These past two weeks I have been able to observe the COP-15 conference. The first week was very hopeful and organized through out Copenhagen and the Bella Center where the UN negotiations were taking place. The negotiation room was slow and many countries would speak past their allotted time and stand still on issues such as Carbon Capture Schemes. The small countries such as Tuvalu wanted to get rid of the Kyoto Protocol, while other countries wanted to stay with what was already existing and move from there. The Bella Center also had side events that allowed NGOs and other participants at COP-15 to learn about what is going on around the world due to Climate Change. Side events offered adaptation and mitigation ideas and discussions. The lost puzzle piece in the negotiations was urgency and action towards seeing environmental justice as a moral issue. The world can’t wait any longer and developing nations are suffering the worst. The agreement of 350 ppm of CO2 emissions would help stop the downward slope of climate change. Additionally, funds should be given to developing countries that had little role in industrialization and have to endure the effects of droughts and flooding.
12 December 2009 was the date of action and representation. The NGOs and activists, young and old, privileged and oppressed, came together to march for Climate Justice and a fair deal at COP-15. The solidarity of people from all over filled the streets of Copenhagen with hope for change. People chanted, “System change, not climate change,” and “There is no Planet B.” The march ended at the Bella Center to meet the delegates and make them hear the people’s request. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, spoke at the rally and led the people in a chant for, “Climate Justice and a Fair Deal Now!” Mary Robinson had a young environmental activist join her on stage and share her stories and experiences with the fight and struggle for climate justice. She shared that there were hunger strikers on each continent on day 32 demonstrating for environmental justice and that she was joining them in their fast. The two women invited a man representing the voice of the indigenous people. He was from North America and had first hand seen the injustices against the Native American people. The three groups of people offering different points of view came together to raise a united message of solidarity and Environmental Justice Now.
The exciting and moving moments at the march continued on Monday at the side event Women for Climate Justice and the side event on the melting ice sheet commented on by Al Gore. However, the next day a reality check came in place for all the NGOs. Friends of the Earth were denied access to the Bella Center and many other delegations were forced to ration out delegation passes, approximately 1/3 of delegation. The long lines and added security made the people grow frustrated and belittled. Many people came from all around the world and paid a lot of money to witness the negotiations and participate in the side events at the Bella Center and it was very unexpected to be shut out of the Bella Center by Wednesday. Thursday and Friday all NGOs were not allowed in the Bella Center and the choice of G77 to leave the negotiations left little hope for a legally binding and fair deal.
With the arrival of US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at COP-15 filled the Bella Center with anticipation and last gleam of leadership. However, the end result of COP-15 was nothing more than a weak political agreement. The highs and lows of COP-15 taught my fellow students delegates and myself a first hand experience of an intergovernmental organization’s pitfalls and prospects. The UN is able to bring countries together and make room for intergovernmental agreements, however, the system makes it hard for any binding agreements to be reached since consensus is hard to meet if people leave negotiations or choose to not compromise or listen to the issues. Nations must look past only their immediate needs and look towards accountability and justice. Environmental justice must be worked towards and UN leaders must work together to move this issue forward. The US needs to pass a binding Environmental Clean Energy bill and move America towards understanding that Climate Change is real and that profit can be made in sustainable development and practices. Once the US steps up the rest of the world can truly understand where the future of American industry and Fortune 500 companies are going, which will allow them to see how they too can profit from Clean Energy. Clean Energy will lead to Environmental Justice and control of Climate Change, but it is important for World leaders to step up to the plate and move discussions and agreements forward.
On Monday 14 December 2009 at the Bella Center I was able to sit in on a gender side event of Climate Justice. The event had four panelists and one panelist represented CARE internationalist. This organization aims at empowering women and fighting global poverty. The overall mission of CARE is to work towards hope, justice, tolerance, dignity and security.
CARE, along with the organization Practical Action, believe that true change in issues of global poverty and women’s justice issues is through not only monetary needs but through empowerment. The definition CARE gives empowerment is, “the sum total of changes needed for a woman to realize her full human rights, the combined effect of changes in her own aspirations and capabilities, the environment that influences her…” In order for a woman to fulfill aspirations as an individual she must be able to have access to new knowledge and collective groups. The idea is to sustain oneself and create personal strength. The other edge of empowerment is through changing the environment that is toxic to her. This is through deconstructing the societal norms that hold her back. For instance, the lack of the women’s voice being represented can be connected to the fact that many traditions do not allow women to own land. If a person is not allowed to own land they are stunted in power because land is a way to access credit and tools for adaptation during climate change.
CARE has many ways to include women in society by way of empowerment. The way to engage and empower women in climate change is through strengthening the livelihood of women in the context of climate change and building resilience to climate conditions but also capacity to adapt in the future. The way for women to build agency is through gaining knowledge of climate trends and having ability to analyze risks. It is necessary to build access to climate information such as seasonal forecasts and services that can facilitate adaptation such as financial services and agricultural extensions.
