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By now you will probably know the importance of the numbers 1.5C and 350ppm. (If not, check Sam’s blog post below.) As a session of negotiations was about to begin, the youth here staged a silent protest at the entrance. We wore t-shirts saying ‘how old will you be in 2050?‘ and held signs simply saying 1.5c. Sam and I whiled away the minutes trying to make eye contact with all delegates who walked past. Only the good guys could look us in the eye, those being African nations and small island states. A plethora of old, Caucasian , and Asian men and women couldn’t.
One of the 2 delegates from Barbados looked me straight in the eye and said “united we stand”, and member of the Secretariat breezed past saying “thank you. we need you.” and then a traditionally dressed African female delegate made the effort to say thank you to each one of us there.
Sadly, in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice, Saudi Arabia killed off a feasibility report on the science of 1.5C to be presented at Cancun, essentially silencing the scientific argument that 1.5 is the necessary target.
They had the cheek to suggest that the LDC’s (Less Developed Countries) consult Google to find out the science on why they think they are going underwater! All just a tactic to kill the motion, and kill time-in more ways than one.
Other countries made no effort to block the feasability report because they knew the Saudi’s would block it so they need not tar their image by saying what they really think. As far as negotiations are concerned this is classic Saudi Arabia who always try to put a spanner in the works. So far at Bonn they have blocked talks on the taxation of aircraft and shipping fuels (currently untaxed) and now this, although is it any wonder when every delegate they send has come from the Ministry for Petroleum?!
A bad day for the negotiations for sure.
3 days in and how are we feeling? How far have we got?
I cannot believe how tired I am when we have only been 3 days! We have been chasing people, and constantly trying to think of ways to get round the many obstacles that keep popping up, like Sam losing all his clothes; how can we make our FIG survey more accessible; does that question lead the interviewees; how can we get the delegates attention for 5 minutes….but I should be ashamed because essentially we are a delegation of 2, just like Barbados, just like the Democratic Republic of Congo and many others who have been here for 8 days of negotiating. They must be tired to the bone because they have to concentrate on minute details of text so boring you wouldn’t believe it was possible. The youth constituency’s focal points have been here the whole time too, facilitating the participation of youth in this process, and they are dog-tired from speaking to the police and the secretariat about youth actions, coordinating millions of meetings between youth and many important people, including the soon to be Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christina Figures; the kind of tired that even the success of making youth campaign history in the negotiations can’t prevent.
Despite this however, we have collected over 10 completed surveys and are waiting to hear back from a mere 180 countries whose pigeon holes we have each stuck a survey in! We have emailed NGO members of the delegations to see if they can push their delegation to fill it out for us because NGO types tend to be more sympathetic to a fellow non-government person. Now the plan is to try to get ourselves some coverage by the paper bulletins that each delegate picks up every morning on their way in to get their fix of secondary commentary on the negotiations, wish us luck, it’s unlikely to happen!
All these things, coupled with the simple reality of these talks that I walk headlong into every time I come-that is that they dare not move in case they do actually save the planet-is pretty wearing. It is hard to convey to delegates that if they fill in our dry and boring survey, they could just be a bit better off in a years time.
The aim of FIG is that we collect all the evidence for the reason why we had to support delegations like Kiribati in Copenhagen in the first place. We offered our support unconditionally, i.e we would do whatever they asked, but the main thing they needed us for was taking minutes. It occurred to us that to be sending these minutes to only 1 delegation was highly inefficient when so many more delegations were/are in need of the same service.
But why should we fill the gap?
We say that minutes are a primary source of information that directly affects delegations negotiating positions, therefore, everyone should be able to access the same information by being able to read exactly who said what in all the negotiations. As it is the only minutes are webcasts that take hours to watch because it’s live streaming of the actual negotiations! Large delegations have civil servants to take notes in each session which they can use, but they don’t share them.
If everyone can see who said what, it means they can’t go back on what they said without it going unnoticed; new negotiators can see the history of decisions were adopted rather than the current system of identifying the proposal and the outcome-but nothing in between. I would have thought this was a basic requirement that the secretariat of the UN could fulfill which would improve the inequity of the process twofold:
1) small delegations could catch up with all the details of the meetings they couldn’t physically go to without having to watch the webcasts.
2) Those same delegations could then participate more fully because they’re more likely to understand what’s going on and thus iron grip of the developed countries over this process may be slackened minutely…
I jump to conclusions though, our survey, which you can have a look at here, asks the delegates about gaps in information they experience, in all its forms, so we might be entirely wrong about the transcripts. We’ll just have to see.
