The 18th Annual Circus of Global Climate Politics, COP 18, is almost upon us, and it is set to be…
The 18th Annual Circus of Global Climate Politics, COP 18, is almost upon us, and it is set to be filled with more than its usual dose of fossil-fuelled developed countries, some more than others, trying to squirm-out-of, ignore, distort or dilute the principles which were supposed to bring them together under the UNFCCC – those of equity and common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) among others. As the COP clock somewhat ominously counts down the days until the usual horde of negotiators, fossil-fuel industry representatives, activists, journalists and others descend upon oil- and gas-rich Qatar, it is worth surveying the on-going battle for the “heart and soul” of climate finance, for after all, climate negotiations are unfortunately yet to refute the time old saying that money makes the world go round.
As we prepare to leave the Fast Start Finance period of $30 billion in additional climate finance from 2010-2012 behind (despite the fact that the promises behind it have arguably not been met) we are entering a new rather undefined era of climate finance. The agreed goal ahead of us is $100 billion per year by 2020 – a number which seems to have been picked because it is round, sexy-sounding and in the distant future, thus allowing for inaction in the present, rather than because it matches the needs of countries predicted to be affected by climate change. For instance, $100-$400 billion is the estimated range of climate adaptation needs for developing countries alone, a number which does not even include mitigation considerations – adaptation and mitigation costs have been estimated to be jointly as high as $1.5 trillion per year.
The inadequacy of the 2020 goal aside, there remains a large gap between where we are now, how we get to that goal, and what we do in-between as commitments in that period are yet to be written in UNFCCC stone. In response the Climate Action Network and Christian Aid, among others, are calling for a doubling of the fast start financing levels as well as a commitment to the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund. News from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), however, is a rather mixed bag.
On one hand, the GCF has found its home in South Korea, and will shortly be granted its own legal personality, thus ensuring its independence from the likes of the World Bank – an advancement which should put many minds at ease. On many other fronts the news is more disconcerting. Firstly, the fund has not yet pulled together the money it needs simply for administration (which weighs in at a far from negligible $7 Million until the end of 2013). This is a worrying sign, given the GCF’s much more ambitious financial mobilization goals.
Secondly, far from being a model of transparency and accountability, thus far the Green Climate Fund Board has operated in a much more closed manner than other UN predecessor funds such as the Adaptation Fund. Although these might be teething issues, the proceedings of the meetings are not being readily published, and observer participation is being neglected. As some civil society observers report, in the absence of a decision on disclosure, instead of an assumption of openness the co-chairs of the GCF Board are operating on an assumption of exclusion and confidentiality.
Compounding the above worries is the battle around the privatization of the GCF and the role of the private sector. Within this space there exist two major competing visions of the GCF. The first vision favoured by most developing countries sees the GCF as housed firmly under the COP, ensuring that it draws mostly on public funds from developed countries, thus fulfilling the principles of equity and CBDR by ensuring the transfer of funds from historic emitters in the developed world to those least responsible who are set to be affected by climate change. The competing vision is favoured, for soon to be obvious reasons, by developed countries such as the US and UK. It aims for a GCF more divorced from the UNFCCC and its principles and sees public finance as playing a limited role in order to leverage more private financing. Part of what the privatisation of the fund allows for is for developed countries to weasel their way out of responsibilities under the principles of equity and CBDR by allowing private finance to fill the void of their unfulfilled promises.
While it would be foolish to bar the private sector from involvement in climate finance, as Kathy Sierra (formerly of the World Bank) points out, this should not interfere with the responsibilities that developed countries have to developing countries under the UNFCCC, responsibilities, which are arguably why the GCF was set up to allow for the fulfilment of in the first place. Private sector financing can be leveraged through other channels, but the GCF was arguably intended for another purpose, to fulfil international climate justice. Concerns for which are seemingly being overridden by other interests, which is a far from an unusual occurrence within the COPs. Indeed, this particular battle is reflective of a larger negotiated struggle to divorce the global climate regime from the principles of equity and CBDR that underpin the ideals of climate justice enshrined in the UNFCCC framework, as is reflected by the battle led by India for the inclusion of ‘equity’ in the Durban Platform, and the numerous attempts, most notably, by the US, to break down the firewall between developing and developed countries with regards to mitigation obligations, as defined by CBDR.
