You may well wonder why you’ve not been hearing more from this blog, and the answer is, I’ve not been quite sure what to say (and my computer was stolen earlier in the week). I find the intricacies of this process incredibly difficult to follow. But sitting here in the ICC this evening (now around 7.10pm), the feeling amongst the civil society people around me is anxious, and a while back, we heard that there is still no text for a final agreement.Talks may continue tomorrow (they are supposed to end tonight).
The one key to assessing success or failure will be: are there new commitments to cutting emissions right now? Or are they delayed yet again?
The rich countries seem to have been playing a classic game — dramatically lowering expectations before the COP, with talk of delaying significant agreement to 2020. Then in the last two days, positions seemed to be easing, to taking action by 2015 — with the effect that they would have won significant delays while looking as if they’d ‘compromised’.
It’s a strange place to be. I can smell the rain outside, and for while earlier, someone was playing the piano downstairs, beautifully, Beethoven and Debussy. Two hours ago I was in the midst of an enormous Occupy-style protest in the halls here — chanting and singing of Shosholoza by a great many visitors from overseas, with the human microphone call-and-echo-and-amplify system in full swing (and my first experience of using that system — scary and exhilarating).
A little later, I witnessed an interesting incident at a gate between the ICC and the adjacent Durban Exhibition Centre, where the NGOs have their stands. The gate, open all week, was locked, and the COP chair, our South African foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was waiting with all the rest of us to get through. UN security arrived, and she said, testily: “Open this gate, this is my country.” One wonders to what extent she is autonomous here, and to what extent a figurehead manipulated by others. She looks exhausted, walking as if slightly crippled.
My impression has been that we may well be headed for a second period of commitment to lowering emissions by rich countries under the Kyoto Protocol (now excluding Canada, Russia and Japan, of course). And towards some kind of agreement on a Green Climate Fund. But as the chant went in a protest in the ICC this afternoon, “we don’t just want a fund, we want a just fund” — in other words, one that is fully funded, offers direct access to developing countries, does not undermine national sovereignty, and does not simply operate as another playground for banks and multinationals. But as a negotiator from a developing country yelled during the protest, “Delays will only cost the polluters money, but delays will cost our lives.”
Meanwhile, there is unwanted news from the science world — the carbon emissions caused by deforestation are twice as great as previously suspected. Bolivia has made a new proposal for dealing with deforestation, but Bolivia is all too often ignored. A pity, since they’re arguably one of the few sources of truth in the negotiations. (Here, Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the UN, describes how current policies amount to ecocide.) But the prevailing view seems to be that, ‘This is about economics, not religion or morality.’
The big issues remain:
Will there be a second commitment period of lowering emissions by rich countries under the Kyoto Protocol? The answer seems to be a tentative yes.
The Green Climate Fund to cover the costs of adaptation. Supposedly, this fund will be disbursing $100bn a year by 2020. But the ALBA group of countries, which includes Ecuador and Bolivia, argues that the current design of the fund is badly flawed, for several reasons. At this stage, it appears these issues will be handed over to an interim committee to sort out over the next year. Unless the funding options include a financial transactions tax, a maritime and aviation fuel tax, and possibly the use of special drawing rights from the IMF (the suggestions of the ALBA countries), the fund will most likely fail.
The biggest issue of course is how big a dent will be made in the emissions gap? And the answer is, at the moment, not big enough or fast enough to save Africa. Which may be to the enduring shame of South Africa, depending on where we align ourselves in the closing hours. It’s worth remembering that even the US is signatory to the UNFCC Convention that in theory binds it to “take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures…”