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Durban: Frying the Planet

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Durban: More than 4° C and rising…

By Mike Gatehouse for LAB

2 December 2011

As the climate-change negotiations (COP-17) get under way in Durban in South Africa, the World Development Movement has published a report that documents the bullying tactics used by the developed nations in Copenhagen (COP-15). The report, titled ‘The end game in Durban’, draws on published reports and interviews with participants and diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. It highlights, in particular, the treatment of Bolivia. It makes shocking reading.

Pablo Solón, who was UN Ambassador for Bolivia at the time, has now issued another statement in which he once again alerts the world to the forthcoming environmental catastrophe. He says that, according the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), even if the developed countries do what they promised to do last year at Cancún, “the emission reductions achieved by these ‘promises’ would result in an increase in global temperature of 4° C or more”. He goes on: “Even with an increase of 2°C, the toll of deaths from natural disasters caused by climate change would rise from the 2009 figure of 350,000 per annum to millions …Imagine, then, the effect of a global increase of a global average increase of 4° C or more.” The full text, translated into English by LAB, can be found below. It should be required reading for all those at Durban.

Much of the ‘action’, real or spurious, will occur in the second week, when government ministers arrive. Known as COP-17 (17th Session of the ‘Conference of the Parties’ of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), this is the latest in a series of conferences dating back to the Berlin Mandate (COP-1) in 1995. Much the most important and radical was Kyoto (COP-3) in 1997 where signatories agreed to specific, enforceable targets for emissions reductions by 2012.

Recent conferences, especially those in Copenhagen (COP-15) and Cancún (COP-16), have seen the developed countries manoeuvring, as 2012 approaches, to replace the compulsory elements of Kyoto (which the US never ratified) by ‘voluntary arrangements’, to lower expectations of reductions to the bottom of ranges previously discussed and to slip the timetable so that the eight years from 2012 to 2020 will be effectively exempt from targets.

Meanwhile there has been increasing outrage among developing countries and especially some of the African and Island states at the way they have been bullied into accepting or endorsing vague and toothless agreements. These undermine both the targets and the compulsory element and evade the key issue: that the overwhelming share of emissions is contributed by the major developed economies, while the most costly and damaging effects of climate change are falling on developing nations who can do little because of the reluctance of the rich countries to make meaningful financial contributions to help them.

A particularly frank endorsement of the voluntarism (disingenuously promoted as the ‘bottom-up’ approach) was given by Britain’s former Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, in a brief article in The Guardian: “Now, however, the uncertainties surrounding the Kyoto process have opened the way for an alternative approach, one which was kick-started in the UK … [which] became the first nation to announce—voluntarily—that it would reduce its carbon emissions… This kind of muscular bilateralism point the way forward for climate talks.”

Early indications from Durban are that much debate will focus on the ‘Green Climate Fund’, designed to replace the role played at present in climate finance by the World Bank. Britain and the US are being accused by a coalition of 139 organisations from 39 countries of trying to turn this into a ‘Greedy Corporate Fund’ by their insistence that the lion’s share of finance must come from the private sector.

Mike Gatehouse (for LAB)

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Pablo Solón
A year on from Cancún… A few days until Durban: More than 4° C

by Pablo Solón*

It’s almost a year since the conclusions of the climate change negotiations in Cancún were adopted with the single opposing vote of Bolivia. It’s time to take stock and see where we have got to.

In Cancún the developed countries listed their various promises of greenhouse gas reductions for the period 1012-2020. The US and Canada stated that they would reduce their emissions by 3% of the 1990 level. The European Union by 20–30%. Japan 25%. Russia between 15% and 25%. Adding up all the promises, the total reduction in emissions by the developed countries until 2020 would be between 13% and 17% of their baseline emissions level of 1990.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Executive Secretariat of the Convention on Climate Change, the emission reductions achieved by these ‘promises’ would result in an increase in global temperature of 4° C or more. That is double the objective established in Cancún, which is to limit the temperature increase to just 2° C.

Even with an increase of 2°C, the toll of deaths from natural disasters caused by climate change would rise from the 2009 figure of 350,000 per annum to millions; between 20% and 30% of the animal and plant species would become extinct; many coastal areas and island states would be submerged; and the Andean glaciers, which have already lost one third of their snow cover with the present temperature increase of 0.8° C, could disappear entirely.

Imagine, then, the effect of a global average increase of 4° C or more. Nobody in the climate change negotiations defends or justifies an increase of that magnitude. Yet Cancún opened the way for just that.

When Bolivia opposed this outcome, the negotiators told us that it was vital then to rescue the process of diplomatic negotiation and that it would be Durban which would save our climate. Now, when we are a few days away from the opening of the Durban conference, it seems that the reduction figures on the table have not moved upwards one iota. What is worse, some parties are stating that they may stick with the lower end of the range of their emission reduction promises.

Lamentably, during the whole of 2011, the climate change negotiations which took place in Thailand, Germany and Panama focused more on form than on substance. And what was negotiated was not how to increase the promised emission reductions, but how to formalize them.

The Cancún ‘agreement’ aims to move from a regime of compulsion with global targets for emission reductions to a voluntary one with no global targets. It is as though one were to say to the people of a village at risk of being destroyed by flooding: “Bring what stones you can and we will see how high we can build a dyke.” When what is really needed is first to define the required height of the dyke to contain the likely flood levels, and on that basis to assign to each family the quantity of stones they should bring to build a dyke that will safeguard the whole village.

In Durban they are to discuss two alternative routes to formalize this ‘voluntary take-it or leave-it regime’: the first is to formally abolish the Kyoto Protocol and list the emission reduction promises that each feels able to make in a decision of the COP 17. The second route is to achieve the same end by removing all effective content from the Kyoto Protocol. In either case the agreement is to get definitively rid of the Kyoto Protocol before 2020.

To get a better grasp of the second route, at present the Kyoto Protocol establishes a global target of 5.2% for the reduction of emissions during the period 2007–1012. What should be done, to keep the global temperature increase to the 2° limit they have fixed, is to reduce emissions by between 25% and 40% during the period 2012–2020, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, what they want to do is simply to list the “promises of voluntary reductions” without referring to any global target relating to a particular increment in temperature.

Those who advocate maintaining the Kyoto Protocol as an empty shell are the countries with the greatest fear of adverse reactions from public opinion: “At least we have to maintain the illusion that the Kyoto Protocol remains in force, to pacify our electorate”. But the other reason for them to continue with a Kyoto Protocol stripped of its teeth to reduce emissions is the mechanisms of carbon-trading which are currently facing collapse.

The Kyoto Protocol has many weaknesses, but to convert it into an empty shell or make it disappear completely in Durban is suicide. The only alternative consistent with maintaining life is to preserve the Kyoto Protocol with a target for reducing emissions which will not allow the planet to fry.

*Pablo Solón is an international analyst and social activist who was chief negotiator for climate change and Ambassador to the United Nations for the Plurinational State of Bolivia (2009–June 2011).