The obvious clash between self-interest, self-preservation and political ideology is not new, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that the negotiations are taking place on a strange parallel planet. It’s a world where diplomatic contrivance trumps fact, expedience rules over reality. Keeping the process going is everything — even if it means that the goal you’re aiming at has shifted beyond reach.
And by some happy chance, The Age Of Stupid is being shown in my neck of the woods this week: at the Waikari Hall, 99 Princes St, Waikari, starting at 7-30pm – entry $10. There will be a discussion after the film, with the Hurunui District Council’s biodiversity advisor (and HT reader) Sonny Whitelaw fielding questions. I’ll be there to give her a hand…
Another year, another climate COP, and a few more faltering baby steps toward trying to limit global climate change. But this time coal was in charge and it showed. I’ve been to enough of these meetings to know that there isn’t going to be One Big Event that will Suddenly Save the Climate, Just Like That. This was the problem with Copenhagen, a meeting that, frankly, was never going to do the job and where expectations were too high.
But every year, as emissions accumulate in the atmosphere and new, fossil-fuel-fired infrastructure is built, and new scientific discoveries are made, the more important these meetings get.
While Warsaw wasn’t going to get a Big Deal, it was an extremely important stepping stone toward the 2015 agreement which will be the closest thing to the One Big Event we’ll have seen in at least a decade, if not longer (since Kyoto?).
As one colleague said to me on the night the talks ended: “we got some things, and we lost less than we thought we would. But it wasn’t a major breakthrough, not with the amount of damage control we had to do.”
So what did we get at the end of those frenetic two weeks?
When people just arriving in Warsaw over the last few days ask me how long I’ve been here, my general response has been “all my life.” That’s what it feels like. You’d think I’d be used to this, it being my 11th COP. But there’s nothing like that special feeling of tiredness having been in a hideous, air-conditioned stadium for 15 hours a day. And I’m not even a negotiator.
We had a discussion today about whether a warm weather COP is better for achieving progress on the climate than a cold one, and it seemed this was so. Bali, Cancun and Durban did make better progress, on the whole, than Poznan, Copenhagen, and now Warsaw.
Today was the day that a bunch of civil society walked out of the Polish National Stadium. WWF, Greenpeace, Action Aid, 350 and Oxfam, along with unions and youth left the meeting, noisily, in big numbers and with the slogan “polluters talk, we walk,” in protest at the way the fossil fuel industry appears to be running progress, or lack thereof.
I understand where they’re coming from. Separate Oil and State and you’d get a lot further than where we are right now. Some NGO’s are staying inside to help steer the process through to the bitter end, which also seems understandable.
Warsaw has seen a deluge of important climate-related information released — so much that it’s been difficult to keep up — but still not enough to steel negotiators to reach an equitable arrangement that gives us all a chance at a reasonable future climate. And at the same time, the planet has been sending signals that it’s not happy. The Pine Island glacier has finally calved the giant iceberg that first started to shown signs of cracking away from the ice stream a couple of years ago. Iceberg B-31 has been described as being the size of Singapore (about 700 km2), but isn’t likely to move far from Pine Island Bay in the near future. NASA Earth Observatory coverage here and here; see also Telegraph (UK) and Antarctic Sun.
I’m not sure if the Polish Government really meant this to happen.
In the run-up to the climate talks, they had scurried round and found a bunch of largely fossil fuel and car sponsors to help them out. Thanks to these sponsors, we’ve all been given coal-coloured bags with a big oil service company logo on it. Such a contrast from Durban where we had lovely cloth bags made from recycled fabric, made by people from villages across South Africa.
But in Warsaw today, he Polish Government and the coal industry must have been so pleased with their idea of setting up the World Coal Association “Coal Summit” at the same time as the climate talks. They even managed to persuade the UN Climate Convention’s Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres to speak at it, much to the fury of the youth, whose invitation she turned down.