A very short introduction to climate negotiations

Climate negotiations – an elaborate set of rituals intended to give the impression that our world’s governments care about climate change, when everyone knows that the role of most modern governments is mostly to serve as flunkies to mostly polluting big business, and big business generally doesn’t care very much about climate change because it’s run by guys with incipient prostate cancer who only need their golf courses to remain above water for the next twenty or so years and apparently don’t give a toss about their children.

(Actually, the Milnerton golf course in Cape Town is already threatened by sea-level rise.)

So how does the global theatre work?

The draft script was written at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. There, the world created (amongst other ‘instruments’), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention basically established that climate change caused by human influences, particularly burning fossil fuels, was potentially a very big problem, and Something Needed to Be Done. Ever since 1992, all formal international negotiations on what humanity needs to do about climate change have proceeded in terms of the UNFCCC framework.

The UN agreement established two categories of countries, rich countries that have already poured huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the course of building their economies (listed as Annex 1), and not-so-rich and poor countries (Annex 2) that are still developing their capacity to pour large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and don’t see why they should have to stop.

‘We have the right to emulate the very poor and selfish example set by you rich guys,” say the Annex Two-ers, including South Africa, and if you want us to stop before we’ve contributed our full share of planetary destruction, you need to pay lots of money.’ But where will this money come from? Rich countries have a wonderful track record of promising large amounts of money for development – and never delivering.

One interesting proposal for financing a climate fund is a tax on international financial transactions, sometimes called a Tobin Tax. This is described as a radical proposal, because it would be the first ever international tax. But perhaps the climate is right for such a tax, given the banking world’s current lack of popularity.

The Annex Two-ers also want ‘technology transfer’. ‘Give us money AND give us toys.’ This is another dimension to the whole fantasy, because in fact rich countries are furiously trying to extend their so-called ‘intellectual property rights’ into the developing countries, and the chances that they’ll suddenly reverse that process to help out drowning Bangladeshis are minimal.

Act II – The Kyoto Protocol
In 1997, a protocol to the UNFCCC agreement was signed, the Kyoto Protocol, named after the city in which it was agreed. The Kyoto Protocol for the first time set targets for countries to reduce their emissions by specific dates. The US signed but never ratified the Kyoto Protocol (no, not even after a big dose of ‘change you can believe in’) – having had the cheek to ask for a four-year delay in its implementation, which began in 2005. The first target dates under the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012. Some countries have met their Kyoto Protocol targets, some have exceeded them. Yesterday, we heard that Japan is determined to kill the Kyoto Protocol. One colleague suggested they are embarrassed by its problems. Developing countries are very keen that the Kyoto Protocol should be extended, and will resist any efforts to kill it.

1 Comment

Filed under COP diary - Cancun

One response to “A very short introduction to climate negotiations

  1. Tim Gray

    Thank you David. In the light of this I understand more clearly the importance of a sustained and proactive response from civil society.

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