Reflections on the Climate Change Conference in Durban November- December 2011

  • Durban: Last Chance to get it Right on Climate Change?
  • The United Nations Climate Conference
  • National Catholic Reporter
  • The End of the First Week
  • What has happened to the EU’s leadership
  • While the science is becoming more alarming, politicians are slow to act.
  • Is China being used as a scapegoat by countries
  • A Small breakthrough at Durban: Is it too little, too late?
  • Country Statements at COP 17 –Ireland
  • Country Statement – Islamic Republic of Pakistan

 

Durban: Last Chance to get it Right on Climate Change? Fr. Sean McDonagh, SSC

The United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change began yesterday, November 28th 2011in Durban,  South Africa.  Almost 10,000 people are expected to attend the conference which will continue until December 7th 2011.   Those attending include  representatives of the world’s governments, international organizations and civil society. The discussions will seek to advance, in a balanced fashion, the implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the Bali Action Plan, agreed at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at the Conference of the Parties to the UNFramework Convention on Climate Change. (COP 16) last December.

The Conference was opened by  the President of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.  He called on all the parties involved in the negotiations to work diligently to find a solution to the climate issues at Durban.   According to President Zuma, “ for most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death. We are always reminded by the leaders of small island nations that climate change threatens their very existence.” [1] He went on to say that, “ recently the island national of Kiribati became the first country to declare that global warming is rendering its territory uninhabitable. They asked for help to evacuate the population.”[2]

But the devastation which climate change will bring will not be confined to small island nations or coastal cities in other countries.  President Zuma claimed that climate change will reduce agriculture output by 50 percent across the African continent.  He drew attention to the fact that “severe drought in Somalia is exacerbating an already volatile region causing displacement of populations and increasing refugee communities in Kenya.” If one includes that high level of population growth which is  predicted for African and with falling food production, then the future will be very problematic  unless significant action is  taken on climate change.  In South Africa itself, climate change has led to severe flooding in coastal areas.  As a result some people have lost their lives and others have lost their livelihood.

The impact of climate change is not confined to small island nations or the continent of Africa.  President Zuma said that, “In the Americas, we have also witnessed the frequency of intense hurricanes on the Gulf Coast from which the communities of New Orleans have yet to fully recover, five years after Hurricane Katrina. “

In some quarters the climate change debate is often divorced from eradicating global poverty.  The location of the conference in Africa should be a reminder to the delegates, “that solving climate change cannot be separated from eradicating poverty.”[3]

He went on to recall the progress which has made to date.  At COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, there was a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025.  Reductions of this scale are essential if the average global temperature is to be kept  below a 2 degree Celsius rise.  The study released by the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences entitled The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene   called the 2 degrees increase the ‘guard rail,’ though the scientists involved would prefer if the average increase was kept bellow 1.5 degree Celsius rather than 2 degrees.

At COP 16th in Cancun,  Mexico in late November and early December 2010,  the parties agreed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions but no number or time line was specified.  This is very worrying because a study by the United Nations Environment Programme  ( UNEP ) found that the pledges made by the Parties in Cancun are insufficient to realize the goal of the Convention. These pledges are not enough to stabilization greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at the level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate systems. UNEP assume that emission levels at 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would probably keep the average temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.  Under a business-as-usual scenario which is likely if there is no binding agreement at Durban,  carbon emissions could reach 56 gigatonnes of carbon which would create havoc in many parts of the world.

The stakes for the future of hundreds of millions of people and vital ecosystems are very high at Durban.  Towards the end of his address President Zuma said that, given the urgency at stake, parties should strive to find solutions here in Durban. “You must work towards an outcome that is balance, fair and credible.”

Whether this can be achieves is questionable.  COP 15 in Copenhagen received massive media coverage.  The media coverage of Durban thus far has been minimal.

The United Nations Climate Conference in Durban Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

One of the pitfalls which many of us who have attended the United Nations Climate Conference for years fall into is that we assume that the general reader has a good grasp of the history of these conferences and the issues which have been thrashed out during the past 20 years. On this the third day of the Durban Conference a brief history might be helpful.

RIO – Countries from across the globe began to address the problems associated with global warming and climate change at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1990.  At that meeting it was agreed to set up a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC). This body was tasked with setting out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.” Unfortunately, due mostly to the intervention of the United States under President George Bush (senior), no target or timelines were set. The Convention came into force in March 1994.

KYOTO – The next significant milestone took place at the UNFCCC Conference in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997. The delegates agreed to a Protocol which committed industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The target which was set was a reduction of between 5.2% and 7% below their 1990 levels in the period between 2008 and 2012. What became known as the Kyoto Protocol came into force on February 16th 2005.  It ends next year  in 2012.

In the run-up to the Kyoto Conference a group of industries known as the ‘Carbon Club’ ran advertisements in the US media aimed at blocking the US from signing the Kyoto Protocol. Many of these companies, especially those involved in the energy sector, were afraid that their profits would plummet if there was a drop in  fossil fuel consumption. Among them were household names such as Exxon-Mobile, Shell, Ford and General Motors. They used all kinds of tactics – corporate PR, psychology, mass media manipulation techniques and political muscle to force the Clinton administration to do their will.

Even though the US delegation which was led by Vice-President Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol, the Byrd-Hagel resolution which claimed that the Protocol would damage the US economy was passed by the US Senate by an overwhelming 95 votes to 0). Within a few months of being elected President, George W Bush repudiated the Kyoto Protocol. Document leaked to the press at the time of the Gleneagle meeting of  the G7 in June 2005 in Scotland made it clear that President George W Bush’s decision was due in part  to the pressure from Exxon-mobile, the world’ most powerful oil company. [4]

As the work of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol process became more intricate subsidiary bodies were set up to help those involved in various aspects of the negotiations.  One of these is called the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). Another was the Subsidiary Body for Scientific Advice (SBSTA). These and scores of other acronyms are used constantly in negotiations and discussions to the point that even veterans who have attended UNFCCC meetings need a glossary to understand which is being said!

BALI – The next most significant UNFCCC took place in December 2007 on the beautiful island of Bali in Indonesia. There result of that meeting became known as the Bali Road Map.  It put the spotlight on the three areas which need to be addressed in any climate treaty.

First, given the dire consequences of a significant increase in global temperature, the primary focus of the UNFCCC is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. In the language of the UNFCCC this is called mitigation.

Secondly, the plight of those who are already being affected by climate change must be addressed. Many of the countries which did least to cause climate change will be most affected by it.  One has only to think what will happen to the water supply of Lima if the glaciers on the Andes disappear? Responding to this is referred to as Adaptations.

The final plank in the strategy is called Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM). During the past 200 years the prosperity of rich countries was based on having cheap fossil fuel readily available.  China and India are now following the same pathway.  Poor countries have a right to develop, but if they opt for the fossil fuel route it will be a disaster for everyone. To avoid this happening, rich countries must make clean energy technologies available to poor countries.

Durban: Last chance to get it right on climate change? Seán McDonagh National Catholic Reporter, November. 30, 2011

Fr. Seán McDonagh is in Durban, South Africa, reporting on the UN Climate Change Conference 2011. He will be providing updates throughout the conference. On Monday, McDonagh attended the opening address by South African President Jacob Zuma.

The United Nations climate change conference at the Conference of the Parties 17 (COP 17) began Nov. 28, in Durban, South Africa. Close to 10,000 people are expected to attend the conference, which will continue until Dec. 9.

Those attending include representatives of the world’s governments, international organizations and civil society. The discussions will seek to advance, in a balanced fashion, the implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the Bali Action Plan, agreed upon at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at COP 16 in December 2010.

President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma opened the conference, calling on all parties involved in the negotiations at Durban to work diligently to find a solution to the climate issues.

‘For most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death,’ he said. ‘We are always reminded by the leaders of small island nations that climate change threatens their very existence.’

He continued, ‘Recently, the island nation of Kiribati became the first country to declare that global warming is rendering its territory uninhabitable. They asked for help to evacuate the population.’

But the devastation that climate change will bring will not be confined to small island nations or coastal cities in other countries.

President Zuma claimed that climate change will reduce agriculture output by 50 percent across the African continent. He drew attention to the fact that ‘severe drought in Somalia is exacerbating an already volatile region causing displacement of populations and increasing refugee communities in Kenya.’

If one includes the high level of population growth, which is predicted for Africa, and with falling food production, then the future will be problematic, unless significant action is taken on climate change. In South Africa itself, climate change has led to severe flooding in coastal areas. As a result, some people have lost their lives and others have lost their livelihood.

The impact of climate change is not confined to small island nations or the continent of Africa.

President Zuma said, ‘In the Americas, we have also witnessed the frequency of intense hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, from which the communities of New Orleans have yet to fully recover, five years after Hurricane Katrina.’

In some quarters the climate change debate is often divorced from eradicating global poverty. The location of the conference in Africa should be a reminder to the delegates, as Zuma said, ‘that solving the climate problem cannot be separated from the struggle to eradicate poverty.’

Zuma then summarized the progress that has been made to date. At COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, there was a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34 percent by 2020, and by 42 percent by 2025. Reductions of this scale are essential if the average global temperature is to be kept below a 2 degrees Celsius rise. A May 2011 study released by the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, called the 2 C increase the ‘guard rail,’ though the scientists involved would prefer if the average increase was kept below 1.5 C rather than 2 C.

