So it ended, as have most of the recent UN conferences on climate change, with a statement of platitudes and good intentions but nothing in the way of firm commitments to action. George Monbiot called the conference text 283 paragraphs of fluff, The Economist called the outcome “a limp agreement” and “a poor result for a summit billed by some as a “once in a generation” chance to save the planet from its intolerable burden.” Despite warnings of ecological tipping points looming, and the world’s top scientific organisations urging action on population and consumption, the leaders of the world (or at least, the ones who could be bothered to turn up) managed only to boot the ball downfield about as effectively as an English footballer in a penalty shoot out. It was all just too difficult. So they left it for another day — perhaps another generation — to sort out.
Emma Renowden is attending the first few days of the UN climate change conference in Bonn. In this guest post she looks at how negotiations are progressing, what the major issues are likely to be, and what New Zealand’s up to.
After the near-failure of Durban in December last year, the current Bonn Climate Change Conference promises to be interesting. With the Kyoto Protocol commitment period ending this year, the development of a second commitment period is perhaps the most important objective that needs to be met. A number of states have already submitted their Quantified Emissions Limitation and Reduction Objectives (QELROs), signalling their continued commitment to the KP, but it has become clear that not all countries are so eager to sign themselves up again.
States were ‘invited’ to submit their QELRO figures, leaving it as a matter of choice. New Zealand, for instance, has yet to do so, and is “still considering whether to take its target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol or under the Convention.” When NZ’s submission does come, it is expected to demand a number of conditions, mainly around forestry rules (the LULUCF) and the carry-over of surplus emissions units. However, NZ faces a lot of criticism for its current stance. The Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS) called on it to submit its QELRO without such limitations, on the grounds that the KP is not the place for conditional commitments.
The Climate Action Network (CAN) also urged NZ and Australia, to fulfil their commitments and not to follow in Canada’s “dirty footprints” by pulling out of the treaty.
4 a.m. Bali, December 2007, the first Tuesday of the two-week UN climate talks. My phone rings, waking me up. Blearily, and a little crossly, I answer it.
I was in Bali to run Greenpeace International’s media for the meeting. The caller was someone called “John” who said he was an intern for a US NGO that I had never heard of. It was a small NGO, he said, who couldn’t come to the meeting, but “john” asked me for a copy of the UNFCCC’s media list for the meeting.
I confirmed I had a copy but refused to give it to him – he appeared a little suspect. The conversation ended when I put the phone down – the caller clearly wasn’t bothered that he had woken me at 4 am, which was odd, as an NGO colleague would have apologised and hung up immediately.
Three days later I was again woken by the phone, with the information that the right wing think tank the Heartland Institute had just issued a press release slamming the UN for working with environmental NGO’s. Heartland’s press release posted a link to a recording of the 4 a.m. conversation earlier in the week.
Hang on, let’s get this clear:
Someone from the Heartland Institute: – called me at 4 am, lied to me saying they were an intern for a US environmental NGO - recorded that conversation without my knowledge or my permission, and released the audio of the telephone conversation to the media, again without my permission.
Let’s revisit that cold war phrase: mutually assured destruction. Fifty years ago, MAD meant that in the event of conflict the USA and USSR could and would ensure the total annihilation of the other, thus ensuring what Wikipedia rather tamely describes as “a tense but stable global peace”. Having lived through those years, the tension was notable, and in some cases inspirational.
The madness on display in Durban is of another kind, and of a different character. The destruction on offer will be (we can only hope) slower, but it is likely to be just as total — and is certainly being mutually assured. The governments of the world, by kicking the can down the road aways, have just ensured that the task of reducing emissions will be harder than it need be, and that the ultimate damage will be greater than it might have been. [Guardian]
Durban represents progress of a kind, as Climate Action Tracker’s analysis acknowledges:
As the climate talks in Durban concluded tonight with a groundbreaking establishment of the Durban Platform to negotiate a new global agreement by 2015, scientists stated that the world continues on a pathway of over 3°C warming with likely extremely severe impacts, the Climate Action Tracker said today.
The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.
What is mind-boggling is that so many leaders, so many highly-skilled diplomats and negotiators, can accept the evidence being offered by our understanding of climate system, and yet so comprehensively fail to act.
History and human nature, combined with the dysfunctional nature of international relations have conspired to give us what looks like it might be the worst of all worlds: one where lip service is paid to taking action, but where the big players are excused responsibility, and any efforts made are weak and meaningless. Plus c’est la même chose.
And so as not to beg the obvious question: I am left agreeing with Joe Romm. It will take a series of undeniable climate disasters, sufficient to provide the equivalent of a wartime motivation for action, before our politicians feel empowered to take the necessary action — before the world will act appropriately. One can only hope that the damage is not costly in terms of human welfare and wellbeing, and that they happen before nature rips the reins from our hands and the Anthropocene comes to an end.
It’s getting embarrassing here in Durban. I’ve had a veritable flood of people come up to me in recent days saying things like “what the hell is your government doing?”
The NZ Government has been pretty bad in these negotiations over the last few years, but things appear to have taken a turn for the worse, in multiple directions. I’m wondering what’s going on.
Let’s take the “easy” one first. Kyoto.
With Canada, Japan and Russia on their way out of the Kyoto Protocol, there are a lot of discussions on how one could carry it forward without them.
One possible solution is the idea of “provisionally” implementing a new commitment period, from 2013-2017. This would mean that it wouldn’t legally “come into force” but parties to the Protocol could agree the new rules, and implement it anyway, if they all agreed to do so.
This can happen under the “Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties” (1969), that NZ has signed up to. Not so, says the NZ delegation. This would be a breach of the constitution.
But a quick look on the MFAT website makes me think they are being a bit daft. Maybe they were too busy to read the MFAT document: “International Treaty Making: Guidance for government agencies on practice and procedures for concluding international treaties and arrangements” written in August 2011. That’s – erm – about four months ago.
This guidance, presumably for delegations like this one in Durban, spells out the rules of the Vienna Convention, ie, that: “Provisional entry into force of a treaty may also occur when a number of parties to a treaty that has not yet entered into force decide to apply the treaty as if it had entered into force.”
This is precisely what is being proposed. Indeed, we have done this with a number of international treaties already. But is NZ just looking for excuses to get out of Kyoto? Meanwhile I’m off to the printer to get the delegation a few copies. Continue reading “NZ in Durban: delegation gone mad? Or just business as usual?”