1.5 to stay alive

One of the more contentious issues in Bonn was the debate over whether we could further investigate the pursuit of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees instead of 2, to better protect small island developing states from sea level rise. In their case – it’s a crisis that threatens the very existence of their homes.

Anna Collins blogged about how this was playing out in the negotiations Wednesday:

I was watching the chaos that erupted in the SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice). The talks ground to a halt over AOSIS putting forward the proposal for a technical paper on the science of scenarios for going above 1.5 degrees temperature rise. The paper would collate what is known and what is not known about what happens to our planet as we go above 1.5 degrees.

They want the UNFCCC to confront the reality of this in the paper, THEN make their decisions about action to tackle climate change.

However for some this reality would not be welcomed. The proposal was strongly blocked by many of the oil producing countries.

Swedish blogger, Erik Malm, went a bit further in explaining his view of the role of oil producing countries:

Once again, the climate negotiations find its greatest foe in oil. Even Venezuela diverts from their friends in the G77/Kina. But when over 80% of your GDP, is based on oil exports – oil really is thicker than blood. Several countries searched for support from Saudi Arabia until the very end.

You have heard the most vulnerable countries plea for your support, if you do not agree with their consensus will send you a very unfortunate signal to the millions of people who follow this process all around the world. We have a duty to them!“, said the negotiator from Barbados.

Immediately thereafter, Kuwait uttered support for the Saudi line.

Developing countries will need to transform and diversify their economies – who will assist them to make the switch from eg tourism to fisheries? Who will retrain their workforce?“, asked the delegate from Saudi Arabia.

They tried to resolve their internal differences through smaller consultations. However, these consultations proved to be futile and no progress was made. The OPEC countries would not compromise. With this, the SBI and SBSTA meetings are adjourned for now. The proposal of a technical paper on 1.5 degrees will surely be discussed further. When the parties meet again in Bonn, in August, it will most likely be on top of the agenda.

The session closed on Wednesday with no resolution. One can never clearly read the motives behind country interventions – except only to assume they’re working to advance their own strategic interests. On Thursday morning, SBSTA resumed and Venezuela offered compromise text, followed immediately by Saudi Arabia suggesting that the group would never get consensus on this issue and should move on. Knowing the Saudi’s would block gave Venezuela the chance to stand on high ground (ethically speaking, anyway) in support of AOSIS, without further threatening their own position as a major oil exporter.

The Chair ceded to Saudi Arabia’s request and the good guys (AOSIS, in my view) lost… or did they?

I thought the Seychellois ambassador Ronald Jumeau, did a great job summing up the effect of what went down at a 350.org press conference on Thursday. My favorite quote:

“One of the responses we’ve had on this issue is: the small island states can easily google. why don’t you google this information? Now, whoever made that may have though he or she was joking – but be careful what you ask for. We expect that after this… a lot of people out there… members of the public… the youth of the world… people withing the UNFCCC process… people outside… are going to say: What is this fuss about 1.5? And you can bet, they are going to google.”

See the whole press conference (organized by our friends at 350.org) in the UNFCCC video archive.