In 2010, at COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, the Parties agreed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but no number or timeline was specified.

This is very worrying because a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that the pledges made by the Parties in Cancun are insufficient in order to realize the goal of COP 17. These pledges are not enough to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at the level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate systems. UNEP assumes that emission levels at 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would probably keep the average temperature rise below 2 C. Under a business-as-usual scenario, which is likely if there is no binding agreement at Durban, carbon emissions could reach 56 gigatonnes of carbon, creating havoc in many parts of the world.

The stakes for the future of hundreds of millions of people and vital ecosystems are very high at Durban. Toward the end of his address, President Zuma said that, given the urgency at stake, the Parties should strive to find solutions here in Durban.

‘The expectation is that you must work toward an outcome that is balanced, fair and credible,’ he stated.

Whether this can be achieved is questionable. COP 15 in Copenhagen received massive media coverage, while the media coverage of Durban thus far has been minimal.

The End of the First Week at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban Fr. Seán McDonagh,SSC  December 3, 2011.

The Meeting of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change or COP17 here in Durban is similar to many of the other COPs which I have attended in Nairobi, Bali, Poznans, Copenhagen and Cancun and yet, I discern a very different mood among the participants in Durban. Organisations from civil society are here in force, challenging the politicians to come up with a fair, ambitious and binding treaty which will secure the future for ordinary people.  But the question is; are politicians listening to climate change concerns anywhere across the globe? Are the distractions of the current financial and banking crises just too overpowering?

At breakfast this morning here in St. Philomena’s Conference Centre in Durban where I am staying, more than 40 women from a variety of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were preparing to join in the March to the Conference Centre which is scheduled to begin around 1 pm. Their conversations were animated and focused as these people, many from a rural background here in South Africa, are already feeling the effects of climate change in their lives.  They are fearful about what the future might bring, and well they might be, as the momentum which drove previous COPs seems to be waning. Everyone knows that, if the Durban Conference fails, it will be difficult to get a satisfactory international agreement on the measures which will be necessary to prevent an average rise in global temperature of between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. This would be a disaster for almost every country and ecosystem in the world.

United States of America

The United States is the largest economy in the world and its citizens are the largest per capita emitters of greenhouses gases in the world. While the US signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the US Senate never ratified the treaty. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the US negotiators spent much of their time at the various COPs either trying to deny climate change was happening or, in the later years of his presidency, espousing scepticisms about its consequences.

The election of President Obama seemed like the dawning of a new era.  In his campaign speeches he undersood and accept the scientific underpinning for global warming. He appeared to grasp the seriousness of climate change for many countries both in the global South and even for the US itself and, above all, he promised to lead rather than impede an international consensus for dealing with it.

Unfortunately, those bright hopes of 2009 have now turned to dust.  Local politics in the US and the rise of the Tea Party candidates has effectively pushed climate change off the political agenda. On the third day of the Durban Conference, the US chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing, himself a scientist who was formerly involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), made the implausible statement that the current collective mitigation targets are sufficient to avoid a rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius.  In addition given its greenhouse emission status the US’s own mitigation targets are woefully weak. They are set to achieve a 17% reduction below their 2005 level by 2020. It would appear that in the political calculus of the Obama administration, re-election is now the top priority, dealing with climate change is a task for someone else.

The unwillingness of the US to accept any binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions unless the newly emerging economies of China and India agree to similar measures is totally irresponsible and immoral. The US seems to forget that it and other Northern economies, are responsible for 75% of historic or accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The prosperity which many people in Northern economies experienced in the late 19th century and especially in the second half of the 20th century, depended directly on burning fossil fuel. The unfortunate consequence is that it increased the percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which has led directly to our present crisis.  True, many people were unaware of the connection between burning fossil fuel, greenhouse gases and climate change, but that did not change the outcome.

In traditional moral terms the US and other Northern countries are being called to make restitution for the damage which their greenhouse gas emissions have caused to millions of poor people around the world. Unfortunately, the problem will continue and become more serious  unless there are ambitious and binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gases emissions in the next few years. Putting off such decisions for a decade or so will be disastrous.  The moral issues here come under a relatively modern category called intergenerational justice.  The core issue is that this generation has the power to increase global temperatures significantly and, as a consequence, make life difficult for every succeeding generation of human beings and the children of every other creature as Fr. Thomas Berry wrote many years ago.  Once a tipping point is reached it is difficult and even possibly in historical time to reverse the process. Runaway climate change will introduce a new geological era. This is highlighted in the title of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences’ recent document on climate change which is entitled The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are calling politicians to account

Members of CSOs in the United States are concerned about the Obama administration’s lack of leadership on climate change.  In the run-up to the Durban Conference, 16 major CSOs including Greenpeace, Oxfam America and the Worldwide Fund for Nature challenged the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton to alter the US stance on climate change.  The letter called on the US negotiators to withdraw the stringent preconditions it is expecting poor and emerging countries to meet in return for the US agreed to support a realistic mandate for negotiations on a long-term climate regime.  These include legal symmetry, a clear process for poor countries to gradually take on mitigations commitments similar to those which should currently apply to rich countries, such as the US.  According to these CSOs, the most negative element in the US’s negotiating position in Durban is its position on climate financing.

Since the Nairobi COP in 2006, there have been slow and painstaking negotiations about the best and most efficient way to make serious amounts of money available to poor countries which will have to adapt to the inevitable impact of climate change. For some countries it will mean, higher costs to deal with severe weather events, for other counties it will mean smaller food harvests, for others shrinking glacier will cause water shortages for major cities and vital agricultural crops. The Green Climate Fund seemed to have been agreed at Cancun in 2010. Here at Durban the US appears to want to reopen these negotiations. In contrast, the European wants the Green Climate Fund to begin delivering funds to poor countries next year.

Tomorrow I will look at what seems to be happening on the EU front.

What has happened to the EU’s leadership on Climate Change? Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC  (December 5th 2011)

In the early years of the Conference of the Parties (COPs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the European Union along with the Nordic countries was generally seen to be in the vanguard of both climate science and of dealing with the crisis through binding agreements to reduce greenhouse emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol. Even someone as politically conservative as Margaret Thatcher gave leadership on the climate issues, at least, verbally.  In her now famous speech to the Royal Society on September 27th 1988 she told the assembled scientists, “For generations we have assumed that the efforts of humankind (mankind) would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world’s systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes (populations, agriculture, the use of fossil fuels) concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the systems of the planet itself.”

The European Union  was also in the forefront of countries which were tackling greenhouse emissions and were also willing to make significant funding available to poor countries to protect themselves against the massive problems which climate change is, and will continue to cause to poor countries.  During the Presidency of George W. Bush when the US negotiators were denying the reality of climate change, European research centres such as  The  Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change Centre constantly conducted  seminars and briefings during the various COPs debunking much of what the US negotiators were saying. In the process many people, including myself were educated about the finer points of climate change.

The Impact of the Financial Collapse in 2008

But things began to change, especially after the financial collapse in 2008. The global financial crisis overshadowed both COP 14 at Poznan in Poland and COP 15 at Copenhagen.  Copenhagen was supposed to deliver a fair, ambitious and binding deal on climate change.  Over 100 hundred leaders from countries around the world, including the newly elected President Obama, descended on Copenhagen in what was expected to be a victory parade. In fact it turned into a political nightmare. Presidents and Prime Ministers had to return to their countries with nothing in their hands expect a toothless Copenhagen Accord.

Things have become much worse economically in Europe in the run up to COP 17 in Durban this year.  European leaders and many of their people are now almost entirely focused on their own financial woes and even their survival.   For example on the third day of the Durban Climate Conference, almost every item on the front page of the Financial Times was devoted to the financial crisis which is sweeping through European.  Not a word about COP17.

Already Greece, Ireland and Portugal have been forced into punitive bail-out deals with the International Monetary Fund (IMF),  the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission.  These swinging cuts are eroding the living standards which these countries have achieved during the past two decades.  The headlines on the front page of the Financial Times on December 1, 2011, “Central  Banks’ move lifts markets,” made it clear that politicians around the world are afraid that the problems in European economies would spread across the Atlantic and  even on to the new Asian Tigers of China and India. They fear that this will plunge the world, not just into another recession such as experienced in the 1970s, but into a depression like the one which swept across the world in the late 1920s and lasted through much of the 1930s, in some places right up to World War II.

Britain is also on the rope, financially

European financial problems are not confined to the euro.  On the same front page, Sean O’Connor and Sarah Neville report on a recent study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in Britain. The headline says it all “Britons will be worse off in 2015 than in 2002.” What people find most worrying is that politicians and economists do not seem to be able to devise a viable system which will lift countries of out the mess which was caused by reckless lending by banks which were poorly regulated.  When the bubble burst, the taxpayer was left to pick up the costs which run in to hundreds of billions of pound.  Most people do not believe in the current financial mantra which claims that drastic cuts in expenditure will pave the way to economic growth in three or four year.  Ordinary people believe that those who lent money recklessly should now share the burden of solving the current financial crisis before it further crushes people and exacerbates environmental damage.