Je ne comprend pas
Another pretty shocking thing we have noticed is that the banks of translation booths, which are normally left by the wayside in the smaller meeting rooms, have been empty even in the main plenary hall!
What’s that about eh?
Don’t worry we’re on the case, especially as many of the delegates we have surveyed already, mention that language does hamper their participation. C’mon UN please don’t fall apart just as the delegates might start to get their acts together!
What difference can a degree or two make? Well the answer, as I’m sure that you will know is a lot. The image below taken from the IPCC’s fourth assessment report (AR4) gives a simple (although now out of date) picture of what a degree means.
The impacts and extent of climate change is subtle and effects unevenly distributed, a degree for one country such as the UK or the US may not be an existential crisis but for people living in small island developing states (SIDS) is certainly is. These states, drawn from all oceans and regions of the world: Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea make up 5% of the world’s population and a great proportion of the worlds cultural diversity. It’s no secret that these states are the most vulnerable to climate change but for these countries the numbers that are negotiated literally in no uncertain terms mean the life of death of their homeland, and their culture. At Copenhagen some of the most moving and courageous speeches were made by these states and I would urge you to take a look at the following two speeches by Tuvalu and The Maldives who have fought the corner for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for a long time.
These are some of the issues such states have to deal with:
- Sea level rise, many islands are only a few meters above sea level with precious little fresh water. Coasts are only able to adapt so slow levels of sea level change.
- Many islands are made exclusively of coral reefs on top of old sea mountains (Atolls). These islands rely on coral reefs for food (Fish) and protection from erosion. When corals are physically stressed they kick out the algae that feed them and die. This is known as bleaching and happens when they are too hot, or don’t get enough light. In addition corals skeletons rely on how acidic the oceans are. Changes in the oceans from increased CO2 in the atmosphere may stop skeletons of corals growing (see this great animation by Leo Murray) or even cause them to dissolve.
- Many islands in the Caribbean the Indian and the Pacific Ocean lie in tropical storm track (hurricanes =Atlantic, typhoons = Indian, cyclones = Pacific). These storms cause great damage and loss of life, for example Haiti last year.
For them numbers matter in a big way, the two big ones being 350ppm (for the scientific basis of this number click here) CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere and 1.5C. Today I was lucky enough to attend a very interesting side event (A meeting about a topic not directly involved in the UNFCCC talks) by the prestigious Potsdam Institute for climate change. The event was focused on the 1.5C limit which is largely though of as the survival limit for small island states as well as for the livelihoods for low-lying deltaic countries such as Bangladesh. This event was amazing because it summarised the latest published and yet to be published research on the feasibility of a 1.5C limit (i.e. what we can and cannot emit), the economic cost of achieving this world, the impacts of not doing so as well as the current direction of negotiations. Literally a commentary on the future of the home for over 0.3 billion people held in a room with less than 25 people present, mostly NGO representatives and a few members from delegations. Heres the gist of what I heard.
Currently the Copenhagen Accord fails to come close to the 50% chance of achieving the 2C target agreed in the document (see previous post). It’s hard to see how this will get better if a bottom up approach to emissions reductions (countries set their own targets) is adopted in the long-term as advocated by the USA and other Annex I (developed) countries.
The Potsdam Institute has been working on emissions scenarios (whats an emissions scenario?) that would enable small islands to survive, they call these the 1.5C/350 scenario and the star wars like ICP-3pD scenario (soon to be published in the Energy Journal). The first will peak at 1.5C with 350ppm in the atmosphere some time after 2100. The second is slightly higher, in the 400′s. What they found is that the only way these are possible is using negative emissions. Thats right, actually sucking CO2 from the air before the end of the century. This may sound silly but its possible if we burn plant material then place it underground using CCS (see this free paper for more detail) and its thought this will be technically possible, think I-phone technology curve or jet engines. Another example is the rapid development and spread of the wind industry by the Danish Government, current world leader in the sector. In fact they did the maths and found that these carbon negative scenarios would cost economies roughly 1-2 years growth in 100years. Less than the occasional banking crisis! However for this to be possible emissions must peak before 2020 and then fall on average 3-4% per year, still perfectly doable you would think.
