As the conference came to a close, and minimal solutions were decided upon, the world remains in limbo regarding the next steps to mitigating climate change. Developed countries such as the US and high-emitters such as China have come out with a inadequate sort of agreement, but the developing nations that will soon be feeling the radiating effects of climate change have not been aided in the least, as far as I can tell. As I mentioned in a previous post, a potential solution to mitigating some of the negative externalities of climate change and maintaining a sustainable rate of population growth would be the introduction of family planning resources in developing nations. In a recent op-ed for Minnesota Public Radio written by Sarah Stoesz, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and fellow attendee of COP 15, more light is shed on the importance of reproductive rights and population maintenance as a tool to lessen the blow of climate change is discussed more in depth.
Most strikingly, Stoesz cites facts from a study conducted by the London School of Economics regarding the impact of family planning on climate change. The statistics don’t lie; family planning indeed can inexpensively decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The emission of one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent can be prevented by spending only $7 on family planning. When comparing this sum to the amount of money that many governments and non-profits have been contributing to other carbon-reducing technologies it becomes clear that family planning is a simple solution that has the potential to decrease millions of tons of GHG emissions for a very low cost.
Unfortunately, this solution is still not an option in many countries where the concept of using contraceptives is unacceptable and women are not given the chance or choice to limit the number of children they have. It becomes clear that the underlying cause to why the world has not accepted family planning as a real solution to climate change is gender inequality. This issue, of course, is a whole different ball game, but emphasizes the inherent connection between gender, poverty and climate change. Climate change can very easily be proven to be a phenomenon that has the potential to aggravate inequitable global conditions, especially the plight of poor women in impoverished nations. Poverty and gender inequality must therefore be addressed before real climate change mitigation and adaptation can take place on a global scale.
The other day I attended a very empowering side event outlining the implications of climate change that affect uniquely women, especially in developing countries. This issue of gender and climate change was especially refreshing because I feel it is so rarely on the climate change agenda, especially in Copenhagen this year with the exception of a few side events. Basically, in many countries women are responsible for caring for the family, a task that in some countries includes spending up to five hours a day searching for drinking water and the rest of the day cooking inside tiny huts prone to indoor smoke pollution (not only an inefficient use of fuel, but a health hazard to women). Not only do women in many countries face higher levels of vulnerability to the negative externalities of climate change, but females are grossly underrepresented in many countries and have very little decision making power to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to improve their lives. As panelist Christina Chan of CARE International put it, women often suffer the most in times of crisis because they hold the bulk of household responsibility and lack a voice in leadership, though women also have the power to be agents of change.
The issue of climate change and its relationship to gender, like many large social problems, can find root in poverty and gender inequality in the world, especially developing nations. For this reason, I was shocked that the family planning was not brought up in such a panel. Not only does providing women with family planning resources promote equality by giving women the opportunity to have children when they choose, but the availability of contraception can decrease poverty and positively work towards a planet less impacted by climate change. When women can limit the number of children they have to an amount they are capable of caring for, the population can grow at a healthier rate. Too many women in developing countries are not able to make reproductive choices for themselves—what better way to empower women than to give them the resources to adequately plan how many children they want or are capable of having? Surprised and disappointed that this otherwise empowering discussion didn’t include family planning, an issue I feel is essential in any presentation regarding gender and climate change, I asked the panel if any of their organizations had programs to make family planning resources available and if they felt population control had a place in the potential treaty of COP15. Their response was not as I expected.
In a room full of feminists, I expected support for my question and sentiments regarding the availability of birth control to give women of the world more control over their own lives in order to reduce poverty and maintain natural population control. However the wording of my question led the panel astray in their answer. Titi Soentoro, a panelist from an Asian-led network of civil society organizations, responded to my question with a perspective that actually chastised the idea of population control. Though I understand that this perspective is based on her experiences living in Asia, where women are forced to cap the amount of children they have by the government, an extremely different situation than what I am used to in the US. Regardless, it has been found by many researchers and scientists that the planet has a carrying capacity, and the earth’s resources are already being stretched to their maximum, something that has become more and more apparent in the light of climate change research. The rate of population growth is reaching dangerous rates and impoverished women are often trapped in their poverty due to large family sizes and from bearing children at an early age (which at times is a decision out of their control). Even at the end of the session, I received an angry rant from a woman in the audience who told me that population control is a Western idea, and that women in Africa with eight children have a much smaller ecological footprint than a woman in the US with only one. Yes, I agree, and perhaps my American ignorance allowed me to believe that population control was not a negative way to discuss family planning and reproductive rights, but my opinion remains the same. Until women have control over their bodies, poverty cannot be reduced and the population of the planet will grow past the carrying capacity. Access to birth control and other resources is vital to gender equality and climate change mitigation alike. However, I should have expected such reaction after bringing up a controversial topic such as family planning and birth control, which even the liberalized population of the Unites States still has trouble wrapping their heads around.