Tens of thousands of people marched in various cities across Britain on November 30th 2011 to express their angry at the government’s austerity initiatives – tax hikes, reduced pensions and poorer public services. They are angry at being forced to pay for a financial crisis which they did not cause. Many are what The Guardian called ‘strike rookies’ who until now would not support industrial strikes. Now they are fearful about what the future holds for them and possibly their children. Seamus Milne wrote in The Guardian that “when real incomes are being forced down for the majority, as directors’ pay has risen 49% and the bank bonuses have topped £14 billion, that’s an aim most people have no problem identifying with. Across the entire workforce there’s little disagreement about who’s been ‘reckless’ and ‘greedy’ and it isn’t public sector workers.” [5]

Were will the money to deal with climate change come from?

Furthermore, in the light of the precarious condition of the public purse right across Europe, finding the vast sums of money to meeting climate targets and obligations is going to be difficult. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that holding global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius means cutting emissions by 85% by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that this will require an investment of $18 trillion by 2035.[6] Convincing ordinary people who are already hurting to commit vast sums of money to reducing emissions will not be easy.  It calls for leadership qualities which few of our politicians actually possess.

A Collapse of the Euro would be a disaster for climate policy

Sadly, the focus of European political leaders this week is not on the climate negotiations in Durban but on whether the euro, and even the union itself, will survive. The collapse of either would have a profound effect on the architecture of European climate policy. Writing in the New Scientist in October 2011, David Strahan, who is a former BBC correspondent, stated that “for a start the Emissions Trading System would be unlikely to survive. True, the ETS has been widely criticised as ineffectual, but the system at least imposes an international framework which could be strengthened and expanded. That would all be swept away, along with any obligation for countries to deliver their 2020 targets on emissions, renewable and energy efficiency.” [7]

Europe adopting a more hard line position

One of the first disappointments for many participants from CSOs organisations here at Durban is in the figures for latest mitigation targets which have already been submitted by the EU. They are certainly not ambitious.  The EU has pledged a 20% cut in emissions by 2020. But emission reductions in the EU in 2009 were already 17.3% below 1990, so a 20% target for 2020 is practically already achieved.  In addition, if the EU implemented its existing renewable energy and efficiency targets, this would result in a domestic emission reduction of 25% by 2020 as acknowledged by the European Commission in the Low Carbon Roadmap published in March 2011. Where are the ambitions of a 30% or even 40% reduction by 2025 which were floated in Bali four years ago gone?

Abandoning the Kyoto Protocol

It also appears that the EU has gone wobbly on the Kyoto Protocol (KP), even though it was one of the architects of that Protocol back in 1997. Countries such as Russia, Canada and even Japan have indicated that they will not sign up to a second phase of the KP unless other developed and newly industrialised countries such as China, India, South Africa and Brazil also come on board.   Joanna Mackowia-Pandera, the Polish undersecretary of state for the environment, has said that, “It’s very important that other major economies join in the effort (to combat climate change).  It would not make sense for only the EU to take on a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol,”

Most environmental organisations here at Durban are alarmed at the prospect of the KP being buried here at Durban.  They are pushing for a second phase of a legally binding treaty with the negotiations between the parties to be concluded by 2015, so that the treaty can come into effect by 2018.  The EU seems to be stalling on this and supporting an eight year second commitment but the sting in the tail is that  it would only come into effect by 2021. The scientists are clearly saying that such delays could be disastrous.

Not everyone in Europe is happy with the role being played by the US and EU here at Durban.  The ‘Old Labour’, straight talking and often straight punching Lord John .  Joanna Mackowia-Pandera, the Polish undersecretary of state for the environment, has said that, “It’s very important that other major economies join in the effort (to combat climate change).  It would not make sense for only the EU to take on a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol,”[8]

Prescott called a spade a spade when he told the BBC on December 2nd 2011, that those who are attempting the scupper Kyoto are hurting the poor.

While the science is becoming more alarming, politicians are slow to act. (December 6th 2011). Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

Three years ago a claim in the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that the glaciers in the Himalayas were receding faster than in any other part of the globe and that they could disappear completely by 2035 was seized upon by climate deniers as an example of the questionable science behind climate change. The source for the claim was quotation from an Indian glaciologist which appeared in the NewScientist.  The data had not been peer-reviewed.

The story behind this mistake received extensive coverage in news media across the globe. Many people, who were beginning to take the science of climate change seriously, reverted back into a sceptic mode.  Pressure was brought to bear on Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the IPCC, to resign.

The Impact of Climate Change on the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau

While the 54,000 glacier covering an area of over 60,000 square kilometres in the Himalayas may not disappear  in 35 years, they are under serious threat which will only get worse if politicians here in Durban fail to deal effectively with greenhouse gas emissions.  The tragedy is that, despite a greater knowledge of the dangers of climate change and considerable efforts to invest in non-fossil fuel energy sources, little enough has been achieved.  This somewhat depressing data has emerged in a recent study conducted by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change based at the University of East Anglia. Professor Corinne Le Quéré, who is the director of the Centre found that fossil fuel emissions rose by about 3.1 per cent globally since the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997. In 2010, for example, fossil fuel emission rose by 5.9 per cent [9]  The study predicts that, unless real changes are put in place, greenhouse gas emissions will grow by 3 per cent over the next number of years.  One of the most depressing elements in the data according to Julia Steinberger, a lecturer in ecological economics at the Sustainable Research Institute at the University of Leeds, is that emission do not seem to decrease much even during a recession.  “The worst economic crisis in decades was apparently a mere hiccup in terms of carbon emissions.”[10]

Professor Le Quére warned that it was necessary to do something urgently about the 80 per cent of our energy which still comes from burning fossil fuel.  Unless this is tackled urgently there is very little hope of holding global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Any increase beyond that will result in catastrophic and irreversible climate change. Most frightening of all, given the slow pace of the negotiations here at Durban, is the judgement of these scientists  that emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest.

This, of course, brings us back to the Himalayas. A Swedish-funded study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development found that of there was doubling of ice and snow lost in the 10 glaciers which have been studied for the past 30 years.  The report claimed that there was a shrinking in both the central and eastern Himalayas.  It seems that glacial erosion has increased in recent years. The study found that there was a depletion of 22 per cent in the Bhutan glaciers and 21 per cent in Nepal. The loss of volume was even greater in the higher altitude central Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau.  In the iconic area around Mount Everest the data showed a marked loss in glacial mass of between 2002 and 2005, in a period of three years.  One of the reasons for this speeding up of the loss of glaciers is that the rise temperature in the Himalayas has been significantly above global average of 0.74 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years.

Serious depletion of ice and snow from the  Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau will have devastating consequences for people in Asia.  All the great rivers of Asia – the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangzi and Yellow River – all begin in the Himalayas or the Tibetan Plateau.  A major reduction in the volume of ice and snow on these mountains will mean that there will be much less water for drinking, personal hygiene and agriculture for almost 2.5 billion people who depend on these rivers

In today’s (December 6th 2011 –  ECO – the daily news report from the Climate Action Network(CAN) there is a letter addressed to the Ministers who have arrived for the final few days of negotiations.  It begins, “the disconnect between the climate talks and the scientific reality is stark. In the UNFCCC process, progress is being made, but in real life yours negotiators have been sleepwalking as the world burns.”  I think that quotations capture what most of us feel about the slow pace of the negotiations at this point.  One ray of hope  was an announcement from Beijing that China would put limits on its emissions – the world’s largest – as early as 2020. Until now, China has only measured its emissions in terms of energy intensity per unit of Gross Domestic  Product  (GDP). Although Japan has said it would not join the EU in renewing the Kyoto Protocol, its climate envoy, Masahiko Horie, said it wanted to start discussions and adopt, as soon as possible, a comprehensive international agreement that would involve all major economies.

Is China being used as a scapegoat by countries which are unwilling to make significant cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions? Fr Sean McDonagh SSC

For a number of years the United States and other countries such as Canada, Russia  and more recently Japan, have stated that they are unwilling to sign any binding treaty to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions unless China does the same.  In support of their position, these countries point to the fact that China is now the number one emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.  In 2005, its greenhouse gas emissions reached 7,232 megatonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Carbon Emissions between 1850 and 2009

At first glance this argument looks plausible enough. However, it overlooks some very important data on a number of fronts, which undermine the validity of the argument and upholds the position of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) which states that countries have common but differentiate responsibilities in solving climate change.  Any equitable approach to lowering carbon emissions global must first examine the historical pattern of  greenhouses gases releases into the atmosphere.

Equity in determining the Right to Emit CO2

In a recent paper Martin Khor, the Executive Director of South Centre, has calculated that, in the period between 1850 and 2009, about 1,214 Gigatons of  CO2 was released into the atmosphere. Of this amount, Annex 1 countries (rich countries many of which signed up to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997) were responsible for 878 Gigatons.  If one set out to determine what a fair share of the right to emit greenhouses gases during that period, based on their population as a percentage of the global population, it would amount to 336 Gigatons or 28% of the total amount.  In fact, Annex 1 countries have overshot their fair amount by a massive 568 Gigatons.

