this will entrench in Greek society for decades to come. Of course, the fact that the state currently holds these assets is no guarantee of democracy. Clientelism is rife in Greece. But the answer is transparency and democracy, just as German citizens are currently trying to take back energy companies into collective ownership in their own country because they see this as a prerequisite for fair pricing and supporting renewable energy.

What won’t help is flogging off monopolies to private corporations that have no interest in Greece’s people. Workers will be sacked and their conditions made worse, while the elite of Europe profits. Greece’s government will have lost the ability to make its society function in the interests of ordinary people.

But then, I suspect that’s the point.

A version of this blog was originally posted at Global Justice Now.

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