Monday, November 30, 2009
From: Oregon Daily Emerald
Failure depends on one’s definition of success. That’s what I’ve been remembering as the United Nations Climate Change Conference draws near. The conference, set to begin Dec. 7 in Copenhagen, will attempt to forge a new global climate treaty in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012.
The word in the news and on the street is that the conference will not result in a comprehensive treaty, but will instead attempt to establish some consensus on the politics of acting on a global scale to address climate change. What will be considered successful to the multifarious stakeholders involved? From the reportedly “drowning” Maldives, to the thriving-but-coal-dependent China, to the hordes of activists who will flock to the street in the name of “climate justice,” everyone in attendance will have both expectations and limits to their concessions, no matter which angle they’re coming from.
And believe me, angles abound. There has been an absolute onslaught of news about which country is promising this or that and who in the world thinks the efforts are great or dismal. There are a few stakeholders at the forefront of the hearsay free-for-all that stand out.
China, for its part, has been under a lot of international pressure to reduce its emissions. As a major developing country that relies heavily on coal, any reduction of emissions in the coming decades are almost out of the question. Rather, the question is about how much it will be willing to reduce the growth of its emissions. Along these lines, China brought its offer to the table late last week saying that by 2020 the country would reduce its emissions 40 percent to 45 percent per unit of gross domestic product from 2005 levels. Although this was hailed as a decisive development by many, including the Obama administration, it’s a paltry effort scientifically.
Knowing that many developed nations will not actually be reducing their emissions, but rather slowing their intensity, Brazil has recognized its upper-hand in being home to one of earth’s largest carbon sinks, the Amazon rainforest. The Associated Press reported on Friday that Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the rich Western nations should pay Amazon nations to prevent deforestation, considering the West caused most of the environmental degradation in the first place. In fact, Norway is reportedly already making payments to give Brazil $1 billion by 2015 to continue to “preserve the Amazon rain forest.”
Along the same “you broke it, you buy it” logic that Brazil is touting, there is a growing demand from developing countries for a dramatic financial aid effort from the global north to pay for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. The African Union, the coalition of African states to be present at Copenhagen, the Commonwealth nations, a 53-nation intergovernmental body, and the Bolivian government particularly are primary players in the call for climate reparations for countries that are considered to be disproportionately affected by the severe droughts, food shortages and storms caused by a warming climate.
All these countries want something specific in exchange for whatever they’re willing to offer; none of them seems to be addressing the possibility of severe compromises. For example, the African nations walked out of the final preliminary meetings in Barcelona last month demanding that developed countries cut emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and many countries’ representatives have reportedly considered doing the same if their demands are not recognized at the conference.
Where will the common ground be found? With the global north looking mostly to market-based solutions at the same time as the south is looking for huge amounts of money to be paid for this so-called “climate debt,” will confronting science top the priority list or will the conference be business-as-usual?
“Finance is the key to a deal in Copenhagen,” said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Money, in fact, is the oil that encourages commitment and drives action,” he said in a conference call recently.
Well, there you have it, from a top organizer himself, it is (as usual) about the money.
The current lack of political will to sign a fair and ambitious treaty after months of preliminary planning and talks seems to speak loudly to the second-place standing of science even before the conference has begun; so whose failures will become others’ successes and what that means for the future of the planet remains to be seen. But more and more it seems that following the money trail will be the best bet for finding out.