The scientific consensus is now adamant that, if we wish to keep the average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, we can only emit 750 Gigatons of carbon (equivalent)  into the atmosphere between now and 2050.  In the light of the historic carbon debt, how should these allocations be made?  Given that Annex 1 countries only comprise 16% of the world’s population, the equitable allocation for these countries should be 120 Gigatons. But since there is a debt overhang of 568 gigatons, their fair share ought to be a negative budget of 448 Gigatons.    According to Khor, “to fulfil the environmental goal of a global cut to 50% to 85%, it is clear that developed countries will have to go into the territory of “negative emissions”, in order that the developing countries will have a decent level of “development space” sufficient to cushion their path to low-emissions growth.”[11]

A second consideration which needs to be looked at seriously is the fact that China, during the past three decades, has become the work shop of the world.  It is manufacturing many of the consumer goods which benefits people in Europe, the US and elsewhere by providing a plethora of gadgets at a very low cost.  Both the computer which I am using to write this article, and the memory stick which I am using the save the text, have been manufactured in China. Should China alone be saddled with accounting for these greenhouses involved in manufacturing these goods, or should the burden be shared by those people and countries which benefit from this low cost manufacturing?

Is China still a developing nation or has it graduated to the developed category?

In a recent article Martin Khor has argued convincingly that China is still a developing country and that it should not be bullied into joining a new category which does not square with the true facts of the situation.[12]  At a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) in Bali in November 2011,  President Barack Obama told the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that China had “grown” up and must accept its international obligations.  Among these would be China’s willingness to sign up to binding commitments similar to those which would be undertaken by the US, Europe or Japan.

The question is, are we comparing like with like – apples with apples but not with oranges?  China is a huge country, its economy is now the second biggest on the planet and growing, its foreign reserves stand at US$3 trillion and its greenhouse gas emissions have now exceeded those of the US.  Those headline figures might seem to put it into the category of a developed country.  But that would be deceptive, since it fails to take into account the population of China.

Khor points out that the International Monetary Fund in its latest World Economic Outlook classifies China as a developing country with a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$4,382.  In this league table it comes in at number 91, out of the 184 countries covered in the survey.  Many will find it strange that six African countries – Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Botswana, Mauritius, South Africa and Namibia  – have higher GDP per capita levels than China.

The next measure used by Martin Khor is the  “ gross purchasing power” per capita.  This covers that fact the cost of living in some countries is lower than in others and that this has a knock on affect on living standards.  Here again China comes in at number 95, lower than Ecuador.  Many people involved in development work are critical of the traditional economic measurement of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP).  They rightly argue that these can give a lopsided view of the economic and social well-being of a country.  As result of these criticisms the United Nations publishes a Human Development Report each year which assesses the quality of life in broader terms which include income, schooling, life expectancy etc.  In the Human Development Report for 2011, China is ranked 110 out of 187 countries.

China’s per capita greenhouse gas emission are one-fourth of per capita emissions in the US

While China is now the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases, China’s per capita emissions of CO2 (e) is 5.5 tonnes which places it at 84 in the list of per capita emissions for other countries across the globe.  In fact, from the beginning of the current phase of industrialization in Chine in the early 1980s until the late 1990s, energy intensity in China grew only half as fast as its GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  (Energy intensity is a measure of the amount of energy required for every dollar produced in the economy. It is often used to compare the productivity of different economies, and says some about the cost and resource efficiency of production. The lower the energy intensity of an economy, the more energy efficient it is per unit of production).  Since about the year 2000, a change has taken place. The per capita income increase is now accompanied by an increase, rather than decrease, in energy intensity. This has led to a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions.  Nevertheless, the per capita emissions in the US by contrast are 23.4 tonnes, which is over 4 times that of China.

What people forget when they look at the enormous strides which China has made economically since the mid-1980s, is the size of its population.  At present it stands at 1.3 billion.  People who visit China are amazed at what has been achieved in a relatively short period of time, especially in cities, many of which are heavily polluted.  Tens of millions have benefitted from the double digit economic growth of the past three decades and a significant number have become millionaires or even billionaires.  What people forget is that 700 million of China’s 1.3 billion live in villages far removed from the more prosperous cities. Many of these people live in grinding poverty.  Khor quotes a United Nations study which estimates that there are 150 million people in China living on less than US$1 per day.

Khor argues that despite an extraordinary economic success story, which has many negative ecological and even social consequences, China is a middle-level developing country with similar socio-economic and ecological problems faced by most developing countries.  Martin Khor, who has been championing the cause of poor people across the globe for three decades through his involvement in the Third World Debt movement from the late 1970s onwards, concludes “ that if China is pressurised to take on the duties of a developed country and to forgo its status and benefits of a developing country, than many other developing countries that are ahead of China (at least in per capita terms) may soon be also asked to do the same.”[13]

China leads the solar revolution

This does not mean that China does not have obligations to reduce its greenhouse gas emission.  While the Chinese economy is still very much dependent on coal, huge strides have been made in the area of renewable energy. At side event here at Durban last week Eric Usher, of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said China now is the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. According to him “renewable energy has now reached a tipping point where it is becoming an important part of the global energy mix….. The price of these technologies is dropping.  For example, the cost of solar panels has dropped by about 65 percent, largely because of production in China.”[14]

 A Small breakthrough at Durban: Is it too little, too late? Fr. Seán McDonagh,SSC

COP 17, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was scheduled to end on Friday December 9th 2011.  At that point there was no agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (KP) nor a willingness to accept legally binding cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by either the United States, India or China. On Thursday, December 8th 2011 and through much of Friday, December 9th 2011, it appeared as if the conference was going to end in a disaster similar to what happened in Copenhagen in 2009.

Some momentum, initiated by the Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, entered into the discussions on Friday afternoon.  She held private talks with small and large countries  in order to secure a deal.   As a result, the negotiators decided to extend the conference throughout Saturday.  Finally, on Sunday morning a compromise agreement was reached.  Included in the accord was the extension of the Kyoto Protocol for another five years.  The Kyoto Protocol was due to end in 2012.  This new agreement will extend that date to 2017. The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding treaty requiring rich countries (in the jargon of the COP Annex 1 countries) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent on 1990s levels.  Though the United States signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, it was never ratified by the US Senate and once George W Bush became president he withdrew US support for the Kyoto Protocol. Throughout the Durban talks the developing countries were united in their demand that the Kyoto Protocol must be extended for a second period.  Many of the countries which had signed the KP, such as Russia, Canada and even Japan, where it was negotiated, indicated that they would not support a second period for the KP unless other developed and developing countries agreed to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. While securing a second period for the KP, it is important to remember that KP countries are only responsible for emitting 15 precent of global greenhouse gas emissions.[15] So, while it is being presented as a victory for poorer countries, in the larger scheme of things it is a very small victory.

In 1997, though the both the Indian and especially China economy had been growing spectacularly over the previous decade, they did not rate as major emitters of greenhouse gases.  All of that changed in the past decade, and in 2005, China, as a country, became the number one emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet.  However in  per capita terms the average Chinese person only emits one quarter as much as the average US citizen.  The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, commits all countries to work towards a new legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gases to be decided by 2015. This agreement would then come into force in 2020.

Much of the hard negotiation centred on the semantics of what legally binding commitments actually mean. The language game continued through most of Saturday.  The term “legal framework” was dropped in preference for “protocol or legal instrument.” This was further diluted to “legal outcome.” The EU  negotiators were thoroughly frustrated at this point and began to challenge counties such as India and China to assume their responsibilities for climate change.  This led to an angry response from the Indian minister for the environment, Jayanthi Natarajan who stated that “India will never be intimated by threats.” She in turn was supported by the Chinese delegation who thought that India and China were being strongarmed by the EU into a deal that might not suit them.  Connie Hedegaard kept her nerve and after some huddles among the negotiating parties the two women agreed to accept the phrase “agreed outcome with legal force” was accepted.  But even Christiana Figueres`, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary admits that what the phrase means has still to be decided. The fact that an agreement was finally reached was seen as a victory for the EU as a corporate body with all the component nations acting together.  The outcome was very different from what happened at Copenhagen when initiatives from the EU were cast aside.

The Green Climate Fund which has been under negotiations during the past few COPs was set up at Durban.  This fund will be used to channel US$100 billion each year to countries which are affected by climate change.

Karl Hood who is both foreign minister of Grenada and the chair of the alliance of small island states, which could be swamped by rising sea levels as a result of climate change was ambivalent about what had been achieved in Durban.  On the positive side it was the first time that a legal framework had been agreed outside of the KP process and it is destined to apply to all nations.  On the negative side, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action is vague and will not come into effect until 2020.  The scientific consensus is that carbon dioxide emissions need to peak by 2015 if the goal of keeping the average global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level is to be achieved. Beyond that climate change can become both catastrophic and irreversible in historical time.

Just to give a sense of the perilous situation which we face, on December 13th 2011, Russian scientists found unprecedented plumes of methane bubbling up to the surface in the Arctic Ocean.  Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  The sheer scale of what is happening astonished the Russian research team which have been monitoring these waters for the past 20 years. According to Steve Connor writing in The Independen, scientists believe that here are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost.   The permafrost extends from the mainland into the shallow waters of the East Siberia Arctic Shelf.  With the disappearance of Arctic sea-ice in the summer and the gradual increase in temperature across this area of the Arctic, scientists fear that the trapped methane in the permafrost could suddenly be released into the atmosphere. This “time bomb” release of methane from the Arctic region would lead to severe climate change much further beyond the 2 degree Celsius rise the UNFCCC is  trying to prevent. [16]

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) share a similar perspective regarding the limitations of the Durban Platform.  Tony Rawe from the Charity Care USA said that the negotiators “had failed the planet and especially the world’s poorest who are already suffering from the devastating impacts of climate change.”[17]

According to Andy Atkins Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, “The UN climate change process is still alive but this empty shell of a plan leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change. If Durban is to be a historic stepping stone towards success the world must urgently agree ambitious targets to slash emissions.”[18]

Country Statements at COP 17 –Ireland Fr. Seán McDonagh

In recent days government Ministers or other officials have been making statements about their countries’ experience and perspective on climate change. On Wednesday, December 7th 2011, I listened to what Mr. Phil  Hogan, the Irish Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government had to say.