The most interesting thing I learned at the Women for Climate Justice side event was that gender justice issues in climate change is important because most of the time when things get tough women are disproportionately adversely effected because they are not in government or local power structures to gain access and power to lift themselves out of desperation or share their voice in the struggle. The global deal on Climate Change, even if it is not reached at COP-15, must take note of the experience of the woman especially in cases in developing nations. Organizations like CARE are working towards a true unalienable framework of change and human dignity. Gender across the board needs to feel empowered in order to depart difficult situations, and the female population faces more difficult situations in many areas around the world, so it is important that a global deal works to protect every human’s rights. Global Climate Justice needs to be happen through a strong Global deal and continued efforts such as CARE international’s framework approach.
On Monday 14 December 2009, I was able to sit in on a side event on Gender and Women for Climate Justice at the Bella Center during the COP-15. The panel of four women discussed their NGOs and how their organizations tackle gender issues within Climate Change. The four organizations discussed the vulnerability that women in impoverished areas face during the effects of climate change.
Women are generally not involved in programs outside of their homes so they do not have a voice during struggle and conflict. This tradition makes it hard for women as climate change progresses because they are less likely to gain access to water and food. Through the process of climate change heavy rains or droughts wipe out food and water supplies. Many women are powerless in their communities through out the developing world and through the struggles and extreme circumstances of climate change many people become environmental refugees. Through these difficult experiences many women are raped and taken advantage of while trying to sustain their lives. For example, in Sudan and Darfur women are often raped while they try to collect firewood. The panelists at the Women for Climate Justice side event offered concrete programs that try and address these power struggles and injustices.
The role of the woman in developing communities is often based off cooking and in Bangladesh women have a difficult time getting big enough fish to prepare for food. The solution Practical Actions created was to teach the women how to build cages so that they could collect a large amount of fish in one attempt and go deeper and further into the water than a fishing rod can. This idea of empowering women through teaching them tools and skills allows the community to build itself up and sustain a life that is looking towards the future. The focus Practical Actions takes is through enabling poor communities to work there way out of poverty. Charities can be helpful to refugees in momentary struggles, but if people are to seek growth and change they must learn how to build themselves up first. Teaching these women different techniques in firewood gathering and fishing allows them to take control and power in their community and gives them a chance to survive in the harsh realities of climate change and poverty.
The power structures and traditional role of women in many communities makes it difficult for women in times of struggle, however, Practical Actions believes the key to justice for women is through, “reducing vulnerability, strengthening resilience, women as keepers of traditional knowledge and trainers.” Women are empowered through learning skills and techniques to improve their lives, and then they can become trainers to fellow community members.
The Gender Justice side event gave a face to Climate Change. Humanity is dependent on the deals that are created in the UN. With the developing Nations walking out of negotiations earlier this week at COP-15, it was disheartening for progress. It looks as though a strong, binding agreement will not be made here at COP-15. Right now a more weak result will most likely be a political agreement. Time is running out for the people in developing countries and it is very disheartening to see politics get in the way of a fair deal that helps bring Climate Justice to all nations and all peoples of the shared world we all live in.
As part of side event activities at COP-15, delegates are encouraged to sign up for energy tours. The overwhelming amount of side events and lectures given at the conference led me to take a break from the conference and join in one of the offered energy tours on 11 December 2009. The energy tour was free and coach buses took participants from the Bella Conference Center to Middelgrund, an off shore wind farm. The tour was on a boat and provided participants with a close look at the windmills. On the tour the company showed an informational video and handed out brochures on their wind power business and on wind power as a clean energy source. The tour claims that the Municipality of Thisted (46,000 inhabitants) is provided with over 100 per cent of power consumption and more than 80 per cent of heat consumption with out the use of fossil fuels. Thisted is Denmark’s cleanest municipality in Denmark and has 226 wind turbines. Wind power is growing in popularity; however, the issue seems to always be ‘not in my backyard.’ People like wind turbines as long as they do not have to see them. Many people believe it ruins the landscape views, while other critics are concerned with bird migration patterns being affected.
Even though some people are not fully sold by the alternative energy source of wind power, Thisted provides an interesting look a large amount of wind energy working at is fullest potential. In other countries, outside environmentally progressive nations like Sweden and Denmark, challenges in expanding wind power can be due to grid access, shortage of experienced personnel and lack of awareness of employment opportunities in the sector. Wind power, like solar power and most alternative energy sources, has a lot of start up costs that makes it difficult for small businesses and private investors to invest in wind turbines. However, as technology and research investment increases opportunities for profit becomes quicker and more efficient. The end result of wind energy is profitable and clean for the environment and the Thisted model at Middelburg exemplifies the opportunities of profit and clean energy can currently achieve.
