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Climate change negotiations: Trapped in a miasma

Written By Unknown on Friday, December 06, 2013 | 10:28 PM

By: Gopal Krishna
Ambitions were low and the expectations from the nineteenth Conference of Parties (COP 19) of the United Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) were modest to start with.

There were no deadlines for any particular piece of negotiations to be finalised though there were hopes of taking forward the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, announced two years ago. Instead, Warsaw 2013 witnessed drama like no other such conference. With Japan taking a shocking U-turn on its emission cuts commitments, the US torpedoing the inclusion of agriculture in the discussion, going back on financing of the TCS and wanting to move the controversial refrigerant gas issue to the Montreal protocol and developing countries staging a first-ever walkout, the gaps that always nag climate negotiations only widened further.

In the middle of this football field, we must stop moving the goal posts. To anyone outside who continues to deny and ignore the reality that is climate change, I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs, said Yeb Sano, the lead negotiator for the Philippines who broke down at the opening session of the UN conference on climate change held at Warsaws National Stadium.

There was a three minute silence for the tragedy in the Philippines. Sano announced that he will not eat during the conference until a meaningful agreement was achieved. He implored that there is no time left for vulnerable countries to wait for an international climate deal to be reached in Paris in 2015.

Science clearly shows that a significant degree of climate change is unavoidable, as has been confirmed by the latest findings of the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres in a statement and added, Typhoon Haiyan has been the latest in a string of worsening extreme weather events around the world and we know there are more to come. She later said she hoped to see ministers adopt a decision by the end of this week that very clearly puts the steps, structure and logic of an agreement in place. But all the science, the hopes and the appeals were to be in vain.

Like India which too suffered from natural disasters in Odisha and Uttarakhand recently, the Philippines is one of the 133 members of the Group of 77 (G77) at the UN which is a coalition of developing nations to promote members collective interests. The G77+China Group had no option but to stage a walkout on the penultimate day of the conference in protest against the attitude of the rich nations.

This was the first ever walkout during ongoing climate talks. The developing countries were upset over the crucial Loss and Damage (L&D) issue. Their message was strong. That poor nations are not going to give any elbow space to the US-led group unless they get commitment over financial aid.

During negotiations over the basic elements of the 2015 agreement, the US, Canada, Australia and the European Union were against the setting up of a spate mechanism on L&D. And this was to shape any and all outcomes of COP19.

We totally agree with the G-77 position. This is a very weak draft (on loss and damage) and we totally support the walkout. It is extremely diluted and makes no commitment to the loss and damage. This is not something that we can accept, said Jayanthi Natarajan, Minister for Environment and Forest. The BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) Group presented a united stand over all the critical issues during the negotiations - ranging from L&D mechanism to the Green Climate Fund.

G77 and China had earlier issued a conference paper seeking an International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (IMLD) for assessing and providing monetary compensation for loss and damage arising out of impacts of climate change. The rich countries were opposed to this proposal but G77 and China wanted the paper to become the basis of the negotiating text on L&D.

Followed another walkout by the NGO Greenpeace International. Kumi Naidoo, the human rights activist and executive director of Greenpeace, reportedly said, This is not about giving up, but is about taking the struggle to a different level. If we are to get a solution out of this COP we need people around the world to start - in every country - putting pressure on their governments to actually come to these COPs with a very strong mandate which has serious levels of ambition with regard to cutting carbon.

Adding to the drama, Poland sacked the summits President Marcin Korolec from his role as the countrys Minister of Environment. According to reports in the Washington Post, the Polish environment ministrys foot- dragging on much-awaited regulations concerning exploration for shale gas and other fossil fuels was behind the dismissal.

Japan had shocked the summit during the first week itself as it confirmed that Tokyo will drastically water down its official emissions reduction target for 2020 - from 25 per cent against 1900 levels to 3.8 per cent against 2005 levels. In the second week, the US aroused further reactions when it wanted to move the monitoring and discussion on highly climate-damaging refrigerant gases HFCs out of the ambit of the UNFCCC. Speaking on the issue of phasing out of HFCs, Natarajan said the issue should not be seen from a business perspective of providing markets to domestic companies. She was voicing the opinion of several stakeholders.
Amid all this drama and shifting goalposts, COPI9 offered little to assuage the crying need for measures for mitigation, adaptation and implementation against the maximum load of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that could be discharged globally into the ambient air without causing irreversible changes in ecosystems.

Addressing the high-level ministerial summit, Natarajan said, In a scenario where we need to do more, not just on mitigation but adaptation, what I hear with dismay is the scaling down of ambition and lowering of targets for emissions cut by some countries. We still have seven years to go for 2020 and we cannot afford to give up the momentum at this point.

The aim of the conference attended by representatives of some 190 countries was to give birth to a structure of the core text of a new legally binding climate agreement by overcoming barriers to universal participation. However, the Warsaw conference was no more than a process of negotiation being set in motion unlikely to come out with any concrete outcome.