However, no matter how many times AOSIS puts 350ppm or 1.5C into the negotiating text, developed countries remove them using the argument that they are unfeasible or impossible or too costly (Ahem… Johnathan Pershing of the USA). Now this is where it gets interesting, whos doing their modelling? Well their own research institutions of course (Stanford). Today we were told otherwise by top scientists and economists, we were also told that in fact the models quoted by the US government were designed not to be able to incorporate negative emissions, i.e. the model limits make it physically impossible to evaluate 1.5C. Thats not the same as 1.5C being physically impossible or too expensive as the US and company like to claim. Maybe they are just naive however I think not, this is a clear example of the battle over scientific information affecting the negotiations. In other words who’s scientific advice is better, academic imperialism might be another description. In our interviews for FIG so far we have already heard about the lack of research institutions in developing countries being a problem. It seems here that science and the results of research institutions are being exploited in a partisan way, which although hardly unexpected is rather sinister considering that it is being used to justify the wiping of so many peoples livelihoods from the earth. Here is another rather glaring information gap, an inequality in scientific advice and for that matter scientific institutions. It’s important that this counter message gets out, it can be done and it is affordable but only if we act now with global emissions peaking before 2020. 1.5c and 350ppm are the only desirable targets with the added benefit that the European 2C target would then have a 95% probablility of being met.
Heres the possible future for SIDS without it.
2C: Corals may no longer grow. hurricane numbers drop but strength increases. Increases El Nino and the economic ruin that causes. Rises in sea level by 2-5m plus by 2300, 1m by 2100 still with a fast rate of increase. Changes is ecosystems etc etc.
You get the picture. When you are here and you speak to individuals, the sometimes inaccessible, unemotive numbers suddenly have gravity. They can make you heart heavy and your stomach drop. Today upon asking a female delegate from Micronesia how she felt she replied in a horribly resigned manner “I think we are pretty screwed” the sad thing is that about sums up the situation. Academic inequality (the knowledge gap) is taking 1.5C off the negotiating table and it’s just not on.
Ever since our hopes of an international climate treaty burst into a ball of accord-tainted flames I have been wondering what it will be like on the corridors of the conference centre in the meetings after Copenhagen. I am curious to know what the mood between the delegates, especially between the north and south will feel like; how many delegates from each country will be attending; and the way the UN secretariat conducts itself.
The hopeful mood of the southern countries in Copenhagen disintegrated into anger aimed squarely at the northern countries who basically took their futures for a joy ride. Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, the small island nation we supported in COP15 said himself that he had started Copenhagen with a sense that the right thing would be done, because the world was watching. Yet come the end of the week when we all sat down to a commiseratory meal together, he could barely speak his anger and frustration ran so deep. It can be compared to a relationship turning sour and recriminatory at the end, where just to stay together becomes poisonous. Has the UNFCCC got to this point? Would it be poisonous to continue pinning hopes of tackling climate change on a multilateral international basis rather than saying enough is enough and every country pursuing bilateral relationships and agreements? Were the Southern countries let down so badly that they can never forgive, or will they live and let die if the developed and powerful countries start to engage humanely in the process and in the relationship? This week we will be testing the waters by roaming the corridors of the Maritim Hotel accosting delegates with a Dictaphone to get their views on how could the process be fairer and what would they need to participate in the negotiations more meaningfully (see FIG).
Sam touched on this before, but how will the Secretariat behave this time? Yvo De Boer, in his position as executive secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat, is renowned for making clear his frustration with the lack of progress in talks, and encouraging delegates to work together and be constructive in their comments, all under the restrictions of being a diplomat and having no actual power to change or speed up the process. Christina Figures, daughter of three-times President of Costa Rica, and a negotiator for South America herself, has worked on the Kyoto Protocol and knows the process inside out (unlike the Danish PM who failed miserably to grasp the art of diplomacy at the height of COP15); it will be very interesting to see how she copes with having only persuasive powers of speech at her fingertips, rather than actual measures she can impose on the parties. Apparently she is an accomplished public speaker, maybe she will mesmerise and empower the negotiators into action with her inspirational opening speeches….maybe she will immediately command everyone’s respect in the room due to her accomplishments, whatever the truth all eyes are on her to take this forward in a purposeful and meaningful way, especially as her interpretation of meaningful is likely to be the same as many developing countries ambitious positions, we could be in for an exciting ride. Its not just her new face which could excite the hard core UNers, there are many new chairs, most of whom are from developing countries, who are experiencing climate change right now. We’ve got Mama Konaté of Mali, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe of Zimbabwe, Ruleta Camacho of Antigua and Barbuda and Liana Bratasida of Indonesia. Some of whom were also in the running for the Christina’s position. So, we shall see what kind of leadership they bring in their chairing roles, and although we will never know, one wonders if they will let themselves be lobbied in private meetings with unsavoury private sector figures quite as much as their developed country alternative would. Only time will tell.