Can you ever forgive me?

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.

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What Next For Climate Negotiations?

Hello UNfairplay readers,

Another year, another set of climate negotiations and much has changed over the last few months. Firstly Yvo de Boer as many of you will know has stepped down as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. His commitment to constructing a deal was evident and his passion at times thinly veiled, especially during negotiations where little sleep is had by anyone (the famous crying incident in Bali). In a leaked letter to the Guardian today, Yvo is quoted as saying;

“[The Danish text] destroyed two years of effort in one fell swoop,” De Boer wrote. “All our attempts to prevent the paper happening failed. The meeting at which it was presented was unannounced and the paper unbalanced.”

It also added,

“Inviting heads of state seemed like a good idea. But it seriously backfired”, ” Their early arrival did not have the catalytic effect that was hoped for. The process became paralysed. Rumour and intrigue took over.”

It has become clear that the outcome at Copenhagen was nothing short of a disaster for the UNFCCC process and in terms of emissions (See the Oxford Environmental Change Institute Podcast for commentary, and if you have the metal watch the closing session of COP15 for the late night drama). Scientists Rogelj et al (2010) in the respected journal Nature write a piece entitled ‘ Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry’ in which they summarise:

  • Nations will probably meet only the lower ends of their emissions pledges in the absence of a binding international agreement
  • Nations can bank an estimated 12 gigatonnes of Co2 equivalents surplus allowances for use after 2012
  • Land-use rules are likely to result in further allowance increases of 0.5 GtCO2-eq per year
  • Global emissions in 2020 could thus be up to 20% higher than today
  • Current pledges mean a greater than 50% chance that warming will exceed 3°C by 2100
  • If nations agree to halve emissions by 2050, there is still a 50% chance that warming will exceed 2°C and will almost certainly exceed 1.5°C

In short the consensus is that as things stand we are heading for a 3C plus world as currently world emissions are greater than those of the IPCC’s worst case (A1Fl) scenario (Raupach, 2007) and as yet, no sign of a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement is in sight.

In fact the political fallout of the botched Copenhagen negotiations is only just beginning to be understood. A recent paper produced from the discussions of experts brought together by  the London School of Economics entitled ‘The Hartwell Paper: A new direction for climate policy after the crash of 2009′ attempts to assess the political aftermath of COP15 and how climate politics may move forward from here. The papers position is that the UNFCCC/Kyoto process has crashed and is structurally unworkable, rather it argues for a radical reframing  “accepting that decarbonisation will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals which are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic”.

In other words countries such as the US on purely ideological grounds may never pass domestic legislation to cut carbon emissions directly. This leaves multinational negotiations forever stalled without the world’s second biggest emitter included, similar problems exist for other countries. Therefore direct emissions reductions are unlikely to work, rather they should be achieved as a corroraly of three overarching objectives: ensuring energy access for all; ensuring that we develop in a manner that does not undermine the essential functioning of the Earth system; ensuring that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from all the vagaries of climate, whatever their cause may be. In this way the secondary effects of a policy (i.e. carbon reductions from clean energy production in the developing world) may be considered one of its primary objectives in addition of development. Scientists have also suggested that focus purely on CO2 may be a mistake, easier gains for both worldwide health and warming may be initially gained by reducing black carbon emissions, (See:  A Perspective Paper on Black Carbon Mitigation as a Response to Climate Change) or by considering the effect of differing green house gasses on ecosystem services (Sitch et al 2007).

Such an approach as advocated in the Hartwell paper will not be popular with many LDC’s, at COP15 the Kyoto track of negotiations was voraciously defended because legally it sets out the responsibilities of Annex I countries (even if many of them have reneged up it!). Ironically China, India, Brazil and South Africa blocked long term emission targets from being in the Copenhagen Accord on the pretext that they would soon be unable to argue that they shouldn’t be in Annex I also (See Mark Lynas’s article in the Guardian). Many believe that to enact emissions cuts necessary to achieve climate stabilisation (a moot point as to if such a thing exists) only a unilateral approach with interim and short term targets will come close. It seems that among the west and larger developing countries that political will is not there to do so. And so therefore the scene is set, where will negotiations proceed? How will climate politics be rebuilt before Mexico? Will it be rebuilt? What will it look like? Hopefully some insights might come from these intercessional negotiations.

Whatever happens now, the Costa Rican negotiator Christiana Figures (Yvo’s replacement as Executive Secretary) is really going to have her work cut out for her to try and wrestle multilateral climate politics back from the brink and find a way to cut emissions from countries where domestic political issues precludes direct legislation.

Sam and Isabel