Earlier, all of the 48 countries that make up the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) had formally submitted their National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) to the UNFCCC secretariat. These contained detailed proposals for how the worlds poorest nations could enhance their climate resilience. The publication, they hoped, would shape the ongoing negotiations over L&D which once again left developed and developing countries at loggerheads over the extent that poorer nations should be compensated for climate impacts.

This was the situation despite the fact that ...assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has tisen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased, said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I.

The summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I was released on September 27, 2013. Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I said, Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21 century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered; and likely to exceed 2C for the two high scenatios. Stocker concluded: As a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of C02, we are committed to climate change and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO, stop.

Following the expressions of increasing urgency from the scientific community for effective action, the COP19/CMP9 had opened with calls on governments to harness the strong groundswell of action on climate change across all levels of governance, business and society and make real progress during the COP towards a successful, global climate change agreement in 2015.

Yet, at COP 19, the fault lines remained the same - industrialised countries wanting a significant cut in global greenhouse gas emissions and developing nations ready to reduce their carbon footprint only with financial and technical assistance from the West. One of the key talking points was the Global Climate Fund (GCF), the mechanism being used to transfer money from the developed to the developing world to assist with the effects of climate change.

The U S continued its demand for a mix of legally and non-legally binding commitments. The US administration has held that it has no plans to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which imposes a binding emissions cut on developed countries. Canada and Australia played out their usual stance. Australia, blamed for obstructionism at nearly every level of the talks, won four fossil of the day awards in the first week itself - a prize awarded daily by environmental groups to the country doing most to derail progress.

For its part, India wanted to retain the Kyoto Protocols preferential treatment of developing countries. Along with other BASIC group members, India based its negotiating position on the principle of equity. New Delhi has made its climate commitments contingent on mitigation actions which would entail assistance to it in the form of finance, technology transfer and capacity building measures.

In such a backdrop, COP1 9 serving as the meeting of the Parties to Kyoto Protocol had to arrive at a decision on a timeline and roadmap for negotiations to COP 21 in 2015 in Paris. The global conference had to ensure effective implementation of previous COP decisions, in particular the decisions of COP16/CMP6 held in Cancun, COP17/CMP7 held in Durban and COPI8/CMP9 held in Doha. The draft text of the agreement is required to be distributed to all the governments who are Parties to UNFCCC by end of May 2015 at the latest in six UN languages.

The attempts by elected chairs of COP19 to introduce survival emissions from agriculture as an agenda item for discussion contrary to agreements reached in Bonn at the behest of the European Union, Canada and New Zealand, was torpedoed by G-77, China and the USA. The US position was guided by the interests of its agribusiness corporations. As part of G77, Indias lead negotiator, Ravi S Prasad, Joint Secretary, Climate Change, Ministry of Environment and Forests, opposed this move and got the support of these countries.

This time the Business Forum was held in cooperation with the UN Global Compact during the High Level Segment during November 19-22. Proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in an address to The World Economic Forum on January 31, 1999, it was launched at the UN Headquarters on July 26, 2000. The Compact, a strategic policy initiative for businesses, has, however, admitted companies with dubious humanitarian and environmental records. In December 2008, Maude Barb, senior adviser on water issues to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, called the Global Compact bluewashing. Bluewashing refers to misuse of the blue logo of the UN by companies to undertake ethical positioning of the brands.

The conclusions of the High level Informal Consultations held during October 2-4, 2013 in Warsa revealed that efforts have been on to make business sector involvement in the climate negotiation process permanent starting with this conference.

While the necessity to adopt a bottom- up approach based on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) has long been established, the business sector has been demanding a level playing field in order to escape their historical responsibility for dangerous interference in the atmosphere. The insidious attempt of the business sector to overwhelm governments of the developing countries occupied the centre stage.

There appears to be compelling logic in focusing all eyes on the High Level Segment instead of draining energy on Low Level Segment where the grip of corporations with ulterior motives over negotiation process became increasingly visible. The business sector sought incentives to take steps through business actions on a larger scale to help meet the emission targets. It is arguing that emission reduction target alone is not enough to spur action on its part.

Besides, from the very outset, not only was the voice of communities missing but also the participation of small and medium sized enterprises and business community from all continents during these negotiations. The approach of the Business Forum and UN Global Compact was not guided by golden hearted environmentalism underlining that the core of the negotiation process is business as usual.

Universal participation in efforts to combat climate crisis has been missing all these years from COP negotiations because of shifting of goal posts under the influence of non-state actors. As long as businesses, who fish in these troubled waters through questionable market mechanisms like emissions trading, get precedence in UNFCCC and UN Global Compact, environmental health and public health will remain a casualty.

Gopal Krishna, Convener, Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA), has researched the process of adoption of the climate treaty and its implementation since December 1990 when negotiations were launched by the UN General Assembly on what became the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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