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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

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Is it too little too late?

Make no mistake. I am not writing this column upon travelling to Durban, South Africa or to the many pre-event events, held elsewhere on planet earth, to 'discuss' and map climate change mitigation. Equipped with my Internet connectivity, I diligently followed happenings at the Summit and prior to it, sitting in my abode in Kiula in the Deep South of Sri Lanka. Here, I venture to grow my own vegetables or at least as I much as I can of it and attempt to lead a modest lifestyle. I emit as little CO2 and try to be as environment friendly as possible to meet my needs. I also try to shun much of the greed that drove things for me for so long in the past. I declare in all humility that this is no random happening. I do this out of choice for, I have understood through my learning and training that there is no other way for us as citizens on this planet to survive but to adjust each of our ways of life to be more austere and prudent.

Productive emissions

The many delegates from the 194 nations that attended the UN's Climate Summit (COP 17) may have travelled thousands of miles by air and/or road to get there to discuss 'climate deals' adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, when what is expected of their actions is to help reduce these, i.e. make rational mitigation decisions. I make no apologies about my cynicism here, for I have seen how global summits from the Earth Summit at Rio to the last Copenhagen Climate Summit came and went. 'Progress' is indeed made with post-event media releases and 'some' initiatives are set in place, yet the question remains of; 'Is it all coming in inadequately little doses and is it beginning to come too late?'

Cyclists light up a tree during a renewable energy demonstration at climate talks in South Africa. Pic.courtesy: Google

This, the gist of my column title reflects the sentiments expressed by several key civil society activists to describe the outcome of the UN's Climate Summit (COP 17) that finally concluded last Sunday. After adding on two extra days to it the South African hosts like all good hosts of such events, declared the summit a success. The final agreement reached was described by some as a 'non-agreement' or the culmination of a 'cop-out' strategy by the powerful who in the first place did not want to make binding agreements. The pushed through 'agreement' reached after those two unscheduled days of negotiation. They agreed in principle that a firm carbon mitigation strategy will be designed and adopted by 2015 to be effective after 2020.

Grand cop-out

South Africa's Kumi Naidoo, who is also the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, had this to say of the outcome "blockers, led by the US, have succeeded in inserting a vital get-out clause that could easily prevent the next big climate deal being legally binding. If that loophole is exploited it could be a disaster".

"Polluters won, people lost," he added. "Our governments this past two weeks listened to the carbon-intensive polluting corporations instead of listening to the people who want an end to our dependence on fossil fuels and real and immediate action on climate change," he said.

"Decisions resulting from the UN COP17 climate summit in Durban constitute a crime against humanity," said 'Climate Justice Now!', a broad coalition of social movements and civil society in a media release. It added "Here in South Africa, where the world was inspired by the liberation struggle of the country's black majority, the richest nations have cynically created a new regime of climate apartheid."

Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of 'Friends of the Earth International' added "An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1 percent of the world has decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99 percent." "Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions" he said.

Mitigation targets

What is also interesting is that the two most progressive nations in the climate mitigation front, who in the past few years actually demonstrated that serious mitigation is possible i.e. Japan and Canada, did not agree to be a party to the farce this time around. The EU wanted solid and binding mitigation targets in place without delay and emerging economies such as India and China saw them as deterrents to their growth.

The pre-summit expectations of extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond the commitment period which ends in 2012 and a significant start to the US $100-billion-a-year Green Climate Fund, which aims to help emerging nations deal with the negative effects of climate change are now hanging with thin thread needing further action to make them work.

To most observers who follow the pattern of such negotiations, there is nothing new here. Remember the 'climategate' scandal of emails that broke out just before the Summit in Copenhagen, where climate scientists and their work were portrayed as unreliable? Remember the allegations levelled against the proponent of 'Inconvenient Truth' former Vice President of the US Al Gore and the questioning of the validity of the work of climate scientists and negotiators the likes of Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and his Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? Remember the forming of a new alliance of nations to block rational agreement at the conclusion of the Copenhagen event?

We must not make a mistake. The conventional energy cartel is hard at work and paid lobbyists are busy all year around working out strategy to keep out any binding real deals out of the agenda. It is now a game of buying time to make sure that the powerful are in the forefront of the race of creating commercially viable alternative energy options.

Dangling carrot

The delegates unable to reach agreement during the allocated time of ten days for the Summit, stayed back and worked the weekend to save face for hosts South Africa. Creditable indeed, yet like they say in good process management, one needs to do things on time, so it will not be too late to make the action taken to be meaningful, valid or even useful.

But then, a 100 billion climate fund deal was also on a stick dangling for most delegations to want to come to some agreement on its disbursement and that should explain the reaction of some of the less powerful but much affected nations at this particular summit.

Task too tall

John m. Broder in a New York Times article published in the immediate aftermath of the Summit, summed it well "For 17 years, officials from nearly 200 countries have gathered under the auspices of the United Nations to try to deal with one of the most vexing questions of our era - how to slow the heating of the planet.

Every year they leave a trail of disillusion and discontent, particularly among the poorest nations and those most vulnerable to rising seas and spreading deserts. Every year they fail to significantly advance their own stated goal of keeping the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels" he said.

He added, "there is no denying the dedication and stamina of the environment ministers and climate diplomats who conduct these talks. But maybe the task is too tall. The issues on the table are far broader than atmospheric carbon levels or forestry practices or how to devise a fund to compensate those most affected by global warming.

Beyond environment and politics

What really is at play here are politics on the broadest scale, the relations among Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan and three rapidly rising economic powers, China, India and Brazil. Those international relations, in turn, are driven by each country's domestic politics and the strains the global financial crisis has put on all of them. And the question of 'climate equity' - the obligations of rich nations to help poor countries cope with a problem they had no part in creating - is more than an 'environmental' issue.'

Indeed it is. It is an issue that demonstrates the quality of our humanity and the associated moral responsibility, integrity, honesty and transparency all gearing to ensure survival not only of humans, but of all living beings.

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