He noted that the “world is far from a pathway to meet the goal of keeping the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) latest gap analysis shows that current pledges could only take us about half-way there.

In reality the impacts of climate change are already clear. The World Health Organisation  ( WHO) has declared climate change to be the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century. The seriousness and urgency of mobilising an effective global response cannot be overstated.

While the Cancun Agreements were an important step forward, the time has now arrived for us to address the difficult outstanding political issues, not least in relation to –

The legal form of a future international agreement.

The timeframe for agreement and a roadmap to get us there, and

The need to increase the level of ambition on mitigation action to respond tot the 2 degrees Celsius objective.

We must also strive for an agreement on a common international accounting system, so we can truly keep track of what everyone is doing.

A balanced Durban package should also address issues that are of increasing importance in our climate constrained world, including the establishment of new market-based mechanisms, addressing the international aviation and maritime sectors, and agreement on a work programme on agriculture.

Food security remains a key issue in Ireland’s engagement with this and other global multi-lateral processes. Our historical experience of famine has left an indelible mark on our national psyche and has ensured that our overseas development assistance programme has a particular focus on hunger. Recognising the right to food as a key fundamental human right, we are acutely aware that climate change is already impacting on global agricultural systems.

Whether you look at analysis by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FA0), UNEP or the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), the message is consistent and clear regarding the inextricably linked challenges of climate change, agriculture and food security. Building the scientific and technological knowledge base in the agricultural sector is essential and a work programme must be developed that fully addresses both adaptation and mitigation aspects……….. We fully recognise that it is the people of the developing world – who contributed least to global warming – that are first to suffer its punishing impacts.  I believe that there is a compelling case for Climate Justice and I am determined that Ireland will continue to demonstrate solidarity with developing countries in their efforts to tackle the effects of climate change and respond to food security challenges.

For our part in the global mitigation effort, Ireland is on course to meet its Kyoto commitment.  Together with our fellow Member States of the EU, we are pursuing an ambitious mitigation agenda in the period to 2020. Nationally, the Government is prioritising the climate policy agenda to ensure that we realise our 2020 climate ambitions on a pathway to a low carbon economy in the longer term.”

Country Statement – Islamic Republic of Pakistan, December 8th 2011

It is a profound pleasure and honour to represent Pakistan at the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Meeting of the Parties in the Kyoto Protocol……

Pakistan has come to Durban with not only hope and determination to  propel the current negotiations towards a definitive outcome, as envisaged in the Bali Plan of Action, but also with serious and immediate concerns about the extreme climate induced impacts that our country faces.

Climate change for Pakistan is an impending and unavoidable reality which is currently impacting the country with all its ferocity. The increased frequency and rising intensity of natural extreme events, triggered by climate change, have exposed us to unavoidable risks.

In the past decade, nine out of the top ten natural disasters in Pakistan have been climate related and each time they have struck with rising intensity and cost. The past two years can truly be termed as the years of “climate catastrophe” in Pakistan with back to back floods in 2010 and 2011, rapid glacial melting, a drought in 2010, threatening cases of Glacial Lake Outbursts (GLOFs) and the recent incidence of a dengue fever epidemic in the country.  As stated already, all these impacts come with a heavy price tag for an already strained and stretched economy.

Last year, with the help of the UNFCCC, Pakistan carried out a study to estimate its climate finance needs. The resulting adaptation cost figures range from between US$6 billion to US$ 14 billion per year that Pakistan would  need in the 2010- 2050 time frame to cope with the effects of climate change. Ironically, the natural disasters striking the country in the past two years, have already established that these are not just future projections but costs which are very real and already upon us.  The country no longer has an exit strategy for climate change. It has no other option but to face the issue head-on and bear the associated costs.

While the current negotiations grapple with the definition of vulnerability, it comes as no surprise that a number of independent climate bodies undeniably categorize Pakistan among the highly vulnerable countries. A reputed body, German-Watch recently placed Pakistan as the country  “most impacted” by climate change in the year 2010.   Pakistan is, therefore, of the view that we need to revisit the current global vision of climate vulnerability and develop a more holistic approach. Such an approach, we believe, would allow for more effective and equitable allocation of resources to deal with climate change.

Given this extreme vulnerability to climate change, the success of these negotiations is not just important but rather and imperative for Pakistan. Our commitment to this global process is a result of the harsh realities that the people of Pakistan are facing today due to climate change. In our view, the only path is to overcome our difference in achieving an outcome that arrests and reverses these negative climatic trends. Together we bear a huge responsibility. We are here to make the right choices for our collective future and survival.

Notwithstanding our own vulnerability, Pakistan is particularly concerned at the existential threat that climate changes poses not only to the whole South Asian region but also to the many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the enhanced risks it poses to the Least Developing Countries – all of whom are least prepared to cope with this imminent challenge. Pakistan wishes to assure its SIDs and LDCs partners that it remains committed to ensuring an outcome which prioritises their needs.

With only two days of negotiating time left, Pakistan would urge all parties to show flexibility in evolving agreements to make this conference a watershed in our quest to meet the challenge of climate change.

Pakistan strongly supports the notion of a fair, equitable and balanced set of decisions. I have instructed my delegation to undertake intensive consultations with our partners, with your team and members of the Group of 77 and China to ensure that we can build upon the trust that was rekindled in Cancun and move forward in a positive manner.

Pakistan strongly supported the adoption of decisions at Cancun, which in our view were a timely and pragmatic measure to move towards long-term cooperative action. Regretfully, the follow up progress has been extremely slow and dismal. We, thus, share the urgency in settling all pending and ensuring that negotiations under the two tracks culminate in positive and agreed decisions at Durban.

Under your able leadership, Pakistan looks forward to a balanced and comprehensive agreement at Durban, which ensures completion of the Bali Road Map. In this regard, the following decisions are crucial

Successful completion of negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol to agree, at least, on a mandate to avoid any “gap” in commitments which could provide certainty and avoid a derailment of the growing carbon markets.

Durban should operationalize the building blocks initiated in Cancun including the Standing Committee on Finance to improve the governance of climate finance: Operationalision of the empowered Adaptations Committee which should report directly to the Conference of the Parties; the operationalization of the technology executive committee and the technology network and, most importantly, the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund to start delivering much needed climate finance to countries like Pakistan.

The future flow of sustainable and predictable climate finance needs to be realized at Durban which should also address the associated “gap” of financing between 2012 when fast track finance ends and 2020 when the promised US$100 billion of long term finance begins.

Pakistan also supports the establishment of a Reduced Emission from Forest Degradation and Deforestation (REED + Mechanism. We are open to the establishment of a REDD+ Window in any new Climate Change Fund/Mechanism. Pakistan believes that there is a need to strongly reflect the recognition of the special needs of the low forest cover countries in the evolving REDD+ architecture.

I would also like to affirm that despite resource constraints amid a very difficult security environment, the present Government is undertaking considerable action at the national level in evolving a national framework on climate change.

The recent floods in Pakistan have highlighted the need for integrating climate change – particularly adaptation – in our national economic policy and planning. Following the release of the National Task Force on Climate Change last year, we are now finalizing the process of approving our National Climate Change Policy and a National Adaptation Plan in close partnership with the United Nations in Pakistan.  We are also cognizant of the requirement to develop a receptive infrastructure and capacity in the country to assimilate our future climate finance needs. On the development of such an enabling environment and conductive capacity, we will continue to seek international assistance.

Pakistan strongly believes and supports the establishment of inclusive climate regimes that integrates the voluntary mitigation actions of the developing countries in a global effort to reduce emissions subject mission subject to the provision of finance and technology and in accordance with the fundamental principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. This is the spirit of Bali and Pakistan remains committed to it. Pakistan is ready to undertake measureable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation actions in the frame work of Nation Communications.

Already, we are unilaterally committing significant climate resources towards climate change. In this regard, the country committed US$4.5 billion towards climate costs in the years 2007-2009 alone out of its national budgetary finance. This includes projects supporting low carbon development as well as establishing a climate resilient infrastructure in the country.


[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4]  John Vidal, “Revealed: which oil giant influenced Bush,” The Guardian,  June 8th 2005, page 5.

[5][5] Seamus Milne, “This strike could start to turn the tide of a generation,” The Guardian, December 1st 2011, page 43.

[6] David Strahan, “The Real Greek Tragedy,” NewScientist October 15th 2011, page 16

[7] David Strahan, “The Real Greek Tragedy,” NewScientist October 15th 2011. Page 28.

[8] Fiona Harvey, “Developing nations must meet tough terms on climate says EU,” The Guardian, December  1st 2011, page 10.

[9] Fiona Harvey, “Carbon dioxide emissions show record jump,” The Guardian,  December 5, 2011, www.guardian.co.uk

[10] ibid

[11] Martin Khor, “The Equitable sharing of atmospheric and development space: Summary” Climate Policy Briefing,  No. 4.* December 2010. www.southcentre.org

[12] Martin Khor, “Is China still a developing nation?” The Star, November 21, 2011,  page 27.