Today in a side event put on by the UN regarding intergenerational equity, Yvo de Boer and panelists from around the world discussed the importance of youth involvement in climate change policy and the vitality of intergenerational equity as a part of climate change legislation that may come out of COP15. The panel consisted of adult and youth representatives, all of whom brought unique insight to the debate about how much the leadership present in Copenhagen should be listening to the young people who will be responsible for continuing to mitigate greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change farther into the future than the delegates debating policy. Perhaps the most enlightening and moving portion of the presentation was the reading of an essay by a young woman from India detailing her personal experiences dealing with the adverse effects of climate change. As a result of rising temperatures, the city of Mumbai has been suffering from floods that are increasing not only in frequency, but in severity as well. In fact, according to the youth speaker, people in India are beginning to accept this constant flooding as a normal part of life. She also detailed personal experiences spending hours wading through waist-high water, watching dead animal carcasses float by, just to get from school back home. Her moving story and striking message, that the youth of the world must not only form an alliance in order to better address climate change in the future, but trust our leadership to do the right thing. Her powerful story and meaningful words regarding a mutual trust among youth and leadership was received with a standing ovation from the crowd. In response, de Boer cautioned youth in the room to force their leaders to earn their trust, as he believes world leaders and those negotiating climate change policy at COP15 have not yet proven they deserve our trust to properly address climate change. Before departing, de Boer expressed his hope for the future generation, and his desire for those in charge to take a cue from the youth to do what is right and protect future generations from climate change.
Today some members of our group were fortunate enough to attend an exclusive briefing session between head UNFCCC officers and the youth in attendance at COP15. The briefing consisted of opening remarks from John Ashe, head of the subsidiary body AWG-KP and Michael Zammit Cutajar of the AWG-LCA followed by a short question and answer period. For background, the two subsidiary bodies make up the “tracks” of the two-track approach to creating and implementing international climate change policy. The AWG-KP, or Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, focuses on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which will need to be decided upon when the first commitment period expires at the end of 2012. The AWG-LCA represents the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, and focuses on financing, adaptation, and action on a long-term scale. Both bodies, though representing different aspects of climate policy, are ultimately working towards the same goal of an international treaty that will sufficiently address climate change.
About one hundred students and young people from all over the world filled the small conference room to hear the comments of UNFCCC officers and take advantage of this rare opportunity to discuss the future of COP15 with those who actually have some decision-making power. Despite the high-level of the officers in the scheme of the UNFCCC hierarchy, the atmosphere of the meeting was light-hearted and high-energy, with both officers cracking jokes and Cutajar clad in a youth-themed tee shirt over his suit and tie. The attitudes of the Ashe and Cutajar indicates that perhaps the UNFCCC does care about what the youth have to say about climate change, a refreshing change of pace from the general attitude of US leadership toward students and youth. As Ashe said himself, the world has come together here in Copenhagen to secure the future, and the youth that are dedicated to acting to address climate change are not only the future itself, but indeed an important presence at COP15.
Though the opportunity to brush shoulders with these influential policy celebrities was invaluable, the question and answer segment of the meeting wasn’t as enlightening as I had hoped. The questions that came up in the (ten minute) question and answer period were extremely broad and didn’t really challenge Cutajar and Ashe to address anything beyond the basics of what is to come in the next ten days. However, the overall experience was an honor to be a part of, and I feel extremely luck to be here in Copenhagen among my international peers.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, the United States is beginning to take initiative within the realm of international climate change policy. The U.S. government has proposed to set up a global fund designed to assist developing nations adapt to climate change. Such a fund would rely on the collaboration of many industrialized nations to finance the estimated $7-10 billion that will be necessary to provide the least developed nations of the world with sufficient resources to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. This proposal was penned in October and would ideally “leverage private-sector investments as well as public funds” (Friedman). The necessity of such a fund, which will be facilitated by the World Bank, is becoming more and more urgent, as the LDC’s have the fewest available resources to prepare for the effects of climate change and are often vulnerable to the most devastating effects.
