Warsaw gets serious – the ups and downs of global climate negotiations

It does not help when the president of the conference is dumped from Poland’s cabinet in the middle of week 2 as a result of an inter-party dust-up.  That really signals solidarity to the cause of inter-generational equity, as the UN-COP 19 climate conference enters its critical final stages.

But life’s too short for national niceties when global needs are at stake, or at least the conference is.  So the delegations grind the evenings out with purposeful exchanges and deal-makers in the halls and the side-rooms.

It is not plain sailing. Three main issues, and each is bedevilled.

Pre-‘20 ambition is suffering from the twin scourge of importance and imminence.  The scientists indicate that global emissions must peak this decade to avoid dangerous climate change.  That does not stop the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, each of which has endorsed the stated objective of avoiding dangerous climate change, from playing chicken with one another.  After you, Alphonse is not the time-honoured way of collectively avoiding an approaching disaster.

But in response to UNEP’s annual report on the ‘global emissions gap’, not one country has entered a new pledge for 2020.  Japan has seriously down-graded its target, which was 25%. It has shifted the goalposts, the way you do, by changing the base-line date forward to 2005, but its latest target means a 3% increase on 1990.  Japan cites the woes of Fukushima. Experts calculate that Fukushima would justify one-third of its down-grade.

Pre-’20 finance is struggling – the pledges for the $100 b. per year came in for 2009-12 but have stopped for the post-’12 period.  And the Adaptation Fund is suffering. Where is the Umbrella Group when it is needed?  That, incidentally, includes New Zealand, always out to please.  Nowhere to be seen.

Then there is post-’20 – the global legal agreement meant to be finished by 2015.  Still in the stages of abstraction – discussion on principles of ‘bounded flexibility’ and a thousand others, and even on the nature of a legally-binding document.  The US, for example, wishes not to have a binding agreement.  What happened to the soaring Obama rhetoric of June?  Even the EU is downplaying the language – from ‘finalising commitments’ in 2014 to ‘preparing’.

The stand-off between pre-‘20 and post-‘20 is a metaphor in a way – for the end of the structural division of the world between rich and poor, North and South, historical emitters and future emitters.  It is true, there is a dawning recognition in officialdom, that the world, or at least the global carbon economy, is one, and that there has therefore to be a single coherent solution to the problem of global emissions.

The trouble is, while that applies to post-’20, it does not really apply to pre’20.  But the North, minus EU, is pretending it does. So the critical decade of mitigation, 2013-20, suffers.  So does CBDR – the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. So, as a result, does the precautionary principle.  So, as a result, do the kids.

And, with the searing images of Haiyan fresh in delegates’ minds, loss-and-damage is proving to be a deal-breaker.  If the South do not get something out of this, it could scupper Warsaw.  China et al walked out at 4.00 am the other night. They are not impressed.

Then there is ratification of the Doha Amendments to the Kyoto Protocol.  Things get technical and complex here – to do with 1st commitment period targets and emissions, and the role of Russia and Ukraine, and the EU with Poland as Trojan horse. The down-graded conference president has his work cut out.

So do we all. We are becoming numbed, by the sheer repetitiousness of the annual conferences which grind away at national interests, times 195, before, a tsunami of global need.

If you do not look up, you do not see the storm approaching.  You may sense it, but you do not look up.

2 Comments Posted

  1. @Marc
    I tautoko your thoughts..

    The most telling thing about Warsaw, was the news story that a large number had WALKED OUT saying that ‘Nothing positive is happening !’

    As long as ‘western nations’ are more concerned about their economic prosperity than the environment.. nothing will happen.

    kia ora

  2. Dear Kennedy – I totally support your efforts and incessant vocal raising of the climate issues we face internationally and nationally. At the same time I am getting more and more pessimistic by the day, as it seems that we as the human species live now in systemic “climate abuse dependency”. Indeed most countries, if not all to varying degrees, are constantly trying to “juggle” the challenge with commitment and their “ability” to address it. We have governments and with that nations argue and compete.

    There should be enough compelling grounds for solid cooperation, but we see it with the New Zealand government under Key, just being half hearted. I also hear and see every day, how most people are digging their heads into the sand, that is not just politicians. It is most consumers and citizens, as they still cannot and do not want to accept, what will come upon us.

    Despite all efforts, debates and exposure, we still have not solved most environmental problems, not even the simplest ones. I remember the discussion of getting rid of wasteful plastic bags in supermarkets and other shops, I remember the debate on forced recycling of materials, where retailers would have to ensure that product packaging and so would have to be taken back by retailers and producers.

    What has become of this? Nothing really, and we are miles and years behind, what many countries in Europe now do as norm. We are even behind some “developing” countries, like perhaps cities like Curitiba in Brasil.

    Since the Nats took over, virtually NOTHING has been done and improved, and it is a total disgrace, where New Zealand stands now. This has allowed the too brainwashed, sadly poorly informed public to continue living and wasting, as if there will be no tomorrow.

    I am not even raising the fossil fuel exploration plans and so, but we are now the laughing stock in the “developed world”, I am afraid.

    Do New Zealanders out there actually understand, and are they prepared to vote for parties like the Greens, to take the overdue actions? MOre dairy and other agricultural intensification are madness, unless measures are taken to address water quality protection and so forth.

    I hear that Continental Europe is 10 years ahead of New Zealand on “sustainable” dairying, so where is this supposed “progressive industry” that they try to sell us here?

    Is it to be valued the same as the “competitive” prices we pay for primary products here, like fruits, meat and dairy products, which often are cheaper in supermarkets on the other side of the globe?

    What damned madness has this country become? It is time to get rid of this government, that is living like a drunk that knows no responsibility and is not willing to “reform”.

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