In response, as the Times of India reports, an unusual coalition called the ‘Like Minded Developing Countries on Climate Change’ is emerging, consisting of China, India, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Argentina and about three dozen other developing countries. Their stated aim is to fight for equity and CBDR’s central role in climate negotiations. As the above indicates, the Green Climate Fund will be one of many places where their work will be cut out for them, and hopefully others will help fight to preserve a more noble and equitable development of the GCF.
The potentially worrying involvement of the private sector in the GCF does not end there, however. Many from developed countries are pushing for direct and indirect access to the GCF for private sector companies. According to Janet Redman of the Institute for Policy Studies, if such a proposal goes ahead “Shell and Exxon could get access to [the fund to] build a massive wind farm in Mexico that powers Walmart”. This is a worrying trend for developing countries who may have wanted to use the fund to bolster national attempts to respond to climate change. Whether that problem will be acquiesced by the ‘no objections’ principle set to be enshrined in the GCF, which allows countries to halt projects if they are seen to be contrary to their national interests, depends on how such a principle is defined going into the future, an important point of concern. What is considerably more worrying is revealed if we consider what the struggle for the nature of the GCF could mean for adaptation funding.
In line with the privatization of the fund some are calling for the fund to be structured and operated similarly to the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) under the World Bank. This has potentially dismal results for the supposed balance of the GCF between adaptation and mitigation interests, for if we look to the CIF we can see that from 2006-2011 only 2.4% of its funds went to medium or small sized companies, only some of which operate in the adaptation sphere. The majority of the remainder went to large scale mitigation projects, which, although important, does not do much to promote climate resilient development and thus fulfil the adaptation side of the equation.
Perhaps in order to protest the GCF following in the CIF’s large-scale mitigation footsteps one might appeal to the governing instrument of the GCF which states that the GCF should be balanced between needs for mitigation and adaptation. However, just what would qualify as a ‘balance’ is difficult to tell, as the term is ambiguous – an ambiguity which will most likely be hotly contested, as most ambiguities are within UN spaces. If past climate finance is anything to go by the balance is certainly not an equal one, with just 15% of overall climate financing going to adaptation in the past according to ClimateFundsUpdate.org. In relation to this backdrop would balance entail continuing this ratio, or would it mean a 50-50 share, or alternatively would balance entail redressing the past unequal ratio between adaptation and mitigation funding? How do we define balance?
If the private sector is allowed to take the helm of the GCF, out from under the wing of the COP, as some are proposing, I fear that the definition of balance will not be defined through appeal to moral principles and the weighing of the interests of both future and current generations, but rather through the interests of private companies who dictate the agenda according to what serves their interests. And adaptation, for a number of reasons, just is not sexy or very profitable for private interests. Indeed, if we look to a report by the Climate Policy Initiative we see that just 5% of private climate finance goes to adaptation. Furthermore, if the GCF becomes a mitigation-heavy fund, we are in danger of it merely becoming a vehicle through which much of the developed world farms out their responsibility to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to the developing world, while not addressing the current and potential damages and harm caused by the emissions that they have emitted and for the large part continue to emit.
Of course it is clear, as the UNEP Emissions Gap Report illustrates, that as things stand we are failing rather dismally on the mitigation side, such that our current pledges, even if they are fulfilled, will set us on a track of 2.5 – 5 ̊C warming by 2100. Thus mitigation is of course important and against this backdrop we have responsibilities to future (and current) generations to develop mitigation. But against these obligations, we must not forget the obligations to those being affected by climate harms now and in the near future. According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed up by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 and the economic cost to rocket to $600 billion. For those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change (and sadly most often least responsible for causing the harms) adaptation is a priority whether our international political regime recognises it or not.
In sum, the battle for the heart and soul of the Green Climate Fund will most likely be a contested one as the competing visions outlined above play out against each other. As things stand, Omar El-Arini from Egypt has been one of the sole GCF board figures fighting for what I have outlined as the more noble vision for the future of the Green Climate Fund. Let us hope, however, that more join him on the frontlines of that battle, for we can be sure that the support for the competing arguably less noble vision is substantial.
