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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Climate Change

A lack of urgency in Bangkok?
Marianne de Nazareth

How much more death and devastation does the world need to sit up and realise that the catastrophic effects of Climate Change are already upon us? There has been heavy flooding in several states in India, typhoons devastating the Philippines, Vietnam and parts of Thailand. Asia seems to be bearing the brunt of climate change. And yet, here in the Bangkok negotiations, the developing nation representatives complain, that there is a lack of urgency in the stance of the developed nations, in coming to a quick and amicable solution.

Quamrul Islam Chowdhury of the Bangladesh delegation said, " We are facing a sea level rise which requires a scaling up of financial resources and technology transfer by the Annex 1 countries at a much more rapid speed. A 45 percent cut in emissions by Annex 1 countries by 2020 is imperative."

We are just two months away from Copenhagen and the Annex 1 countries wish to put an end to the Kyoto protocol, stalling the very process we have worked towards, for all these years," states Qingtai Yu special climate change envoy for China.

"There are several funding opportunities available like imposing levies on the emissions caused by passengers of international shipping and aviation," advises David Lesolle from the Botswana delegation. "Everyone who flies should be able to take on this critical levy and pay towards their impacts of travel on climate change."

Jonathan Pershing of the US delegation said the US is working on a hub and spokes method of bringing technology to each country. "The new government is working towards a new policy but it will take time", he said, "but the strongest part of the whole process is what each country does at home. A national action plan in each separate country, is what will make things work over the next 50 years."

However developing nations felt that the US was not helping sort the issue instead as David Lesolle stated, "we are like two elephants fighting in a room and if the fighting continues there will be a lot more problems happening for poorer countries to contend with. We have one planet and we all need to live on it."

Yu from China said " What we are fighting for is the right to development. The problem of climate change was created by unrestrained emissions over centuries by the developed nations since the industrial revolution. We are the victims and so the Annex 1 countries have to pay for that. Look at the percapita emission levels of developed nations. The per capita emission levels in China per person is 1/3 the per capita emission levels in developed countries.

Dessima Williams of the Grenada delegation firmly asserted that, "Adaptation is the here and now and we need to build resilience for the present and the future. Commitments that are legally binding are needed. We all can see climate change empirically unfolding on the ground today. We cannot look at 50 years hence we have to look at the problem of immediacy now. Modalities are not a substitute for substance and 1 percent of the GDP of Annex 1 countries for adaptation is necessary, for the developing world’s survival."

Karl Falkenberg of the European Commission felt that REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) was one of the mechanisms which could help to alleviate the problem. "But fossil based energy development in poor countries, is not alleviating poverty, but only causing its growth."

"The current Arab position is mainly focussed on protecting the oil trade rather than saving the planet from the adverse effects of climate change," says Wael Hmaidan, the executive director of IndyACT, taking the problem to a whole new dimension. "Saudi Arabia has utilized its political weight in the region to dominate the Arab voice." NGO’s are concerned about Saudi Arabia’s obstructionist role among developing nations and this will affect the poorest nations who are reeling under the impact of climate change.

It looks like a caudron of problems which are on the boil here in Bangkok and hopefully negotiators can work towards some amicable decision with Copenhagen just 60 days away.

As Jonathan Pershing of the US delegation said on a positive note, " A year ago my country was not even interested in an agreement. Today there are startling changes and tremendous growth."

"What we are trying to define is a robust, international way forward. Developing countries by and large are dissastisfied with the financial architecture in place. Leaders of developed countries must provide the political greenlight on industrial countries targets on emission reductions and commited financial packages. We are trying to put real meat on the bones of the Kyoto protocol as I do not believe in throwing away old shoes, before we have a new pair. Unless we see an advancement on ambitious targets, it is very difficult to continue the good work of the negotiators. We have a clear indication from science as to the rate of emission cuts. If what we achieve in Copenhagen is not strong enough, then we have no option left but to reconvene to gain more ambitious targets," said Yvo de Boer the UNFCCC Executive Secretary.


Developing nations are certainly concerned with the attitudes of the developed nations, here at the Bangkok negotiations. Meenakshi Raman who is a legal advisor of the Third World Network, showed her annoyance by baldly saying "there is a lot of hollow rhetoric by the political leaders at these negotiations. Look at the actual negotiating stance and you will see its just business as usual,"

She said they are going back on their commitments made under the UNFCCC by shifting their responsibility to the markets, thereby weakening their obligations made. "Developed countries do not talk about the amount of atmospheric space taken by them during the industrial revolution. But now those same nations say to the developing world, sorry guys, your limit is up, your atmosphere is constrained, " she added.

Mauritius, Egypt, Venezuela and the Philippines said they were concerned that there was an attempt by the developing nations to kill the Kyoto Protocol. They also felt there was an effort being made to ‘divide and rule’ like in the days of colonialism. The countries were concerned that the main principles of the protocol were being distorted and they were not willing to agree to a new structure that they could no longer recognise.

Developed nations owe an adaptation debt to developing countries for their historic overuse of the earth’s atmosphere for which developing nations are suffering. Therefore it is imperative that developed nations undertake deep emission reductions in order to leave the remaining atmospheric space to developing countries. The money being paid out to developing nations is not charity but simply that the polluter pays. However now its being used by flipping the coin and saying the one who pays may pollute, say developing nations.

Barbados, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) was concerned that there were such a few days left for Copenhagen and failure there was not an option for the small island states. They would all definitely go under.

At Bangkok one sees that the youth have decided to be more forceful in pushing for a deal which is more transparent and equitable. A declaration of "No Confidence in the Road to Copenhagen" was announced today by the International Youth Delegation attending the UN climate change talks.

The delegation cited the failure of reaching a commitment from developed countries on strong targets and a lack of guarantee for protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests, in its declaration. The current text of the draft climate deal is so weak and so full of "false solutions," measures like offsetting that actually make the problem worse, are unacceptable.

"The youth are sounding the alarm. These talks have been polluted by self-interested corporations and countries looking to profit off of our crisis," said Joshua Kahn Russell from the U.S. and Rainforest Action Network. "We cannot allow rich countries to use U.S. inaction as an excuse to kill the Kyoto Protocol. Our future cannot be held hostage to the politics and interests of the United States or any other single country. We see Copenhagen as a beginning, not an ending. We will not accept a dirty deal."

The glaciers in the Himalayas are melting due to climate change, said Anil Rimal from Nepalese Youth Climate Action. "This is happening today, not in 2050, and people are losing their lives, homes and livelihoods due to GLOF’s (Glacier Flood Outbursts)."

Gemma Tillack from the Australian Wilderness Society said, "We will never give up, because it is our future at risk."
With less than two weeks of negotiations remaining before the Copenhagen meeting, the pressure is on developed countries to commit to providing finance and at least a 40percent reduction in emissions by 2020. "If they do not, we will witness the derailment of this climate deal in Copenhagen," said Grace Mwarua from Kenya.
© Marianne de Nazareth Oct 10th 2009
(The writer is a fellow with the UNFCCC and teaches a module on Climate Change in Bangalore, India)

With 50 days left for the final negotiations in Copenhagen, one hopes that countries find a working solution out of this political wrangling, which has the fate of our planet and all our lives at stake.

The Third Pole
Marianne de Nazareth

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