CONFERENCE OF POLLUTERS: Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at COP17 in Durban last year

The five heads of state of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa bloc are coming to Durban four months from next week. Given their recent performance, it is reasonable to expect another “1 percent” summit at the International Convention Centre (ICC) wreaking socio-economic and ecological havoc.

We’ve had bad experiences here: the 2001 World Conference Against Racism refused to grapple with reparations for slavery and colonialism or with apartheid-Israel’s racism against Palestinians; the 2002 launch of the African Union got off to a bad start with reliance on the neo-liberal New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad); and the 2003 World Economic Forum Africa meeting amplified governments’ supplication to multinational corporate interests.

A year ago at the ICC, Durban’s COP17 climate summit – better known as the “Conference of Polluters” – saw no new emissions cuts and an attempted revival of the non-solution called “carbon trading”, better known as the privatisation of the air.

“The Durban Platform was promising because of what it did not say,” bragged US State Department official Trevor Houser to the New York Times. “There is no mention of historic responsibility or per capita emissions… of economic development as the priority for developing countries… of a difference between developed and developing country action.”

The Durban platform squashed poor countries’ ability to defend against climate disaster. With South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the chair, the COP17 confirmed this century’s climate-related deaths of what will be more than 180 million Africans (according to Christian Aid). Already 400 000 people die each year from climate-related chaos due to catastrophes in agriculture, public health and “frankenstorms” like last month’s Sandy.

Degeneration of global governance is logical when Washington unites with the Brics countries, as was first demonstrated three years ago with the Copenhagen Accord. At that COP, Jacob Zuma, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, China’s Wen Jiabao and India’s Manmohan Singh joined Barack Obama to foil the Kyoto Protocol’s mandatory emissions cuts, thus confirming that at least 4º global warming will occur by 2100, nearly certainly inundating central Durban with sea water.

The negotiators were explicitly acting on behalf of their fossil fuel and extractive industries. The close ties between Pretoria politicians, London-based mining houses, BEE tycoons and sweetheart unions have since been exposed at Marikana.

The onset of fracking will expand the MEC relationship to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal’s Drakensberg. The 2012 Yale and Columbia University Environmental Performance Index showed that aside from Brazil, the other Brics states are decimating their – and the Earth’s – ecology at the most rapid rate of any bloc of countries, with Russia and South Africa near the bottom of world stewardship rankings.

The Brics Durban summit is expected to carve up Africa. The objectives: to support favoured corporations’ extraction strategies, to worsen retail-based de-industrialisation (Shoprite is already notorious in many African capitals), to revive failed projects such as Nepad, and to confirm the financing of both land-grabbing and the extension of neo-colonial infrastructure through a new “Brics Development Bank”. The latter is likely to be based in Midrand, where the Development Bank of Southern Africa already does so much damage following Washington’s script.

The question is whether, in exchange for the amplification of these destructive tendencies, African elites can leverage any greater power in the world economy via Brics.

With Pravin Gordhan’s regular critiques of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is certainly potential for Brics to “talk left” about the global-governance democracy deficit. But in the “walk right” vote for bank president last April, Pretoria’s choice was hardcore Washington ideologue Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria, while Brasilia chose the moderate economist Jose Antonio Ocampo and Moscow backed Jim Yong Kim.

This was a repeat of the prior year’s fiasco over the race for IMF managing director, won by a European (Christine Lagarde) because the Third World was divided and conquered.

A few months later, Brics treasuries sent $100 billion in new capital to the IMF, although South Africa’s contribution was only $2bn (R17.5bn), a huge sum for Gordhan to muster against trade union opposition.

Explaining the SA contribution – initially expected to be only one tenth as large – Gordhan told Moneyweb last year that it was on condition that the IMF became more “nasty” to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough.

Likewise, SA’s role in Africa has been nasty, as confirmed when Nepad was deemed “philosophically spot on” by lead US State Department Africa official Walter Kansteiner.

Is there no hope? After all, the greatest victory won by ordinary people in the last decade was the Treatment Action Campaign demand for access to Aids medicines, aided by India’s cheap generic versions of drugs. In turn this allows more than 1.5 million South Africans to get treatment and thus raise our collective life expectancy from 52 in 2004 to 60 today. But in recent months, Obama has put an intense squeeze on India to cut back on generic medicine R&D and production.

So are the Brics “anti-imperialist” – or instead, “sub-imperialist” – doing deputy-sheriff duty for global corporations, while controlling their own hinterlands?

The Brics countries’ eco-destructive, consumerist-centric, over-financialised, climate-frying maldevelopment works very well for corporate profits, but the model is generating crises for 99 percent of the people and for the planet. As a result, they warrant opposition from everyone concerned, including in a Durban civil society counter-summit next March 23-27, to plan the rebuilding of Brics from below.

l Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and authored Politics of Climate Justice, UKZN Press