For too long we have allowed corporate power and the interests of a global elite to dictate the direction of climate negotiations and to set the very boundaries of what is possible for us to achieve in response to the burning issues of climate change. It will be a sad day indeed if we allow them to dictate the future of climate finance and, in doing so, overlook both the responsibilities of those historically responsible for climate change, as well as the real and violent impacts that climate change is having and is set to have upon the most vulnerable people across the globe. Let us hope that this year the air-conditioned halls of yet another COP will not allow us to forget about those for whom climate change is not a matter of mere political negotiation, financial figures and profits, but for whom the effects of climate change shape their ability to enjoy basic human rights, to survive and to lead a decent human life.
 From a meeting with Janet Redman organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation in Washington DC.
Image Credit: Friends of the Earth International.
The 18th Annual Circus of Global Climate Politics, COP 18, is almost upon us, and it is set to be…Read post →
As the first month of the year passed by in a flash and the New Year hype came to an end, many new year’s resolutions that were made with all the best intentions begin to seem less likely and some simply fade to the back of our minds in the face of the reality of the year ahead, as other priorities seem to become more urgent and find their way ahead of those seemingly noble resolutions. Similarly in South Africa and across the globe after the flurry of green resolutions, accords and policies that were put in place before, during and after COP 17, faced with the reality of a hard economic year, filled with recession in many places, widespread poverty in others and both elsewhere, many may begin to see the green accords and the green economy, like many new year’s resolutions, as a noble aspiration but one that is disposable during tough times.
Indeed, libertarians (of the more self-serving strain) are continuing to decry environmental standards and policies for their draconian and liberty-restricting nature (and sometimes in the most illogical ways). However, contrary to many unfounded and contradictory pseudo-libertarian claims that are being thrown around, we must not forget that no sensible or fair libertarian policy should allow us to infringe on the liberty of others, or harm others through allowing us to degrade the environment on which they depend. Our liberty is (or should be) restricted by the liberty of others. As such we must not lose sight that the green economy is not a disposable luxury we can return to at a later stage. If the green economy is not viable, then the economy itself is not viable, in which case, in the words of Andrew Simms, “bye-bye us”. As Faith Briol the chief economist of the International Energy Agency points out, “delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent to compensate for the increased emissions.” Of course, even though climate change will affect everyone, the additional $4.30 won’t be spread out equally across the globe nor across the generational divide and will most likely affect places like Niger, Somalia and Small Island States the most, even more than they currently are. As such civil society must use whatever resolutions were passed, as weak as they may be, to push for the development of a greener economy, and more than that push for better policies in the future.
So what can we do? My friend and fellow tracker from Pakistan, Farrukh Zaman lays out some of the possibilities for the international climate change regime here, which is well worth a read. Manish Bapna and Vinod Thomas also give us some great ideas which are good for both the economy and the environment. In fact even our very own President Zuma was (somewhat surprisingly) part of the “High Level Panel On Sustainability” under Ban Ki-Moon who just released their rather impressively titled “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing” containing 56 recommendation to put sustainable development into practice and mainstream it into economic policy as quickly as possible. Indeed there is much to do on both the international and national scene that is good for both the environment and economy. In South Africa, however, it seems that the environment and the economy will resume their politically perceived position at loggerheads with each other, despite some of our most marvellous environmental rhetoric during COP 17. Already Eskom is warning of rolling power blackouts across the country, and our major ‘solutions’ to such a problem seem not to be coming from renewables but mostly from nuclear and the development of new highly controversial mega coal power plants, which are from what the climate requires despite the reassurances of the South African Environmental Minister that these aren’t the same coal plants as the 1950’s for they will be using technologies such as carbon capture and storage (which is problematic in its own right, although not according to COP 17, which passed it as a legitimate form of clean development under the clean development mechanism).
