Last year’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen left much to be desired. Instead of a comprehensive global deal with a legally-binding treaty, we saw a voluntary political agreement with weak mitigation targets. For those who attended the negotiations, simply participating as an observer, delegate, or journalist was equally frustrating. The venue–Copenhagen’s Bella Center–did not have the capacity to accommodate the 40,000+ attendees; and the management of the crowds was not done with much efficiency. Many observers and media had to wait hours in the frigid Danish cold for their accreditation and subsequent access to the venue.
For the last four days of the two-week negotiations, civil society was essentially blocked from the venue, making it difficult for indigenous groups, environmental NGOs, and others to monitor and influence the talks.
As a response, civil society groups waged protests which were quelled by heavy-handed Danish police. Both the Danish government and the UNFCCC endured criticism for the chaos that ensued and pledged to make participation smoother at the next big round of negotiations taking place in Cancun this December.
The Mexican government recently launched the website for the conference and it is beginning to provide a glimpse of how the negotiations will be managed.
It looks as if there will be two venues: the exclusive Moon Palace Resort will hold the actual negotiations while a brand new conference center, “Cancún Messe,” will accommodate the side events and exhibitions . The implication of this arrangement is that access to the major negotiators and decision makers can easily be restricted. Unlike the Bella Center, which was relatively accessible via rail, Moon Palace is isolated and situated behind a bunker of golf courses, making it even easier to seal off.
This is clearly going to frustrate many civil society groups. One of the amazing things about these UN meetings is the relative accessibility civil society has to negotiators. Many of the country delegations meet with NGOs throughout the negotiations to hear their concerns and to provide updates about how discussions are proceeding. In Copenhagen, once inside the Bella Center, you could basically roam freely throughout the complex as an observer, sitting in on open negotiations, visiting countries’ temporary offices, meeting negotiators in the hallway, etc…In fact there is even one NGO that shadows negotiators to inject the process with a degree of transparency.
With two separated sites these types of interactions will be difficult to pull off. The unfortunate result will be a lessening of transparency and public understanding of a complex and crucial political process.
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.
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.
Just as many had predicted, COP 15 failed to produce a legeally binding international climate aggreement. The international community will have to wait for COP 16 in Mexico City.
As unfortunate as this is, I would like to focus on the fact that COP 15 was able to capture the attention of nearly every major politicition in nearly every country in the world. Not only did it capture their attention but it also required their prescence.
Many will blame the US for not putting forth a great effort. But I would like to note that the Federal and State Governments brought their top employees; including members ofthe Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also including; influential Governors, Mayors, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and most notably, President Barrack Obama.
This is proper governmental representation on the largest stage of international environmental politics.
The problem is not the government, it is the citizens of the United States, most of whom deny the fact that climate change is even a legitimate reality. As citizens of the United States we are fortunate to have the right to be provided a representative government. Unfortunately, the majority of citizens choose to be represented in a manner that is not in our best interest.
Many argue that moving towards a low carbon economy will result in the loss of jobs, inadequate supplies of energy, or possibly even shrink national GDP. All of those arguments are legitimate; however, they are the temporary issues that arise whenever change occurs.
Change is really what everyone is concerned about. Many live by the concept: that if it isnt broke then dont fix it. Our economy nearly broke and our climate is begining to show vulnerabilities. The bloodline of the US economy is oil. This provides a supreme polictial advantage to middle eastern nations. If we do not begin to change that fact, then we will eventually encounter an economic collapse.
It is certain.
It is the responsibitly of all of us to positively influence the deniers of climate change. Not everyone will accept it; thankfully, all we need is a majority.
On Tuesday, as the access to the Bella Center was severely restricted, I chose to spend some time at Klimaforum in the DGI Byen center in Copenhagen. After attending an event on deforestation in Brazil, I walked around and stumbled into an event on “False Solutions.”
The event had two keynote speakers, a woman from Brazil who had a very interesting outlook on REDD and the negative impacts it would have on her country and Nnimmo Bassey the Chair of Friends of the Earth International.
Nnimmo spoke of a great abuse of the “CDM (Clean Development Mechanism)” projects in his home country of Nigeria, and how CDM’s can provide a false solution to climate change if abused.
The abuse he spoke of was about “gas flaring” a process by which oil company’s burn the natural gas byproduct which is released when they pump oil out of the earth.
He explained that there are three potential ways to deal with the natural gas. Oil company’s can either pump the gas back down and keep only the oil, they can also capture the natural gas and sell it, or they can simply light it on fire. The latter of which is the cheapest.
Gas flaring is terrible for the environment and it’s a process which goes on 24-7-365. Nnimmo also said it’s a process that has been illegal since the 1980’s in Nigeria, however the gas company’s continue to do it in 2009.
This bring’s us to the CDM. Oil company’s in Nigeria have begun to take gas flares and use them to give power to villages. A process which the UN rewards by giving the corporations that do this carbon offsets they can sell as CDM’s. The UN overlooks the fact that the gas flares are still burning and also that gas flaring is a process which has been illegal for over 20 years in Nigeria.