[13][13] ibid

[14] Suren Naidoo, “China leads the solar revolution,” The Mercury Network, December 7th 2011, page 1

[15]  Pilita Clark and Andrew England, “Battle loom over detail of climate pack,” Financial Times, December 12, 2011, page 7.

[16]  Steve Connor, “Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas, The Independent, December 13th 2011, page 2

[17]  ibid

[18] Natasha Kertesz,  “ Durban Platform provides a vague roadmap for climate change action,” December 12th 2011, http://therandomfact.com/durban-platform-provides-a-vague-roadmap-for-climate-change-action/2210806

 

 

Durban: Last chance to get it right on climate change? by Seán McDonagh on Nov. 30, 2011

The United Nations climate change conference at the Conference of the Parties 17 (COP 17) began Nov. 28, in Durban, South Africa. Close to 10,000 people are expected to attend the conference, which will continue until Dec. 9.

Those attending include representatives of the world’s governments, international organizations and civil society. The discussions will seek to advance, in a balanced fashion, the implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the Bali Action Plan, agreed upon at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at COP 16 in December 2010.

President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma opened the conference, calling on all parties involved in the negotiations at Durban to work diligently to find a solution to the climate issues.

“For most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death,” he said. “We are always reminded by the leaders of small island nations that climate change threatens their very existence.”

He continued, “Recently, the island nation of Kiribati became the first country to declare that global warming is rendering its territory uninhabitable. They asked for help to evacuate the population.”

But the devastation that climate change will bring will not be confined to small island nations or coastal cities in other countries.

President Zuma claimed that climate change will reduce agriculture output by 50 percent across the African continent. He drew attention to the fact that “severe drought in Somalia is exacerbating an already volatile region causing displacement of populations and increasing refugee communities in Kenya.”

If one includes the high level of population growth, which is predicted for Africa, and with falling food production, then the future will be problematic, unless significant action is taken on climate change. In South Africa itself, climate change has led to severe flooding in coastal areas. As a result, some people have lost their lives and others have lost their livelihood.

The impact of climate change is not confined to small island nations or the continent of Africa.

President Zuma said, “In the Americas, we have also witnessed the frequency of intense hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, from which the communities of New Orleans have yet to fully recover, five years after Hurricane Katrina.”

In some quarters the climate change debate is often divorced from eradicating global poverty. The location of the conference in Africa should be a reminder to the delegates, as Zuma said, “that solving the climate problem cannot be separated from the struggle to eradicate poverty.”

Zuma then summarized the progress that has been made to date. At COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, there was a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34 percent by 2020, and by 42 percent by 2025. Reductions of this scale are essential if the average global temperature is to be kept below a 2 degrees Celsius rise. A May 2011 study released by the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, called the 2o C increase the “guard rail,” though the scientists involved would prefer if the average increase was kept below 1.5 C rather than 2 C.

In 2010, at COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, the Parties agreed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but no number or timeline was specified.

This is very worrying because a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that the pledges made by the Parties in Cancun are insufficient in order to realize the goal of COP 17. These pledges are not enough to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at the level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate systems. UNEP assumes that emission levels at 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would probably keep the average temperature rise below 2 C. Under a business-as-usual scenario, which is likely if there is no binding agreement at Durban, carbon emissions could reach 56 gigatonnes of carbon, creating havoc in many parts of the world.

The stakes for the future of hundreds of millions of people and vital ecosystems are very high at Durban. Toward the end of his address, President Zuma said that, given the urgency at stake, the Parties should strive to find solutions here in Durban.

“The expectation is that you must work toward an outcome that is balanced, fair and credible,” he stated.

Whether this can be achieved is questionable. COP 15 in Copenhagen received massive media coverage, while the media coverage of Durban thus far has been minimal.

A brief history: the UN climate change conference by Seán McDonagh on Nov. 30, 2011

 

.One of the pitfalls that many of us who have attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference for years fall into is that we assume that the general reader has a good grasp of the history of these conferences and the issues that have been thrashed about during the past 20 years. On this, the third day of the Durban conference, a brief history might be helpful.

Countries from across the globe began to address the problems associated with global warming and climate change at the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, in June 1990. At that meeting it was agreed to set up a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This body was tasked with setting out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.” Unfortunately, due mostly to the intervention of the United States under former President George H. W. Bush, no target dates or timelines were set. The Convention came into force in March 1994.

The next significant milestone took place at the December 1997 UNFCCC Conference (COP 3) in Kyoto, Japan. The delegates agreed to a Protocol that committed industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The target was set for a reduction between 5.2 percent and 7 percent below their 1990 levels, in the period between 2008 and 2012. What became known as the Kyoto Protocol came into force on Feb. 16, 2005. It expires in December 2012.

In the run-up to the Kyoto Conference, a group of industries known as the Carbon Club ran advertisements in the U.S. media, aimed at blocking the U.S. from signing the Kyoto Protocol. Many of these companies, especially those involved in the energy sector, were afraid that their profits would plummet if there was a drop in fossil fuel consumption.

Among them were household names such as Exxon Mobil, Shell, Ford and General Motors. They used all kinds of tactics – corporate PR, psychology, mass media manipulation techniques and political muscle – to force the Clinton administration to do their will.

Even though the U.S. delegation, led by then-Vice President Al Gore, signed the Kyoto Protocol, the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which claimed that the Protocol would damage the U.S. economy, was passed by the U.S. Senate by an overwhelming 95 votes to 0 votes.

Within a few months of being elected president, George W. Bush repudiated the Kyoto Protocol. Documents leaked to the press at the time of the Gleneagles, Scotland, meeting of the G-8 in July 2005 made it clear that Bush’s decision was due in part to the pressure from Exxon Mobil.

As the work of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol process became more intricate, subsidiary bodies were set up to help those involved in various aspects of the negotiations. These included the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

These and scores of other acronyms are used constantly in negotiations and discussions to the point that even veteran attendees of UNFCCC meetings need a glossary to understand what is being said!

The next most significant UNFCCC took place in December 2007, on the beautiful island of Bali, in Indonesia. The result of that meeting became known as the Bali Road Map. It put the spotlight on the three areas needed to be addressed in any climate treaty.

Given the dire consequences of a significant increase in global temperature, the primary focus of the UNFCCC is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. In the language of the UNFCCC, this is called mitigation.

Secondly, the plight of those who are already being affected by climate change must be addressed. Many of the countries that did the least to cause climate change will be most affected by it. One has only to think what will happen to the water supply of Lima, Peru, if the glaciers on the Andes disappear? Responding to this is referred to as Adaptations.

The final plank in the strategy is called Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM). During the past 200 years the prosperity of rich countries was based on having cheap fossil fuel readily available. China and India are now following the same pathway.

Poor countries have a right to develop, but if they opt for the fossil fuel route, it will be a disaster for everyone. To avoid this happening, rich countries must make clean energy technologies available to poor countries.

 

While the science is becoming more alarming, politicians are slow to act. (December 6th 2011). Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

 

Three years ago a claim in the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that the glaciers in the Himalayas were receding faster than in any other part of the globe and that they could disappear completely by 2035. This was seized upon by climate deniers as an example of the questionable science behind climate change. The source for the claim was a quotation from an Indian glaciologist which appeared in the NewScientist.  The data had not been peer-reviewed.

The story behind this mistake received extensive coverage in news media across the globe. Many people, who were beginning to take the science of climate change seriously, reverted back into a sceptic mode.  Pressure was brought to bear on Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the IPCC, to resign.

The Impact of Climate Change on the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau

While the 54,000 glaciers covering an area of over 60,000 square kilometres in the Himalayas may not disappear  in 35 years, they are under serious threat which will only get worse if politicians here in Durban fail to deal effectively with greenhouse gas emissions.  The tragedy is that, despite a greater knowledge of the dangers of climate change and considerable efforts to invest in non-fossil fuel energy sources, little enough has been achieved.  This somewhat depressing data has emerged in a recent study conducted by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change based at the University of East Anglia. Professor Corinne Le Quéré, who is the director of the Centre, found that fossil fuel emissions rose by about 3.1 per cent globally since the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997. In 2010, for example, fossil fuel emission rose by 5.9 per cent [1]  The study predicts that, unless real changes are put in place, greenhouse gas emissions will grow by 3 per cent over the next number of years.  One of the most depressing elements in the data according to Julia Steinberger, a lecturer in ecological economics at the Sustainable Research Institute at the University of Leeds, is that emissions do not seem to decrease much even during a recession.  “The worst economic crisis in decades was apparently a mere hiccup in terms of carbon emissions.”[2]

Professor Le Quére warned that it was necessary to do something urgently about the 80 per cent of our energy which still comes from burning fossil fuel.  Unless this is tackled urgently there is very little hope of holding global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Any increase beyond that will result in catastrophic and irreversible climate change. Most frightening of all, given the slow pace of the negotiations here at Durban, is the judgement of these scientists  that emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest.

This, of course, brings us back to the Himalayas. A Swedish-funded study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, found that there was a doubling of ice and snow lost in the 10 glaciers which have been studied for the past 30 years.  The report claimed that there was a shrinking in both the central and eastern Himalayas glaciers.  It seems that glacial erosion has increased in recent years. The study found that there was a depletion of 22 per cent in the Bhutan glaciers and 21 per cent in Nepal. The loss of volume was even greater in the higher altitude central Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau.  In the iconic area around Mount Everest, the data showed a marked loss in glacial mass  between 2002 and 2005, in a period of three years.  One of the reasons for this speeding up of the loss of glaciers is that the rise temperature in the Himalayas has been significantly above the global average of 0.74 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years.