In South Africa, as in many places, we are faced with an apparent energy dilemma: we have an expanding industrial economy, which we are fuelling with fossils, but green resolutions that are asking us to do otherwise. This is indeed a tricky dilemma as Faranaaz Parker’s balanced article on renewables suggests. This, however, is the time that we in South Africa need to see past this somewhat false dilemma. Yes, we cannot continue to fuel the current industrial economy without mega energy projects, but what are the products of our current economy such that it is so valuable? Top-down, unequal industrial development that benefits a few often at the expense of many. Is this really the economic product that we want? For the majority of South Africans (except for the symbolic 1%), I doubt it. We need to redefine our development paradigm to include more localised bottom-up development, which includes ecological considerations and health as important development indicators, for which renewable energies and less resource intensive development is more suited. We as a nation need to begin to question and rethink the development paradigm that has allowed us to become one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters and resource intense economies in the world, but still allows for such great poverty and inequality, represented by growing urban sprawl with elite pockets of wealth surrounded by burgeoning squatter camps, coupled with environmentally insensitive and often degrading development. Indeed, the industrial development paradigm that we currently seem hell-bent on pursuing is failing throughout the Western world, and many of the reasons why it did originally work anyway was because of the West’s exploitation and exportation of negative impacts beyond their own borders. We don’t have access to the quite same (perverse) privilege so why emulate something that is not “sustainable” – however you choose to interpret this famously ambiguous term?
It is important for Africa to rethink its development trajectory, and indeed green policies, such as South Africa’s proposed carbon tax, as well as internationally binding treaties, are potentially important in providing the framework within which to shift that trajectory. We must, however, ensure that the dialogue and action is not always focused on the national and international level and that we do not find ourselves in futile wait for action from above, when nothing is happening on the ground. After all there is no small amount of hypocrisy and irony in decrying the inability of government to solve climate change from the driver’s seat of an SUV, on your way back home from a job exploiting the environment to enjoy a steak dinner. Although the (somewhat disappointing) UNFCCC regime is important, as are national policies, it is also important to remember that it is local, domestic and individual actions that make up the global climate. After all “our complete world economy is built upon millions of small private acts of psychological surrender, the willingness of people to acquiesce in playing their assigned parts as cogs in the great [and in our case often destructive] social machine” as Thedore Roszak so elegantly points out.
As such while not losing focus on the national and international scene it’s time, I feel, to knuckle back down and focus on the local. For, to quote a friend, what we need now are doers not dialoguers (although judging by this article I clearly think dialogue is important too). We cannot make the environment and the climate something we pay homage and attention to for two weeks every year at COP, or endlessly through our words, rather the climate and our environment must become incorporated into our very way of being, for to do otherwise is to blind ourselves to the context of our existence and in doing so to infringe on the freedoms and rights of so many others who will be negatively affected by our actions and inactions, including both current and future generations of human and non-human species. This may be a lot easier said than done, but even in the often gloomy outlook cast over the globe there is an endless realm of positive possibilities to make a difference. Here are just 12 to get you started.
As the first month of the year passed by in a flash and the New Year hype came to an…Read post →
At 5am this morning, the final session of Durban’s COP 17 came to a close over a day and a half behind schedule, with some delegates having not slept for close on 40 hours after two weeks of grueling negotiations. Many decisions have been rushed through in the last minute, and while there is a self-congratulatory air among those key to the design of the architecture of what is now being referred to as the Durban Package, there is much dismay in the air as well. The Durban Package has come to a number of rather controversial decisions around many of the major issues carried over from the Cancun Agreements, but many of the elements have also been postponed and unfulfilled. Furthermore there is an air of confusion around the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC), as many aren’t sure what was just signed onto, as many of the final decisions involving relatively new texts were rushed through at such a fast pace that understanding was hard to attain.
While I was assured by the South African lead negotiator, Alf Wills, that the Durban Package is a comprehensive deal that has taken into account the necessary compromise and has produced a credible outcome, I am not sure I am convinced. The decisions that were passed, despite the COP president’s constant insistency on a transparent and inclusive process, were decried by numerous parties as being one of backdoor intimidation and marginalization guided by the interests of a few parties, with many pointing or alluding towards the USA. In the final plenary discussions on both the Kyoto Protocol and Long Term Cooperative Action, disagreements were gaveled past and disputed texts were forwarded to the main COP plenary despite objections. In the COP plenary decisions were pushed through at an incredibly quick rate, so much so that it was not clear that all parties understood what was going on and many objections from the earlier sessions were not dealt with. At one stage the Russian ambassador declared, that although he did not know what was going on, or what was being passed, he would nevertheless not block progress. Just how many other parties were similarly confused as decisions were gaveled through remains to be seen. So what did they actually decide on, and how is it going to affect our future? I think many of the negotiating teams are going to be spending the next few days figuring out just that, but here is what I have been able to decipher throughout the rushed process.