Nnimmo gave an example of how he perceived this practice by saying, “if I am a bank robber and I rob 10 banks a week, if I call the UN and promise to only rob 5 a week from now on… can I have carbon credits?”
This discussion was a real eye opener because it showed the great abuses that can happen and how “solutions” to climate change can be manipulated to where they actually do no good at all.
Sunday the 13th of December, Dr. Pachauri President of the IPCC (Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change) spoke to an audience of several hundred at the Bright Green Forum in downtown Copenhagen.
Dr. Pachauri spoke with the purpose of warning government and business leaders of the fact that seal level rise projections published in the IPCC’s 4th report were inadequate.
He remarked, “projections presented in the 4th report had not considered the oceans ability to release current carbon concentrations currently witheld in the ocean. Such realeases would further increase carbon concentrations in the atmosphere which would undoubtbly increase overall global temperature; ultimately accelerating glacial melt which would lead to increased sea level rise.
Dr. Pacauri warned that seal level rises will occur at a greater rate than the IPCC had initiall believed.
He also stated that most financial and industrial centers were located in coastal regions; therefore. firms should begin addressing this issue.
Dr. Pachauri offered an optimistic view for business leaders, stating that climate change provides a oppurtunity for innovation, re development, and ultimatley the potential for increased profits.
Dr. Pachauri closed his speech by acknowledging that business leaders and governments will not be able to address this issue alone. Local grass roots organizations will have to grow and provide a greater impact in the process of combating climate change.
It is 1 AM and reports are still coming out of the Bella center and around Copenhagen on the finalization of COP15. I am up because I want to sleep on the flight home tomorrow, so why not let the blog about what is happening.
What the news agencies are reporting is that 5 countries, the US, Bolivia, India, China, and South Africa have come to a “meaningful agreement,” as Obama put it.
As an environmentalist, I am disappointed that the negotiations did not come to a more fair and promising outcome, but what we have realized at this conference is that UN proceedings lack the transparency and fairness that one might expect.
What it seems like to me is that this ending was planned by the countries that have the money, power, and wealth without properly consulting the other parties involved. There were around 119 heads of state at this conference yet this new deal was brokered by just 5. How is that equitable when those who were not consulted are going to be the countries that are entirely destroyed from the impacts of climate change in less than 100 years?
Adding to my frustration is that on the final day of the talks there were several draft texts floating around between the parties, and I don’t feel as though the small island, African, and other less prominent countries around the world have the man power or resources to keep up with all the changes. Reading and understanding those texts fully (I heard they can be around 40 pages long) is key in policy, because every way a word is used, or a sentence is phrased, is crucial in the meaning of the statement.
It doesn’t help my frustration that all the non-government organizations were restricted access (basically kicked out) when all this is going down. The activists and youth would have been there if they could have been. These delegates were crucial in assisting and supporting the marginalized parties, yet UN proceedings prevented that.
While the conference has not completely ended, it is clear that the text that the US has agreed upon will not curb the devastating effects of climate change. The AP is reporting that an Obama administrator said that the agreement requires each country to list the actions they will take to cut global pollution by specific amounts. It also includes a mechanism to help poor countries prepare for climate change by giving them billions of dollars. (which will probably end up going through the World Bank anyways, which presents a whole new level of problems)
The developing world needs more money to combat what the developed world has done to them, and this agreement simply won’t go far in remedying the problem, but at least it is a start and Obama being here did bring US news agencies attention to climate change, which educates the public, and makes polices to curb US energy use politically feasible in the US. Once this happens, we can help, along with the rest of the global community provide more money, technology, and sustainable growth to the people who need it most.
Most of our class has expressed interest in traveling to COP16, next year in Mexico City, which will be cheaper, warmer, and closer than Copenhagen and we will keep on trying to get climate change on the political agenda back home.
Oxfam International hosted a side event at the climate conference in Copenhagen on December 15th. The event was an handled like a judicial hearing with four indigenous witnesses from Peru, Tuvalu, Bangladesh and Uganda testifying about the effects on climate change on their daily lives. Mary Robinson (former Irish President) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu orchestrated the hearing offering opening and closing statements as well as the verdict on the hearing.
Tutu believes that climate change is a moral issue and as humans we have a shared and simple goal to save our earth. This goal can be realized if humanity can come to hear and listen to each other, identify with the experiences and stories from victims of climate change, and regain empathy. Tutu delivered his opening speech with a smile and a sense of optimism unparalleled by any other speaker at the conference. He said it is humanity’s duty to amplify the voices of the unheard. Tutu called the audience “fantastic individuals” who in caring about climate change place a “smile on god’s face which is frequently contorted by tears” because humanity is “making an art of being nasty to each other.” Tutu stressed that the purpose of Copenhagen was to remind the world leaders of the interconnectedness of nature and humans- we either “swim or drown together”. Tutu was the first to testify in the hearing as a witness of climate change and its effects on his nation saying the South Cape is in drought and has no food, the effects are “not coincidental, not random events”. The disaster is already happening because those who are polluting greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are too hesitant and selfish to take action.