Serious depletion of ice and snow from the  Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau will have devastating consequences for people in Asia.  All the great rivers of Asia – the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangzi and Yellow River – all begin in the Himalayas or the Tibetan Plateau.  A major reduction in the volume of ice and snow on these mountains will mean that there will be much less water for drinking, personal hygiene and agriculture for almost 2.5 billion people who depend on these rivers

In today’s (December 6th 2011 –  ECO – the daily news report from the (Climate Action Network(CAN) there is a letter addressed to the Ministers who have arrived for the final few days of negotiations.  It begins, “the disconnect between the climate talks and the scientific reality is stark. In the UNFCCC process, progress is being made, but in real life yours negotiators have been sleepwalking as the world burns.”  I think that quotations capture what most of us feel about the slow pace of the negotiations at this point.  One ray of hope  was an announcement from Beijing that China  which is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases would put limits on its emissions  as early as 2020. Until now, China has only measured its emissions in terms of energy intensity per unit of Gross Domestic Product  (GDP). Although Japan has said it would not join the EU in renewing the Kyoto Protocol, its climate envoy, Masahiko Horie, said it wanted to start discussions and adopt, as soon as possible, a comprehensive international agreement that would involve all major economies.


[1] Fiona Harvey, “Carbon dioxide emissions show record jump,” The Guardian,  December 5, 2011, www.guardian.co.uk

[2] ibid

The End of the First Week at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban Fr. Seán McDonagh,SSC December 3, 2011.

 

The Meeting of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change or COP17 here in Durban is similar to many of the other COPs which I have attended in Nairobi, Bali, Poznans, Copenhagen and Cancun and yet, I discern a very different mood among the participants in Durban. Organisations from civil society are here in force, challenging the politicians to come up with a fair, ambitious and binding treaty which will secure the future for ordinary people.  But the question is; are politicians listening to climate change concerns anywhere across the globe? Are the distractions of the current financial and banking crises just too overpowering?

At breakfast this morning here in St. Philomena’s Conference Centre in Durban where I am staying, more than 40 women from a variety of  Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were preparing to join in the March to the Conference Centre which is scheduled to begin around 1 pm. Their conversations were animated and focused as these people, many from a rural background here in South Africa, are already feeling the effects of climate change in their lives.  They are fearful about what the future might bring, and well they might be, as the momentum which drove previous COPs seems to be waning. Everyone knows that, if the Durban Conference fails, it will be difficult to get a satisfactory  international agreement on the measures which will be necessary to prevent an average rise in global temperature of between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. This would be a disaster for almost every country and ecosystem in the world.

United States of America

The United States is the largest economy in the world and its citizens are among the largest per capita emitters of greenhouses gases in the world. While the US signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the US Senate never ratified the treaty. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the US negotiators spent much of their time at the various COPs either trying to deny climate change was happening or, in the later years of his presidency, espousing scepticisms about its consequences.

The election of President Obama seemed like the dawning of a new era.  In his campaign speeches he understood and accepted the scientific underpinning for global warming. He appeared to grasp the seriousness of climate change for many countries both in the global South and even for the US itself and, above all, he promised to lead rather than impede an international consensus for dealing with it.

Unfortunately, those bright hopes of 2009 have now turned to dust.  Local politics in the US and the rise of the Tea Party candidates has effectively pushed climate change off the political agenda. On the third day of the Durban Conference, the US chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing, himself a scientist who was formerly involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), made the implausible statement that the current collective mitigation targets are sufficient to avoid a rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius.  In addition, given its greenhouse emission status the US’s own mitigation targets are woefully weak. They are set to achieve a 17% reduction below their 2005 level by 2020. It would appear that in the political calculus of the Obama administration, re-election is now the top priority, dealing with climate change is a task for someone else.

The unwillingness of the US to accept any binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions unless the newly emerging economies of China and India agree to similar measures is totally irresponsible and immoral. The US seems to forget that it and other Northern economies, are responsible for 75% of historic or accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The prosperity which many people in Northern economies experienced in the late 19th century and especially in the second half of the 20th century, depended directly on burning fossil fuel. The unfortunate consequence is that it increased the percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which has led directly to our present crisis.  True, many people were unaware of the connection between burning fossil fuel, greenhouse gases and climate change, but that did not change the outcome.

In traditional moral terms, the US and other Northern countries are being called to make restitution for the damage which their greenhouse gas emissions have caused to millions of poor people around the world. Unfortunately, the problem will continue and become more serious  unless there are ambitious and binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gases emissions in the next few years. Putting off such decisions for a decade or so will be disastrous.  The moral issues here come under a relatively modern category called intergenerational justice.  The core issue is that this generation has the power to increase global temperatures significantly and, as a consequence, make life difficult for every succeeding generation of human beings and the offspring of every other creature as Fr. Thomas Berry wrote many years ago.  Once a tipping point is reached it is difficult and even impossibly in historical time to reverse the process. Runaway climate change will introduce a new geological era. This is highlighted in the title of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences’ recent document on climate change which is entitled The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are calling politicians to account

Members of CSOs in the United States are concerned about the Obama administration’s lack of leadership on climate change.  In the run-up to the Durban Conference, 16 major CSOs including Greenpeace, Oxfam America and the Worldwide Fund for Nature challenged the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton to alter the US stance on climate change.  The letter called on the US negotiators to withdraw the stringent preconditions it is expecting poor and emerging countries to meet in return for the US to agreed to support a realistic mandate for negotiations on a long-term climate regime.  These include legal symmetry, a clear process for poor countries to gradually take on mitigation commitments similar to those which should currently apply to rich countries, such as the US.  According to these CSOs, the most negative element in the US’s negotiating position in Durban is its position on climate financing.

Since the Nairobi COP in 2006, there have been slow and painstaking negotiations about the best and most efficient way to make serious amounts of money available to poor countries which will have to adapt to the inevitable impact of climate change. For some countries it will mean, higher costs to deal with severe weather events, for other counties it will mean smaller food harvests, for others shrinking glacier will cause water shortages for major cities and vital agricultural crops. The Green Climate Fund seemed to have been agreed at Cancun in 2010. Here at Durban the US appears to want to reopen these negotiations. In contrast, the European wants the Green Climate Fund to begin delivering funds to poor countries next year.

Tomorrow I will look at what seems to be happening on the EU front.

 

 

 

Is China being used as a scapegoat by countries which are unwilling to make significant cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions? Fr Sean McDonagh SSC

 

For a number of years the United States and other countries such as Canada, Russia  and more recently Japan, have stated that they are unwilling to sign any binding treaty to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions unless China does the same.  In support of their position, these countries point to the fact that China is now the number one emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.  In 2005, its greenhouse gas emissions reached 7,232 Megatonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Carbon Emissions between 1850 and 2009

At first glance this argument looks plausible enough. However, it overlooks some very important data on a number of fronts, which undermine the validity of the argument and upholds the position of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) which states that countries have common but differentiate responsibilities in solving climate change.  Any equitable approach to lowering global carbon emissions must first examine the historical pattern of  greenhouses gases releases into the atmosphere.

Equity in determining the Right to Emit CO2

In a recent paper Martin Khor, the Executive Director of South Centre based in Geneva, has calculated that, in the period between 1850 and 2009, about 1,214 Gigatons of  CO2 was released into the atmosphere. Of this amount, Annex 1 countries (rich countries many of which signed up to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997) were responsible for 878 Gigatons.  If one set out to determine what a fair share of the right to emit greenhouses gases during that period, based on their population as a percentage of the global population, it would amount to 336 Gigatons or 28% of the total amount.  In fact, Annex 1 countries have overshot their fair amount by a massive 568 Gigatons.

The scientific consensus is now adamant that, if we wish to keep the average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, we can only emit 750 Gigatons of carbon (equivalent)  into the atmosphere between now and 2050.  In the light of the historic carbon debt, how should these allocations be made?  Given that Annex 1 countries only comprise 16% of the world’s population, the equitable allocation for these countries should be 120 Gigatons. But since there is a debt overhang of 568 gigatons, their fair share ought to be a negative budget of 448 Gigatons.    According to Khor, “to fulfil the environmental goal of a global cut to 50% to 85%, it is clear that developed countries will have to go into the territory of “negative emissions”, in order that the developing countries will have a decent level of “development space” sufficient to cushion their path to low-emissions growth.”[1]

A second consideration which needs to be looked at seriously is the fact that China, during the past three decades, has become the work shop of the world.  It is manufacturing many of the consumer goods which benefits people in Europe, the US and elsewhere by providing a plethora of gadgets at a very low cost.  Both the computer which I am using to write this article, and the memory stick which I am using the save the text, have been manufactured in China. Should China alone be saddled with accounting for these greenhouse gases involved in manufacturing these goods, or should the burden be shared by those people and countries which benefit from this low cost manufacturing?

 

Is China still a developing nation or has it graduated to the developed category?

In a recent article Martin Khor has argued convincingly that China is still a developing country and that it should not be bullied into joining a new category which does not square with the true facts of the situation.[2]  At a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) in Bali in November 2011,  President Barack Obama told the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that China had “grown” up and must accept its international obligations.  Among these would be China’s willingness to sign up to binding commitments similar to those which would be undertaken by the US, Europe or Japan.