Firstly, one of the major objectives of the conference was to secure a 2nd commitment to the Kyoto Protocol (KP). While parties were successful with this in so far as we now have a 2nd commitment to the Kyoto Protocol (KP2C), the decision on quantifiable emission reductions targets has been postponed until May 2012. Importantly, major polluters such as the USA, Canada, Japan and Russia are all not party to KP2C and because of lack of ambition in emission reduction targets the KP2C will cover less than 15% of global emissions. Unless ambition is increased drastically at some point then KP2C could potentially lock us onto a pathway to dangerous climate change to the tune of 3.5 degrees by 2100, as opposed to the 2 degrees currently agreed upon and the 1.5 degrees many claim is necessary for a safe climate future.
This, however, is where tonight’s establishment of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (AWG-DPEA) comes in to play. According to the Durban Package, the results of a review set to take place from 2013-15 will inform a work plan to raise ambition. Given the resistance of many nations to increase their reduction ambition targets, the AWG-DPEA will have its hands full trying to raise ambition to the necessary level. Furthermore, there are serious problems with monitoring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Land Use and Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), which is a critical structure under the Kyoto Protocol. Given that current LULUCF loopholes in forest management would allow developed countries to increase their emissions by a substantial amount, the fact that these loopholes were not properly addressed remains worrying. What is clear is that the KP2C as currently proposed is weak, lacks much ambition and even if non-Kyoto countries accompanying Cancun Pledges are lived up to, we very well be locked into a dangerous climate future. Ambition needs to be seriously increased and other non-Kyoto parties need to come to the ambition-hiking party too.
Throughout COP 17, there has been a stand-off between most developing countries and the EU, who want the post-Kyoto regime to come into place as early as 2015, and developed countries plus China and India, who would like it to only come into force in 2020. The new regime, it was hoped, would be a global climate regime that brings all parties into a legally binding ambitious framework that aims to bridge the ever-increasing gigatonne gap. However, as far as the legal form of the regime is concerned, it was decided that it will be “an agreed outcome with legal force” to come into force by 2020. This statement while seemingly politically potent does not necessarily mean that the regime is legally binding, and has varied meaning depending on the context. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, simply referred regime being implemented in a “legal way”. According to Wills, ambiguity in the text is necessary in order to ensure agreement among divergent parties, but to me because of the ambiguity that means that parties are agreeing to disagree at a later stage, and thus are not really agreeing at all. This will most certainly be a hot spot of controversy in the climate negotiations to come, especially as the agreement to cooperate on a new binding legal instrument is only an agreement to negotiate an agreement about which almost nothing has been settled and so we have a steep negotiating path ahead of us.
With a seemingly weak KP2C in place this puts a lot of pressure on a post-Kyoto global climate change regime. However, the decision on whether KP2C will be a five or seven year commitment period has been postponed until COP 18, which is set to take place in (the rather controversial) Qatar, under a Saudi Chair, two of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emitters, whose interests might not be exactly aligned with the climate’s. However with the next climate regime set to most likely take off by 2020 it seems likely that KP2C will correspondingly be locked down for a seven year period until 2020. Thus unless serious ambition increases are seen before then the regime will face a steep task ahead of it, if not a politically unassailable one, in order to keep climate change below 2 degrees by 2100.
