The Bigger Picture
Published on December 24th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Today I want to begin discussing my perspectives on Climate Change in conjunction with my experiences at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen.
Four months ago I wrote a series of columns about climate change and discussed my rather low expectations about what the likely outcomes would be from the two weeks of meetings and negotiation that just concluded. But given my low expectations going in to Copenhagen, I actually left feeling more optimistic about the prospects for real action on climate change and with a sense that things were finally moving in the right direction.
However, I also know my take on the climate change negotiations I witnessed is not one shared by many of the participants at the UNFCCC or by the vast majority of members of the news media that were present at the Bella Centre. So to explain my somewhat contrary reasoning I will begin by recounting something I said in my August column about the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.
In that column I stated my belief that “there is also one group of countries that is more important than all of the other countries in the world. I call them Chimerzilia. Chimerzilia is the G5 of carbon emitters. Without their agreement to do more, and I mean a whole lot more, to reduce their countries’ carbon emissions there will be little, if any, reduction in global warming and the resultant climate change we will all experience. Chimerzilia represents an amalgam of the names of the five countries (China, America, Brazil, Indonesia and India) that are part of the world’s 7 largest carbon emitters and they are collectively responsible for more than 50% of global carbon emissions. Although the EU and Russia are also big carbon emitters and are responsible for more than 20% of global carbon emissions between them, the future depends on the G5 aka Chimerzilia.”
Well on Friday, at the 11th hour of the UN Climate Change Conference, a climate change agreement involving South Africa and the Chimerzilia G5 was announced that averted a complete collapse of the UN Climate Change summit meeting. Mind you, I don’t think it is a deal that will avert climate change and the adverse consequences that will attend it. But it does represent the first real steps forward addressing this issue by the world’s G5 of carbon emissions and the biggest source of carbon emissions in Africa.
The 11th hour deal provides for a system that will independently monitor progress by countries towards their respective carbon emission targets, a significant compromise on an issue that China had been adamantly opposed to. It also provides hundreds of billions of dollars from developed countries for those countries seen as being most vulnerable to the ill effects of climate change. Finally, it sets a goal of holding the average temperature rise to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, which will require both developing and developed countries to cut carbon emissions over the next 40 years.
But this agreement was also an unsatisfactory outcome for a 2 year negotiating process designed to produce a comprehensive and enforceable international treaty to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change.
Most European leaders expressed support for the deal and praised President Obama for the role he played in the final negotiations, acknowledging that Obama had been able to resolve the dispute with China over independent monitoring of emissions that had eluded them for 2 weeks. But they were also wearing very long faces because the final accord was far less than they wanted and was reached without their involvement.
While many of the political leaders of nations in the G77 group of 130 developing countries were also pleased to see an agreement finally emerge, a number of them were also angry and bitter about the political compromises that were struck as well as the way in which the agreement was negotiated, effectively leaving them outside the negotiations just like the environmental activists sitting in the chill winter air outside the Bella Center.
I had a chance to interview one of those G77 leaders on Thursday afternoon, about 18 hours before Obama arrived to try and save the day. While I have a great deal of sympathy for the people of Bolivia who are already suffering from the effects of climate change, I also thought their President, Evo Morales, was guilty of political grandstanding with many of the responses he gave to my questions and those of two other journalists.
When I asked him about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s comment about the lack of progress in Copenhagen; “We do not have another year to deliberate. (Mother) Nature does not negotiate.” President Morales responded that “Our objective is to save humanity and not just half of humanity. We are here to save Mother Earth.” Indeed, this response from Mr. Morales accurately reflected a sentiment held by a number of other G77 political leaders, who want an agreement that limits the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures instead of 2 degrees.
Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping of Sudan who led a walkout by many of the G77 members on Monday, says the developed nations’ offer of $10 billion in “quick-start” financing to help poor countries deal with climate change was wholly inadequate. I agree with him that this offer is crap and I understand why many poor countries are digging in their heels and saying that no-deal would be better than a bad climate change agreement.
But instead of expanding on these somewhat valid arguments against the proposed climate agreement, President Morales instead chose to rail against what he sees as the cause of climate change saying that “The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model.” Now I ask you, what are the chances the other political leaders in Copenhagen will actually entertain this kind of suggestion? Slim and None!