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UN convention on climate, ‘a political farce’

24th Dec 2013

ENVIRONMENT UN conventions on climate

[COP19 held in Warsaw, Poland was little more than  political farce say critics]

By Sarah Marshall,

The latest UN convention on climate, Conference of Parties, COP19, took place this past November in Warsaw, Poland. Some key provisions that came out of the agreement regarded loss and damage as well as deforestation. Still, many see these conferences as political farces, with only ever more “pathways to concrete talks” pushing deadlines for Paris in 2015 where countries may finally commit. This procrastinating behaviour speaks volumes about countries’ mentalities regarding climate change.

In light of Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines encouraged concrete action to avoid more frequent and detrimental storms that leave thousands displaced and deceased.

“The timing of Typhoon Haiyan to these climate talks is impeccable. It is like some divine hand is trying to send us a message, reminding us why we are all here in the first place,” said the Executive Director of the Philippines Climate Change Commission, Mary Ann Lucille Sering. She then went on to explain that adaptation for the most vulnerable developing nations would not even be necessary if the wealthier developed nations would be more committed to reducing their own carbon emissions.

The UN’s forest program, REDD+ is considered one success of the talks, calling for wealthier countries to channel funds to poorer nations in order for them to preserve their rainforests.

Japan’s announcement may have been the most depressing of the summit, rejecting its commitment from Kyoto to reduce emissions by 25% from 1990 levels, instead expressing that by 2020, there would be a 3% increase (stated as a 3.8% decrease from 2005 levels). Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, attributed the new commitment to the Fukushima disaster and having to shut nuclear power plants and import fossil fuels for power.

According to James Murray of BusinessGreen, “You can see why NGOs walked out; you can see why Filipino diplomat Yeb Sano felt moved to hunger strike; you can see why even normally optimistic economists and business leaders were heard to warn that progress is not being made nearly fast enough.”

It comes to no surprise that developing and developed nations had major disagreements on concrete action. According to Venezuela’s lead climate negotiator, “When you see developed countries being so bold to tell you that they are not even considering reducing their emissions, that they are not even considering paying for the costs that those inactions have on the life of others, that is really rude and hard to handle it politically.”

This is where so-called “loss and damage” comes in; which calls for developed nations responsible for the majority of carbon emissions to pay for natural disasters in developing nations exacerbated by warming, such as Typhoon Haiyan. This is an extremely controversial proposal because there is no way of completely attributing natural disasters to the inaction of particular countries.

The US was eerily quiet during the talks, knowing that these summits usually aren’t the best PR campaigns, and often amount to a brazen display of their reluctance to act.

Seven EU nations (Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Germany, Finland, France, and Switzerland) put forth a combined $100million for developing nations to adapt to the effects of climate change; Austria topped off the amount with an additional $700,000.

Much to the consternation of environmentalists, Poland also hosted a coal industry meeting during the COP. Coal plays a major role in the Polish economy, something that is not likely to change in the near future, though discussions about so-called “clean coal” are being had. “This whole concept of clean coal is a myth and it is being presented by the industry,” according to Tasneem Essop of the World Wildlife Fund. Still, UN’s chief climate negotiator, Christiana Figueres, addressed the coal industry’s presence and called for “radical reform.”

Another surprising development during the talks was the sacking of Poland’s Environment Minister, Marcin Korolec, who had been chairing the climate negotiations. Apparently it had less to do with the COP and more to do with the handling of shale gas (fracking) in the country.

It seems that if you have extremely low expectations for these climate negotiations, you will not be so disappointed. Some have even expressed joy that a deal was struck at all. Clearly, expecting over a hundred nations to compromise on an issue that affects their economies is asking a lot, but with all of the science backing the detriment of inaction, one might think that these reputable politicians would decide on a strategy a bit more dynamic than mere procrastination.

Sarah Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy

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