Four Indigenous Speakers came to testify at the Oxfam hearing. The first witness was a farmer from Peru who is suffering water shortages. The farmer emphasized that climate change is already happening in his country. There are new and unknown diseases, changes in the weather patterns, heavy and sporadic rainfall, and severe droughts. The source of water he depends on for the growth of crops is slowly diminishing as the glaciers melt. This means less income for his family. The farmer begs those responsible for GHG emissions to reduce them and that Peru should be compensated for environmental damage.
The second witness was from Tuvalu. Tuvalu will be one of the first countries to disappear if climate change is not mitigated. She was incredibly passionate and animated in the presentation of her testimony saying that the mountain that needs to be conquered is in the heart. We are waiting on the industrialized to conquer their mountains and learn to love others. She highlighted that COP15 is based on the purchase and sales of human life and the rights of others. She said, “I stand with Tuvalu”, the small island nation who pleaded for an emission reduction to 350 PPM. She then asked the audience to stand with Tuvalu; this statement answered with an eruption of applause and standing of the crowd.
The third witness was a woman from the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Her speech was by far the most emotional. She is a single mother of four children and lost her husband to a tiger. She was left homeless with her children and eventually taken in by her in-laws who beat her and took all her money. She noticed that the summer was noticeably warmer. There was an increase in freshwater salinity perpetuating harsh conditions when harvesting crops. Six months ago a cyclone hit her town and ruined the crops and huts within the community. The woman floated on her roof with her children while her village became immersed underwater. The cyclone left 35,000 people homeless and in poverty. The witness asked to be compensated by those responsible for climate change saying, “I want my life back”.
The fourth and final witness was a woman from Uganda, Africa. Her story at the hearing was representative of her country, her community, and Africa. In 2007 floods came to Uganda and covered her village, devastating her entire community. Diseases such as malaria and cholera came with the floods. Immediately after, about 5-7 months later Uganda was hit by a drought. She said there used to be two seasons where she comes from and now there are none, the community doesn’t know when to plant, harvest, or eat. “We want our seasons back…we want out generations…we want them to stop emission, we are suffering out of them…we want money to adapt” the woman said passionately addressing the audience.
Mary Robinson stepped in as judge of the hearing. She gave the verdict after empathetically listening all of the testimonies of the day. Robinson said that climate change is currently exacerbating challenges communities are already facing, and proudly acknowledged the individual situations of each situation, both the resilience of Tuvalu in the face of wealthy nations and the gender specific perspective coming from Bangladesh. “Climate change is undermining human rights on an unprecedented scale…social and international disorder is created by inability of leaders to act and reduce emissions,” Robinson stated. The verdict of the hearing consisted of the demand and crucial need for a fair ambitious treaty, a 40% cut of emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, and 200 billion dollars annually of aid for developing nations by 2020 for adaptation and mitigation efforts.
After listening to the emotion and pain within these stories I believe it is extremely important for everyone to truly listen to the stories of others. This is the only way feelings of empathy and interconnectedness will be initiated within humanity and allow us to come together as a global community. Stressing the moral and humanistic aspect of climate change is imperative in persuading powerful government to mitigate emissions within a safe spectrum.
Lack of consensus, structure, and general order among the negotiators inside the Bella Center seemed to spread to those outside, as actions sparked by Friends of the Earth and Avaaz developed into riots on Wednesday afternoon. We’ve been hearing a lot about NGOs being banned from the final days of negotiations, but to give you a better idea of how frustrating it can be, simply trying to be a participant in the negotiations, we are sharing our personal story:
After leaving the Bella Center we were drawn to the crowds and realized that a movement was forming outside. Megan found a spot next to a reporter, who take after take, was saying that the movement was forming because the third world countries wanted financial compensation. The reporter was quickly corrected by a bystander who said the point of the march was for those people to have their voices heard. That observation seemed true as the protestors chanted “reclaim power” and “make them talk.” Through a police barricade we could see activists climbing poles and hanging from trees; tension was in the air.
It was bitter cold, and we began to realize that the crowds and police lines blocked the way out to the busses. We began to ask officials where we could leave, and it became apparent that we weren’t going to be getting out for a long time. Neither train station was open. The busses weren’t running. Surrounded streets were blocked off, so even if you walked out past the gates we wouldn’t be able to catch a taxi. In a conference, 10,000 strong, all means of public transportation had been removed. We weren’t allowed back into the Bella Center. We felt trapped, and for the first time since being here, we were a little scared.
After trekking through muddy fields, asking officers for help and crossing numerous police lines we managed to avoid the crowd that had metastasized into a mob. Our feet were soaked and our pants were muddy as we walked another 30 minutes to find a bus that would drop us into a familiar setting.
What can be concluded from this experience is that organization is key when hosting an event as large and substantial as COP15. Every officer we asked had a different answer for what to do or where to go. We felt that our presence was more of a burden than a contribution to the conference, and dealing with us was not a top priority for the organizers.
When we finally came home, cold and tired, we saw on the news that police were beating up some of the protesters trying to get in and get their voices heard. Much of this chaos could have been avoided with better communication and a willingness to hear everyone’s voices. We can only have higher hopes for next year.
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.