One of the other major outcomes that was expected from COP 17, was the establishment and, so it was hoped, a plan to fill, the Green Climate Fund (GCF). There has been progress on this front, however, nowhere close to the hopes going into COP17. The GCF has a structure in place, however, who will oversee the fund and how they will do so, as well as it’s legal status remains highly controversial, with many (mostly developing) nations vehemently opposed to the Global Environment Fund (which falls under the World Bank) operating the fund because of issues of manipulation that are associated with the World Bank, as well as its perception as being a puppet of the first world. Other countries, unsurprisingly within the developed world (especially America), are more in favour of the proposal. This is not the only shortcoming, for reliable sources of long-term finance for the GCF are yet to be secured. The much called for financial transactions tax and maritime and aviation tax were hoped to be secured as potential sources, but all that is secured is a reference for a working group to work on securing innovative sources of finance from both the public and private sector. The GCF thus, apart from a few noble pledges from Germany and Norway, remains a largely empty shell, and it’s not clear how funds are going to be scaled up to provide the agreed upon $100 Billion by 2020. Many are unhappy with the progress and Nicaragua, a bit more upset than most, went a step further and argued that by waiting until 2020 we are squandering a crucial window period for meaningful action on climate change. Their spokesperson decried our inability to bail out nature, when we so readily bailed out banks in 2009, as being indicative of a skewed sense of priority.
One of the more worrying developments that was also passed last night, was the inclusion of carbon capture and storage underneath the clean development mechanism. This inclusion, because of the possibility of encouraging and subsidizing further fossil fuel developments that lack environmental integrity, will certainly be an issue of much contention among environmental groups for years to come. Another disappointment was that the programme on National Adaptation Plans is another decision that has been postponed until COP18. Furthermore the heavily contentious issues of hot air or assigned amount units has also been delayed until COP 18. There were many other decisions that were made and not made at COP 17, but to go into them all would get too “wonky” (i.e. too deep in policy), these, however, were the major decisions that were made at COP17.
Given these decisions, how do we go about assessing the progress that was made? Alden Meyer from the Union from Concerned Scientists had the following to say:
“While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. The decisions adopted here fall well short of what is needed. It’s high time governments stopped catering to the needs of corporate polluters, and started acting to protect people.”
I am very much in agreement with Meyer. The decisions made under the Durban Package lack much needed ambition, and the gap between political will and scientific dictate is massive. Legal and other ambiguities abound, which will provide fertile soil for disagreement as well as ducking and hiding from responsibilities, both political and ethical, in the future. What we have in Durban is a roadmap, but if the Bali Road Map is something to learn from, we need strict rules and guidance, as well as adequate provisions and will power, in order to ensure we get to the end of the road. The Durban Package so far lacks most of that, and if we are to salvage the road map we are going to have to work incredibly hard to ensure that the correct turns are taken along the way. We need to increase ambition and ensure that it is enforceable, and the sooner the better. For as Faith Biriol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, points out, “delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent to compensate for the increased emissions.” The Durban Package hasn’t delivered much on the need for immediate action, and thus unless we can drastically alter the rules of the road map or the direction thereof, we may be heavily locked into Biriol’s false economy, complete with the suffering, food insecurity, displacement and global instability that is set to come with climate change above 2 degrees Celsius.
The Durban Package for the moment has created a very loosely bound not-quite-global climate regime, which grants many nations the ability to not contribute to their fair share, under a view of climate change guided by the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and equity, by shirking out of already insufficient voluntary Cancun pledges. During the final hours, the Indian Environment Minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, even went so far as to say that equity had been forsaken and CBDR inverted. A compromise was reached after she said so, but for a large part, her statement is still relevant. Our climate regime is far from a just one and the major polluters with the greatest historical responsibility as well as some of the major emerging polluters are under little pressure to change that.
Having arrived at this point the importance of domestic pressures in order to establish the building blocks of a truly just climate regime is of utmost importance, for we cannot deliver a more ambitious package unless civil society acts more decisively to pressure their governments into more meaningful climate action and to take more meaningful action themselves. An important step in order to do this is an increased recognition of the inextricable link between environmental and social justice, which is fueling movements the globe over. It’s time to reinvent, redefine and grow the global climate movement and work together, globally and locally to ensure that our governments do not use the Durban Package to lead us to disaster. It is ambiguous and flexible enough that they may be able to do so, but it is also ambiguous and flexible enough to provide the climate movement with a few grapples upon which to hoist their movement to the next level. Durban has shown us that we cannot rely solely on international governance to answer our calls for climate justice, we need to take a more active role in doing so ourselves in order to avoid looking back and blaming a faulty international governance system for runaway climate change, when true power for change, lay within our own hands.
