Let’s be honest, reporting back from the UN climate negotiations taking place since ten days in Bonn is challenging. At the lower level of the discussions, a lot of technical exchanges is ongoing on to follow up on the past decisions and prepare the ground for more ambitious political decisions. Not quite the stuff one can report on in an exciting fashion. At a higher level, this session is also expected to provide a plan on how to build on the outcomes of the Durban Conference last December and move towards a new agreement in 2015 but I’m not sure that I could write a third post on this discussion without repeating the previous two (here on substance and here with a lighter tone). So since the negotiations here are not moving forward, I will stop writing on the FCCC until they have decided to make some meaningful progress (desperate tentative of blackmailing from my side ;)…
While meeting with youth earlier this week, Christiana Figueres (the UNFCCC executive secretary) highlighted that the most important opportunities to promote climate action were actually located outside of the frame of these negotiations. While mentioning the role of national energy efficiency policies and of the Ozone Convention (another UN process dealing with the atmosphere), she also referred to the newly created “Climate and Clean Air Coalition”.
This new forum is to focus on “short-lived climate forcers” and more particularly on black carbon. Emissions of black carbon are released mainly by fields burning, diesel engines and inefficient domestic stoves. Black carbon both has a negative impact on the climate at the short term, but also has important regional health consequences. Both by the UNEP and the Arctic Council have published reports related to black carbon, pointing out for instance that tackling emissions of black carbon and methane could contribute to half of the effort required to mitigate climate change in the next few years (the other half requiring action on CO2). Considering both of climate and health factors, reducing emissions of black carbon comes at much lower costs (at least in the short run) compared to other mitigation policies. As the first intergovernmental forum working on this issue, the US, Canada, Sweden, Mexico, Bangladesh and Ghana established in February a “Climate and Clean Air Coalition” to foster voluntary international cooperation, and have since then been joined by 7 additional countries.
When asked about how much one can expect from this initiative, some UNFCCC delegates advice bluntly to consider who the countries behind this effort are… Canada and the United States being two of those (and notorious climate lagers), one can indeed reasonably question whether this initiative is just another smoke screen or if it might actually substantially contribute to mitigation policies. When I asked him about the role of Canada at the COP17, Kaveh Zahedi – UNEP’s climate change coordinator – answered that, while he understood the frustrations of civil society with Canada position at the UN climate talks, UNEP’s objective was to find other ways to get the Canadians do something about climate change. And since Ottawa seem more interested in black carbon than in CO2 emissions, then UNEP would support this cooperation.
To find out more, I tried to register as an observer to attend the April meeting of the coalition in Stockholm. The answer from the Swedish ministry was pretty direct: “participation by civil society is not foreseen at this meeting”. Right, I guess that this answers for the time being the question of how much trust one can have in this Climate and Clean Air Coalition.
To some extent, I guess the fact that the UNFCCC “chief” pointed earlier this week at other forums for climate action is already telling much of the level of additional action that one can expect as a result of the climate negotiations themselves in the short term. Beyond the opportunity for the US and Canada to obtain more positive press about actions on climate change (check the cute family picture), it remains to be seen how many new concrete projects emerge out of this initiative. Also, in any case, addressing short-lived climate forcers adequately would only delay severe climate change by a few more years unless ambitious action is also taking place in relation to CO2 emissions.
Alright… the secretariat of the climate talks just announced that a new plenary session is now scheduled tonight between 8 and 10pm. So let us close this parenthesis and return to the Bonn negotiations, desperately hoping that the outcome of this evening meeting will be worth sacrificing another social evening.
About the authorSébastien Duyck
Passionate environmental advocate, PhD student (Human Rights and Environmental Governance). Following particularly UNFCCC, UNEP and Rio+20 processes