Is it too little too late?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.