COPs and Robbers - the winners, the losers and the fight ahead

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 14:43

Some claim that Durban has opened a new ‘door’ to negotiate a more comprehensive legally binding agreement. But I would call it a debacle, where the deathbed of equity as a principle was prepared and no serious attempt was made to fill the Green Climate Fund

It is disgraceful that a climate summit, held in Africa, delivered so little for Africans

Having witnessed the negotiations till the wee hours of Sunday morning – long past the scheduled Friday afternoon end of the conference -- I only saw rich countries making dubious high claims for future gains while delivering little for the present.

COP17 did make a small step forward to save the climate but it failed to deliver practical support where it is needed most.

Rich countries are claiming the launch of ‘The Durban Platform on Enhanced Action’ as a major victory. Emerging economies like China, India and Brazil have agreed to agree for the sake of a deal, which will be negotiated under this Platform. The deal may result in a Protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention and ‘applicable to all’. This instrument is to be adopted by 2015, and will come into force from 2020.

Until the end, India (later supported by China, Philippines and Bolivia) was the only country insisting on the principle of equity and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ as the foundation of new agreement. The European Union eventually agreed to this, but the words are not explicitly mentioned in the final decision.

How many more years will poor people have to suffer for the inadequacies of rich governments to do what’s right?

This leaves a lot of ambiguity on how the (new?) principles of the new agreement will affect the right to development of the poor in these emerging economies and more importantly in the poor countries, if all the countries are going to be treated equally and not equitably! Since the Durban Platform is ‘under the Convention’, I still hope that developing countries will be able to push for equity being the cornerstone of the new agreement.

Durban did save the Kyoto Protocol from complete demise, but the current pledges by the rich countries, both within and outside the Protocol, on emission reduction are taking us to a 3 degree (Celsius) warmer world, which will be catastrophic for Africa, where it would most likely translate into a devastating 5 degree rise. Over a billion people are already going hungry and climate change will be adding millions more to that total.

How pitiful that a ‘hard day’s work’ for US negotiators consisted of de-railing other countries efforts to meet their $100 billion a year promise.

Governments had an opportunity to not only tackle climate change, but also the climate-driven food crisis sweeping across the African continent.  Instead they riddled negotiations with false solutions which let rich countries off with weak targets for slashing emissions and no climate cash commitments for poorer nations.

There are a few positive results from Durban:

An Adaptation Committee, as an overall advisory body to the Conference of the Parties on adaptation, has been formed and its ways of working have been agreed. Our demand for the committee to have a majority of members from developing countries has been agreed. It will report annually to the Conference of the Parties (COP), through the subsidiary bodies, while we were keen on its direct reporting to the COP for better coherence and influence.

A work programme on Loss & Damage, the slow and long term impact, has been agreed, which will send its recommendations to the COP18 in Qatar next year.

Initial guidelines for National Adaptation Plans have been adopted. These plans would enable poor countries to assess their climate vulnerabilities, mainstream climate risks and address adaptation as part of sustainable development. The adequate and regular financing of these plans still remains a question though.

ActionAid worked with like-minded organisations against the establishment of the work programme on agriculture, which rich countries wanted to create in order to eventually promote soil carbon markets to avoid reducing emissions in their own countries and create new markets for their companies. We shared our papers, lobby letters with negotiators and media to advocate against it. In the end, we were successful in preventing agreement on a counter-productive workplan for the time being.

The US should be ashamed that their actions at these negotiations effectively rendered the Green Climate Fund an empty vault.

The governing instrument for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was approved and the Board, which will be set up in 2012, has been tasked to operationalise the fund. The Board will also initiate an independent and transparent process to select the host country as well as the trustee - a clear signal against the continuation of the World Bank as permanent trustee. This has been one of the key demands of the developing countries to ensure that the Fund remains out of the clutches of the developed countries who want to control it through the World Bank, which has a track record of furthering the political and market agenda of the rich countries.

The biggest disappointment has been on the progress on filling the Green Climate Fund with money. Rich countries did not make any concrete progress on finding money to fulfil their promise of providing $100 billion by 2020 and fill the funding gap from 2013 to 2019. The proposals on raising public finance through taxes on shipping, aviation and financial transactions did not see the light of the day.

The United States was most unhelpful in the discussion on the sources of finance and kept insisting that countries should find their own ways to raise money for GCF and not through an international mechanism. The US came to Durban with nothing to offer but to make sure it did not ‘give away’ anything that affects the politics back home to reduce Obama’s chances of winning the next presidential elections in an increasingly climate-sceptical and difficult economic environment.