Something Renee pulled from a discussion we had with a Danish university student on the boat is in the layout of the wind turbines. In the US an argument against wind farms is that they have an ugly aesthetic value, but here in Denmark, the wind turbines are being laid out across the water in a specific manner to make them viewable from the city. Once completed, one of the farms will form a circle, stretching across the land and water, currently they just have the one line completed. The mindset the people living here have about renewable resources is encouraging, hopefully in the US we will see similar innovative renewable resource technologies being developed, this should be assisted with the Department of Energy’s new initiative to increase energy efficient technology development.
Copenhagen and their wind turbine manufacturers here have the marketing slogan, “wind power works” which is the attitude the rest of the developed world needs toward all renewable resources in order switch from coal and oil to clean energy.
Yesterday afternoon, 9 December 2009, US Administrator for the EPA, Lisa Jackson, addressed the press and spectators at COP-15 on the US EPA’s action in the current administration. The highly anticipated speech offered a sentiment of making up for lost time. During the last 8 years under the Bush Administration, many of the EPA’s plans were put on hold such as the recent announcement of Endangered Findings in greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. Jackson explained that many of the groups wanting a more progressive take on the climate had been ‘going it alone’ such as the inter-state organization she was part of with New Jersey due to the poor environmental agenda of the Bush Administration. Jackson believes that the inventive and creative activity that was taking place on the regional level will now have a chance on the federal level with the new administration in place.
Jackson announced that she believed this administration will rise to the challenge of climate change, and that the impression and legacy of 2009 will be the year that the US government started seriously addressing clean energy reform. During the questions portion of Jackson’s speech she commented on the built environment and said that the EPA works with the Energy Star program on new and retrofit strategies to reduce emissions, and that through the $50 billion in the US Recovery Act, $6 billion would be designated to water and waste water. She explained that water is integral to sustainability practices since it provides a renewable option with clean water, which is the future since clean water is becoming scarcer and scarcer of a source.
Jackson’s exciting announcement during her speech was that the Supreme Court passed the Endangered Findings in April of this year and on 7 December 2009 she signed the two findings, endangerment and cause or contribute findings, which found that green house gases impose a threat to health. These findings under the Clean Air Act have stirred up some controversy in the US and some critics claim that it is not transparent enough. Jackson offered in response to this accusation, that through legislation the question of whether or not carbon should have a price is taken off the table and that through legislation Americans will be able to look at companies and see what they are doing. The current economic climate has shaken American business and global business alike, and in order to get American businesses wanting to invest in sustainable practices is through showing the American businesses that clean energy is profitable.
Jackson claims that the Endangered Findings are the key to the Clean Air Act and now the law of the land and that the Act provides reasonable common sense steps to compliment legislation. This ‘key’ to the Clean Air Act provides some change and progress in environmental policy and Jackson’s remarks give reason to believe that the US Obama administration will take clean energy seriously. However, the vague strategies at COP-15 have led people to believe otherwise. Hopefully next week President Obama’s visit to COP-15 will provide some clarity on the US position.
The discussions at the Bangkok conference during the first two weeks of October in 2009 were highly anticipated and hopeful for agreements and progress before the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Headway must be made before the Copenhagen Climate Conference during the Bangkok and Barcelona conferences, if there is to be a strong global deal agreed upon, or at least drafted at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.
The rich and powerful leaders must make drastic cuts in emissions and allow for a meeting point for developing nations who cannot afford to make as drastic cuts. The developing countries such as India would not agree to a strong cut of emissions for their country since they did not play a major role in the amount of damage done to the environment in the 1900s. The rich, developed and industrialized countries such as the US, UK and other EU countries had major hands in the emissions emitted and still do emit a lot. This fact must be taken into account in the global deal drafts and must require leaders in the developed countries to look at the ways to convince developing nations into cutting their emissions. This can only be done through developed nations making large commitments.
The leaders in climate change commitments are in the European Union. The European Union held press briefings through the conference to update the media on their progress. On October 5, 2009, it was disappointingly reported that discussions were slowly moving along and that key political issues needed to be focused on more closely. Moderate progress was being made in the less politically difficult area of adaptation; however, the difficult topic of mitigation in developed countries still needs a lot of attention and work.
On October 9, 2009, the European Union held another press briefing where the panel announced that they would make goals and sign onto deals if there is a sound fair deal outlined where other leading countries have comparable deals. The United States is one of the leading produces of emissions and therefore they are a key group in the discussions and the weight of the deal that comes from the discussions. After the Kyoto Protocol was not ratified in the United States it set global accountability back. If the leading countries such as the United States do not pass the deal made in Copenhagen it will send a message to the rest of the world that climate change is not of importance.
Copenhagen will hopefully provide a strong and realistic global deal that all countries can sign on to. The European Union has said that they will commit to a fair global deal and they are key in leading other rich and high emitters in the developed countries during the weeks leading up to Copenhagen and during the Climate Conference. A strong global deal that creates change in behavior can only work if it is fair and realistic. This can only be created through leaders taking risks and creating partnerships and coalitions that involve both mitigation and adaption initiatives. There is a lot of work still to be done before Copenhagen and hopefully Barcelona will provide more substantive discussion on the key issues and mitigation.