The financing of climate change adaptation in developing nations can indeed be considered the responsibility of the world’s wealthier nations. Many developing nations have contributed little to no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, unlike their wealthier counterparts that rapidly industrialized with the unintended consequence of emitting tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide and increasing global temperatures. The United States is truly taking strides toward global equity by proposing the creation of a climate adaptation fund, though it remains to be seen how dedicated the U.S. and other wealthy nations will be to financing climate change adaptation far from home. Aside from concerns regarding the United State’s actual dedication to this adaptation fund, the U.S. is raising some eyebrows and arguably sending mixed messages by neglecting to agree to mitigation targets in the first place. Changing the polluting behavior the United States is guilty for by agreeing to legally binding mitigation targets is equally important as funding adaptation—and perhaps even more urgent in the current time frame. It seems as if the U.S. is willing to pump capital into developing nations to create the illusion that the government is in fact taking action, while ensuring that the economy can function normally without setting or being held accountable for mitigation targets like the rest of the world.
Proposing a fund for adaptation to be distributed to poor nations is a step in the right direction for the U.S., but the dollar amount cited in the NY Times article is an estimate based on the current trends of climate change. If the world continues to go on with business as usual emissions, this amount may very quickly prove to be underestimated on a grand scale. Placing a monetary value on the needs of extremely poor and vulnerable nations is an extremely difficult task, especially when considering the current issues in many developing nations such as hunger and disease that will only be exacerbated by climate change. A global fund to address the ever-increasing consequences of climate change in the LDC’s is a vital piece of the climate change puzzle that must be decided upon and enforced as a result of COP15, though the level of dedication many nations will actually contribute will remain to be seen. The United States in order to become a global participant in combating climate change must not only plan to donate money to other nations, but must act as a nation to decrease the level of greenhouse gas emissions in order to lessen the amount of adaptation that will be necessary in the coming decades.
As the preliminary climate talks to COP15 wrapped up today in Barcelona, Spain, there are mixed feelings regarding the role the United States will play during the negotiations next month. The Financial Times article “Barcelona climate talks achieve little” written by Fiona Harvey and posted November 6, 2009, summarizes the challenges of this past week as key international players attempted to make progress towards a global agreement to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Tensions between the developed and developing nations ran high, especially as some developing nations threatened to walk out of the talks due to the blase attitudes of developed nations, including the United States (who continued to drag their feet and have thus far refused to come forward with any type of plan to reduce emissions). Only small victories were won this week, including a general agreement that developed nations have a responsibility to assist developing nations to obtain necessary low-carbon technologies. Consensus may have been reached on this specific topic, but the general attitude of the United States drastically brought down the ability of the talks to create any type of agreement regarding climate change.
Though many of the nations that originally signed on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 are supportive of extending the contract, the US (who never signed on to the Kyoto in the first place) continues to object to the agreement. According to Harvey, Alf Wills, coordinator of the G77 countries in Barcelona, was distraught to hear that the United States and other wealthy nations were “effectively [talking about] the Kyoto Protocol being dead. We cannot accept that.” Any indication from the United States that the Kyoto Protocol is unimportant will be taken seriously by other world leaders, especially those representing the most vulnerable developing nations. Though Copenhagen may very well result in a contract that is different from the Kyoto of 1997, a global dedication is necessary, and the most influential developed nations must have attitudes in accordance with this sentiment.
The climate talks in Barcelona did not achieve great success, and the developed nations in attendance did not display a tremendous amount of investment to a global deal, which certainly may result in a worrying month as the world ramps up for COP15. Developed nations, especially the United States, have played a tremendous role in the dispersion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and consequentially, global climate change itself. A lack of dedication from the nations most responsible for emitting greenhouse gases is an alarming result of the Barcelona talks, which promises a difficult journey ahead in Copenhagen.