The question is, are we comparing like with like – apples with apples but not with oranges?  China is a huge country, its economy is now the second biggest on the planet and growing, its foreign reserves stand at US$3 trillion and its greenhouse gas emissions have now exceeded those of the US.  Those headline figures might seem to put it into the category of a developed country.  But that would be deceptive, since it fails to take into account the population of China.

Khor points out that the International Monetary Fund in its latest World Economic Outlook classifies China as a developing country with a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$4,382.  In this league table it comes in at number 91, out of the 184 countries covered in the survey.  Many will find it strange that six African countries – Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Botswana, Mauritius, South Africa and Namibia  – have higher GDP per capita levels than China.

The next measure used by Martin Khor is the  “ gross purchasing power” per capita.  This covers that fact the cost of living in some countries is lower than in others and that this has a knock on affect on living standards.  Here again China comes in at number 95, lower than Ecuador.  Many people involved in development work are critical of the traditional economic measurement of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP).  They rightly argue that these can give a lopsided view of the economic and social well-being of a country.  As result of these criticisms the United Nations publishes a Human Development Report each year which assesses the quality of life in broader terms which include income, schooling, life expectancy etc.  In the Human Development Report for 2011, China is ranked 110 out of 187 countries.

China’s per capita greenhouse gas emission are one-fourth of per capita emissions in the US

While China is now the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases, China’s per capita emissions of CO2 (e) is 5.5 tonnes which places it at 84 in the list of per capita emissions for other countries across the globe.  In fact, from the beginning of the current phase of industrialization in Chine in the early 1980s until the late 1990s, energy intensity in China grew only half as fast as its GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  (Energy intensity is a measure of the amount of energy required for every dollar produced in the economy. It is often used to compare the productivity of different economies, and says some thing about the cost and resource efficiency of production. The lower the energy intensity of an economy, the more energy efficient it is per unit of production).  Since about the year 2000, a change has taken place. The per capita income increase is now accompanied by an increase, rather than decrease, in energy intensity. This has led to a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions.  Nevertheless, the per capita emissions in the US by contrast are 23.4 tonnes, which is over 4 times that of China.

What people forget when they look at the enormous strides which China has made economically since the mid-1980s, is the size of its population.  At present it stands at 1.3 billion.  People who visit China are amazed at what has been achieved in a relatively short period of time, especially in cities, many of which are heavily polluted.  Tens of millions have benefitted from the double digit economic growth of the past three decades and a significant number have become millionaires or even billionaires.  What people forget is that 700 million of China’s 1.3 billion live in villages far removed from the more prosperous cities. Many of these people live in grinding poverty.  Khor quotes a United Nations study which estimates that there are 150 million people in China living on less than US$1 per day.

Khor argues that despite an extraordinary economic success story, which has many negative ecological and even social consequences, China is a middle-level developing country with similar socio-economic and ecological problems faced by most developing countries.  Martin Khor, who has been championing the cause of poor people across the globe for three decades through his involvement in the Third World Debt movement from the late 1970s onwards, concludes”  that if China is pressurised to take on the duties of a developed country and to forgo its status and benefits of a developing country, then many other developing countries that are ahead of China (at least in per capita terms) may soon be also asked to do the same.”[3]

China leads the solar revolution

This does not mean that China does not have obligations to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.  While the Chinese economy is still very much dependent on coal, huge strides have been made in the area of renewable energy. At side event here at Durban last week, (December 4th 2011)  Eric Usher, of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said China now is the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. According to him “renewable energy has now reached a tipping point where it is becoming an important part of the global energy mix….. The price of these technologies is dropping.  For example, the cost of solar panels has dropped by about 65 percent, largely because of production in China.”[4]

 


[1] Martin Khor, “The Equitable sharing of atmospheric and development space: Summary” Climate Policy Briefing,  No. 4.* December 2010. www.southcentre.org

[2] Martin Khor, “Is China still a developing nation?” The Star, November 21, 2011,  page 27.

[3][3] ibid

[4] Suren Naidoo, “China leads the solar revolution,” The Mercury Network, December 7th 2011, page 1

A Small breakthrough at Durban: Is it too little, too late? Fr. Seán McDonagh,SSC

 

COP 17, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was scheduled to end on Friday December 9th 2011.  At that point there was no agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (KP) nor a willingness to accept legally binding cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by either the United States, India or China. On Thursday, December 8th 2011 and through much of Friday, December 9th 2011, it appeared as if the conference was going to end in a disaster similar to what happened in Copenhagen in 2009.

Some momentum, initiated by the Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, entered into the discussions on Friday afternoon.  She held private talks with small and large countries  in order to secure a deal.   As a result, the negotiators decided to extend the conference throughout Saturday.  Finally, on Sunday morning a compromise agreement was reached.  Included in the accord was the extension of the Kyoto Protocol for another five years.  The Kyoto Protocol was due to end in 2012.  This new agreement will extend that date to 2017. The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding treaty requiring rich countries (in the jargon of the COP Annex 1 countries) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent on 1990s levels.  Though the United States signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, it was never ratified by the US Senate and once George W Bush became president he withdrew US support for the Kyoto Protocol. Throughout the Durban talks the developing countries were united in their demand that the Kyoto Protocol must be extended for a second period.  Many of the countries which had signed the KP, such as Russia, Canada and even Japan, where it was negotiated, indicated that they would not support a second period for the KP unless other developed and developing countries agreed to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. While securing a second period for the KP, it is important to remember that KP countries are only responsible for emitting 15 precent of global greenhouse gas emissions.[1] So, while it is being presented as a victory for poorer countries, in the larger scheme of things it is a very small victory.

In 1997, though the both the Indian and especially China economy had been growing spectacularly over the previous decade, they did not rate as major emitters of greenhouse gases.  All of that changed in the past decade, and in 2005, China, as a country, became the number one emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet.  However in  per capita terms the average Chinese person only emits one quarter as much as the average US citizen.  The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, commits all countries to work towards a new legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gases to be decided by 2015. This agreement would then come into force in 2020.

Much of the hard negotiation centred on the semantics of what legally binding commitments actually mean. The language game continued through most of Saturday.  The term “legal framework” was dropped in preference for “protocol or legal instrument.” This was further diluted to “legal outcome.” The EU  negotiators were thoroughly frustrated at this point and began to challenge counties such as India and China to assume their responsibilities for climate change.  This led to an angry response from the Indian minister for the environment, Jayanthi Natarajan who stated that “India will never be intimated by threats.” She in turn was supported by the Chinese delegation who thought that India and China were being strongarmed by the EU into a deal that might not suit them.  Connie Hedegaard kept her nerve and after some huddles among the negotiating parties the two women agreed to accept the phrase “agreed outcome with legal force” was accepted.  But even Christiana Figueres`, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary admits that what the phrase means has still to be decided. The fact that an agreement was finally reached was seen as a victory for the EU as a corporate body with all the component nations acting together.  The outcome was very different from what happened at Copenhagen when initiatives from the EU were cast aside.

The Green Climate Fund which has been under negotiations during the past few COPs was set up at Durban.  This fund will be used to channel US$100 billion each year to countries which are affected by climate change.

 

Karl Hood who is both foreign minister of Grenada and the chair of the alliance of small island states, which could be swamped by rising sea levels as a result of climate change was ambivalent about what had been achieved in Durban.  On the positive side it was the first time that a legal framework had been agreed outside of the KP process and it is destined to apply to all nations.  On the negative side, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action is vague and will not come into effect until 2020.  The scientific consensus is that carbon dioxide emissions need to peak by 2015 if the goal of keeping the average global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level is to be achieved. Beyond that climate change can become both catastrophic and irreversible in historical time.

Just to give a sense of the perilous situation which we face, on December 13th 2011, Russian scientists found unprecedented plumes of methane bubbling up to the surface in the Arctic Ocean.  Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  The sheer scale of what is happening astonished the Russian research team which have been monitoring these waters for the past 20 years. According to Steve Connor writing in The Independen, scientists believe that here are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost.   The permafrost extends from the mainland into the shallow waters of the East Siberia Arctic Shelf.  With the disappearance of Arctic sea-ice in the summer and the gradual increase in temperature across this area of the Arctic, scientists fear that the trapped methane in the permafrost could suddenly be released into the atmosphere. This “time bomb” release of methane from the Arctic region would lead to severe climate change much further beyond the 2 degree Celsius rise the UNFCCC is  trying to prevent. [2]

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) share a similar perspective regarding the limitations of the Durban Platform.  Tony Rawe from the Charity Care USA said that the negotiators “had failed the planet and especially the world’s poorest who are already suffering from the devastating impacts of climate change.”[3]

According to Andy Atkins Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, “The UN climate change process is still alive but this empty shell of a plan leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change. If Durban is to be a historic stepping stone towards success the world must urgently agree ambitious targets to slash emissions.”[4]


[1]  Pilita Clark and Andrew England, “Battle loom over detail of climate pack,” Financial Times, December 12, 2011, page 7.

[2]  Steve Connor, “Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas, The Independent, December 13th 2011, page 2

[3]  ibid

[4] Natasha Kertesz,  “ Durban Platform provides a vague roadmap for climate change action,” December 12th 2011, http://therandomfact.com/durban-platform-provides-a-vague-roadmap-for-climate-change-action/2210806