The flame of hope for global action on climate change flickered but stayed lit as the latest round of international negotiations, COP17, ended early Sunday morning after days and nights of marathon sessions in Durban, South Africa. Most delegates agreed to work on a deal that by 2020 would require carbon emission cuts from both developed and developing nations. A $100 billion Green Climate Fund, to help developing nations pay for moving to a “greener” economy and cope with climate change mitigation was agreed to, but how it is to be funded was not clear. Chief European Union climate negotiator Connie Hedegaard tweeted: “We got a roadmap that marks a breakthrough for (the) international fight against climate change.” Under the agreement, the Kyoto Protocol (which the U.S. never signed) would be extended for 5 to 7 years, during which time the next goals will be negotiated.
Word Fiddling While the Planet Burns?
The late-night wrangling led to much jousting over language, indicating that many parties were seeking to water down the enforceability of the next treaty before it has even been negotiated. In one clause of the final agreement, the parties agree to “launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change applicable to all Parties.”
Power Play: Haves Vs. Have Nots Is No Game
The divide between developed and developing nations seen at previous negotiations continued in Durban, with tense moments and occasionally emotional accusations, as developing nations, including China and India, balked at restricting their growing economies, since they have not been responsible for the bulk of emissions to date. The Guardian quotes Indian environmental minister Jayanthi Natarajan: “Am I to write a blank check and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the EU ‘roadmap’ contains? I wonder if this an agenda to shift the blame on to countries who are not responsible [for climate change]. I am told that India will be blamed. Please do not hold us hostage.”
Many environmental NGOs are unhappy with the talks’ results, and commented that the world’s poor will suffer disproportionately from failure to make significant inroads on climate change mitigation. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo noted, “The grim news is that the 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.” Oxfam blogged, “Negotiators have sent a message to the world’s hungry: ‘Let them eat carbon.’”
WWF executive director Samantha Smith pointed to the political considerations that were driving many of the negotiators:“Some countries here, like the United States, showed they were not interested in supporting an ambitious outcome in Durban. The US — afraid of the politics at home – fought over a few words, but missed the bigger story: limiting dangerous climate change.”
“Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International. “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% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.”
The Global 99%
One lesson to draw is that national governments will only move if pushed from within; climate progress will most likely come first from local and regional levels. The New York Times quotes Mary D. Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board: “Instead of waiting for them to negotiate some grand bargain, we have to keep working on the ground. Progress is going to come from the bottom up, not the top down. That’s just reality.” This sentiment is echoed by a self described “youth, climate change and peace advocate” from Fiji, who summed up the same frustration and hope that has been expressed by the Occupy movement, when he tweeted about COP17: “Change will not come from the top. change will come from a mobilized grassroots. We, here, can make it happen now.”
Image: Can the patient be saved? from UNFCCC photo stream CC license.