New Year, No Resolutions on Climate Change
Posted on: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
With the dramatic wrap-up of the UN climate change conference in Bali, 2007 is drawing to a close. Now we have seven short years—until 2015—to reverse the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and avoid a global temperature increase of two degrees Celsius. Worldwide scientific consensus says that going above a two degree increase would usher in the worst effects of climate change. Picture another 200 million people displaced by floods and an additional 600 million people suffering from hunger.
As maddening as the doomsday scenarios are terrifying is the fact that climate change can be controlled. Although there are challenges, the toughest obstacles are not scientific or technical or even financial. They are political. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Bali last week.
“If You’re Not Going to Lead, Get Out of the Way”
From the outset of the Bali negotiations, the US delegation obstructed a key solution to climate change: mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. They insisted that the conference produce only a blueprint for further negotiations, instead of outlining the emergency measures that are needed on climate right now. The US was repeating its standard argument, namely, that economic growth must meet no obstacles, especially in the form of limits on greenhouse gas emissions for US industries.
But economic growth is just another way of measuring natural resource consumption, and consumption (particularly of fossil fuels and forests) is what is driving climate change. The Bush Administration’s fantasy of endless economic growth is putting us on a collision course with reality. The reality is that the planet has its limits, and we are fast approaching them. That means that economic policy needs to be crafted within a broader framework of environmental policy, and not the other way around. In other words, the Administration’s approach needs to be turned on its head.
Yet, thanks to US intransigence, backed by Canada and Japan, the European Union’s proposed 25-40% cut in emissions by 2020 was dropped from the final “Bali Action Plan.” And the EU didn’t pull those numbers out of a hat. That 25-40% figure comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s foremost expert body, whose numbers, if anything, are turning out to be conservative. The US made sure that the Bali Action Plan ignores their findings.
Frustration with US obstinacy came to a head in the final day of negotiations. While the US was chipping away at the draft outcome document, pressure on the US delegates became increasingly vocal, with one representative from Papua New Guinea stating, “If you’re not going to lead, get out of the way.”
Papua New Guinea, whose representatives made international headlines on the last day of the conference, is one of many developing countries where harrowing predictions about climate change are happening now. In some areas of Papua New Guinea, rising sea waters are already destroying homes and communities. Developing countries with large populations vulnerable to disasters like droughts and floods have seen little attention or money from developed countries to help them cope. In Bali, the consensus reached by African governments underscored the need for more funds to deal with climate catastrophes.
In fact, a growing divide between developed and developing countries was on full display in Bali, with developing country representatives, like Munir Akram of Pakistan, voicing some of the strongest criticism of US actions. For instance, in addition to stonewalling any real progress in the Bali Action Plan, the US worked to shift the debate away from its own culpability for climate change (the US, with the world’s biggest economy is also the worst carbon polluter) and onto developing countries. According to Akram, some rich countries (though he refused to name names) threatened poor countries with trade sanctions if they did not commit in the Action Plan to cut their own emissions.
Developing countries in fact do have an obligation to avoid the same carbon-intensive development path as industrialized countries. There is simply no more room in the atmosphere for carbon emissions. Rich countries have used it all up through the same processes of industrialization that made them rich in the first place. This patently unfair dynamic leaves industrialized countries with the primary responsibility not only for vastly reducing carbon pollution, but also for providing the “technology transfers” (as they’re called in the Action Plan) to enable poor countries to develop economically without doing more damage to the atmosphere. Finally, developed countries need to shoulder the burden for “adaptation” as the Action Plan refers to it, or the measures needed to enable developing countries to survive and adjust to the climate crisis that the rich have created. These imperatives flow directly from the language of “common but differentiated responsibilities” in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of which the Bali talks were part.
Bali was an opportunity for developing countries to highlight the ways in which the world’s poor are being hit first and worst by climate change. But no government, North or South, emphasized the fact that worldwide, 70% of poor people are women. Nor was there a focus on the importance of women’s knowledge and skills to the survival of poor communities facing climate change. It is rural women, after all, who have historically developed and enacted solutions to ecological challenges that we need to adapt and replicate today. Worldwide, women in communities are responsible for developing sustainable agriculture, preserving biodiversity, securing fresh water supplies, building wind-resistant housing, and more. These kinds of local solutions, and a gender perspective more broadly, must be integrated into climate policy at all levels.
Thanks in large part to pressure brought to bear by other delegates, the US representatives finally signed the Bali Action Plan. But what sort of a plan is this? The best that delegates in these climate change negotiations were able to say is that the path is open for progress in 2009, when a presumably more amenable US administration will be in office. In short, the Bali Action Plan represents the lowest common denominator of government positions and barely advances the climate agenda.
The UN has already scheduled another four negotiating sessions on climate change for 2008. But a significant shift is required before these discussions can begin to generate positive change. As far as global climate policy is concerned, the US is clearly a rogue state. But even governments that are not subsidiaries of the oil industry tend to be staffed by people with a vested interest in the economic status quo. All governments need to feel the pressure from a climate movement demanding social and economic justice as the starting point for a new climate regime.
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Communications Director, and Diana Duarte, MADRE Media Coordinator
Archives"Press Room" Home November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Iraqi government 'likely complicit' in persecution of LGBT community (The Guardian, November 19, 2014)
LGBT Iraqis face 'imminent risk of death' under Islamic State (Washington Blade, November 19, 2014)
Iraq: "When Coming Out is a Death Sentence" (San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, November 19, 2014)
The World's Obsession With Schoolgirls As Victims, And Why It's Putting Them In Danger (Think Progress, November 9, 2014)
Forbidden Talk - Prostitution in the Middle East (Levant TV, October 7, 2014)