At the time of writing, it’s 09h30 and like many of the COP 17 delegates, I’ve been awake for longer than I care to think about, but I know that rather than allow Durban to drive me to despair, having met truly great people who are fighting for social and environmental justice, I am inspired. I am disappointed with our current global governance systems, but I have seen youth, along with progressive thinkers of the current generation stand bravely against some of the most powerful entities in the world in order to fight for their future. Having seen there tenacity and strength, I aim to continue to play my part in the fight for climate justice, never forgetting the inextricable link between social and environmental justice – I will play my part in defining what the Durban road map will actually take us. Will you heed the call for justice and do the same? Because we the people of the world, the rich and the poor, the vulnerable and secure, the present and the future, because a just future needs you and everyone, I hope that you will.
Alex Lenferna is the lead tracker of the South African Government during COP 17 under adoptanegotiator.org, as well as chairperson of the South East African Climate Consortium Student Forum (www.ru.ac.za/rugreen). Follow Alex as he tracks South Africa’s progress within COP 17 on Twitter (@al_lenferna), Facebook/Alex Lenferna or (www.adoptanegotiator.org).
I should be on a bus home now; instead I’m sitting in the ICC waiting for the proverbial white smoke to emerge as ministers try to bring COP17 to a close. Last night was supposed to be the closing night for COP 17, but there has been much disagreement among the global community around some very problematic texts that are being discussed around long-term cooperative action and the Kyoto Protocol. We are still waiting for ministers to emerge to deliver the final COP plenary, but in the meantime there is worrying progress within the ministerial indaba. From draft texts released and leaked information from within the ministerial indaba, the following rather worrying picture can be pieced together.
With regards to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) it appears as if we will secure the 2nd commitment period (KP2C), it will run from 2013-2017 it is proposed. This is somewhat good news, however, what the KP2C lacks is ambition, for the current pledges could possibly lock the world onto a 3.5 degree path rather than the agreed 2 degree and required 1.5 degree path. Furthermore, Canada, Japan and Russia have declared (or perhaps rather confirmed ) that they will not sign onto the KP2C and of course Canada has already pulled out of the KP, which leaves them free from any serious repercussions if they don’t meet their (soon to be broken) promises under the KP. China, India and Brazil, some of the bigger emitters, because of their status as developing countries won’t have legally binding commitments for the duration of this. South Africa, however, has previously agreed to emission reduction targets although they do not represent their fair share of global emissions. The US, as always, is out of the KP altogether. So with this in mind there is a serious need to increase ambition on the KP so as not to make the post-Kyoto regime face an impossibly steep emissions reduction curve. However, after countries are requested to submit their quantified emission limitations and reduction commitments (QELROs) in May next year, there is no provision for countries to adjust their QELROs towards more ambitious targets. Furthermore LULUCF, which is one of the crucial structures underpinning the KP, remains very weak under the latest proposal; largely in part to some devious work by New Zealand within the negotiations (I am informed). So while many have proclaimed their love for KP over the past two weeks, I think they had a very different version of KP in mind.
Given the potentially weak KP that is set to come through, the importance of a more ambitious new legal regime to follow the KP becomes increasingly urgent. There has been much debate over when this regime will come into place, and what structure and form it will have, and the first LCA text proposed last night suggested 2020, which as many believe is too late. Many countries decried such a proposal, however, and many asked how the COP president could put such a proposal on the table. The later text proposed that working group should come into existence immediately in order to develop a new “legal instrument” and be adopted by no later than 2015. Given that the KP is set to go on until 2017 it’s not clear how the two instruments will work together, but the push for 2015 rather than 2020 is certainly a welcome piece of news. It remains to seen, however, whether China, India, the US and a few other countries will continue to push for 2020 and block progress on the matter. If they do succeed they could lock us into a very dangerous climate change trajectory and thus a lot of work and pressure needs to be done in order to get as many nations crossing over to the coalition of the willing who is pushing for 2015 among other things. There is also much work that needs to be done on fleshing out what exactly the legal instrument will be and how ambitious it will be. Ambition on mitigation is what is most needed, but is unfortunately what is most lacking.
The Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to facilitate the just transition to a green future, also remains highly problematic. While the bare structures are being put in place reference to long term sources of finance remain very weak and nothing substantial is on the table. It seems that the real work of filling the fund will be deferred to a later stage. There is a work programme in place to do that work, but the much needed funding to fill the fund is not there. This, however, was expected, as yesterday South Africa had admitted that they were wiling cede that no source of long-term finance would come from Durban. There are a number of other problematic elements that still need to be overcome, but the three above provide the major obstacles to progress.
The very real potential of an incredibly weak outcome must not be discounted, and in the case that we do get one, media and countries will often have a tendency to blame the COP President for the inability to achieve progress, but we must not be too quick to apportion blame to her. Although she does play an important role in facilitating progress, we must keep in mind that the real villains are in this picture are the ones who, no matter how good a chair you are, because of their stubborn attachment climate-dangerous short-sighted self-serving interests, refuse to allow progress to move. The US is once again playing a leading role in this area, and China and India are said to be hiding behind them, as well as Australia. The time has come to isolate the US and encourage China, India and Australia to join the coalition of the willing, but is it too late? Hopefully an answer will come soon, but as I finish this off we are still waiting in corridors of the ICC hoping to hear an announcement of what is happening.
I should be on a bus home now; instead I’m sitting in the ICC waiting for the proverbial white smoke…Read post →
On this, the final day of COP 17, a more human side to the process is beginning to slip through the cracks, sometimes intentionally other times not. By now blog posts, articles, tweets and status updates across the globe will be sharing the news of protests within the Durban International Convention Center (ICC). The call to #occupy COP17 was taken up by 100s of people, and they are only representative of the very few people who managed to get accreditation to be in the ICC. Amidst their calls for climate justice now, and for a treaty before 2020, more signs of the stress and tension of two weeks of high intensity talks are beginning to show.
Today has been characterized mostly by closed off meetings where ministers and their negotiators are trying to thrash out decision on some of the major issues still unresolved at COP 17 – the Kyoto Protocol, post-Kyoto treaty and Green Climate Fund being the major ones. The COP president, Ms Maite Nkoana-Matshabane, in a somewhat ironic moment, came out of the private discussions for a press briefing to ensure everyone that the negotiations were going on in a fair and transparent manner, and that progress is being made. Meanwhile many of us out in the corridors remain in the dark as to what is being said behind the doors. The president’s voice showed signs of emotional strain and her response to a question from an Indian journalist about Durban being a failure showed clear frustration and annoyance. It’s been a tough few weeks, and emotions are running high. As I type the ministerial indaba is set to begin, once again, behind closed doors and emotions I’m sure will only run higher as the night wears on into the early and perhaps late hours of the morning.
Due to the closed nature of the meetings, rumors abound in the corridors, none really verifiable. Working out what information to trust when so many conflicting pieces emerge is an impossible task, and the only solid piece of information, that has come through is the draft texts on the Kyoto Protocol and Long-Term Cooperative Action which have been released. Their content is worrying, they propose that a post-Kyoto legal treaty is to be postponed until 2020, which as has been previously indicated, is a dangerous decision, which could push climate change to 3.5 degrees or perhaps even higher. Although they do aim to raise ambition based on the review scheduled for 2013-15 this is significantly too late. #Occupy COP 17 protesters who among other protests, chanted “2020 is too late” will most certainly agree. The Kyoto Protocol is also far from what is expected and rather than pushing for legally binding commitments much use of the word “intention” is used, which suggests that the commitments will be political ones rather than legally binding. They did mention the intention to convert these political commitments to quantified emissions limitations and reductions commitments (QELROs) but whether that intention will be achieved here in Durban remains to be seen.
We’re set for a long night, and there is much work that needs to be done. Despair has set in among many with regards to the draft proposals set forward, especially given the public outcry for a legally binding second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol as well as the need for a treaty by 2015, not 2020. As dark rainy clouds set in over Durban, negotiators and ministers will most certainly have a long night ahead, especially given the opposition that many have to 2020 such as the African Group, AOSIS, and the LDC. It’s my sincere hope that they manage to either win out or stall talks and ensure they don’t close. Whether they will, remains to be seen.
About the authorAlex Lenferna
Tracking #SouthAfrica's role in #UNFCCC / #climatechange negotiations for @adoptnegotiator. Philosopher, environmentalist, activist, perpetual student and more