Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Climate is dead. Long live the Climate!

Our climate died in Copenhagen, falsely renamed as Hopenhagen, as the COP15 climate talks arrived to no binding agreement on either emissions targets or financing that go along with them.

While a target of 2C (instead of a safer 1.5C ) serving as a reference point in the Copenhagen Accord along side with a US$ 30 billion financial support for developing countries (article 8):

" The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010 - 2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. "
The trick to read here is that the US$ 30 billion is split between adaptation and mitigation: only adaptation is used to help the vulnerable to recover their livelihoods, where as the mitigation (a much bigger financing need) will go towards reducing emissions in developing countries. The sums needed are much bigger (US$ 50 bn for adaptation, and US$ 200-400 bn for mitigation, as noted by the IBON primer on Climate Change, a Philippines-based think-tank.

However a previously leaked so-called 'Danish text' had much more in terms of binding targets and financial mechanisms. This text called for peak of emissions by 2020, and reductions of 80% by 2050, that apparently is enough to keep even Tuvalu and the Maldives in the registry of nations.

However this ' Danish text' was rejected by the develoing nations on two grounds: (1) no legally binding targets as in the (thence broken) Kyoto Protocol, and (2) sidelining the UN in the process by establishing an 'International Climate Financing Board under the UNFCCC' (article 24), which would be under World Bank and the IMF supervision. This 'Danish text' had important targets also for developing nations (article 9):

"The developing country Parties, except for the least developed nations which may contribute at their own discretion, commit to nationally appropriate mitigation actions, including actions supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building."
The target to be negotiated never happened, as this was subsequently rejected by the G77 countries, on grounds that it would lock them into underdevelopment forever. While, the 'Danish text' had good points too, e.g. stricter targets on the maritime industry (article 13), it was inconsistent in omitting aviation from targets. It short, despite fanfare, the Danes were imbalanced in favour of the rich nations.

So lessons for the COP15 process:

- Don't sideline the UN -- if you want to get a binding agreement from developing nations, who were branded as the 'deal busters' by the rich and the powerful nations, then involve the UNFfD and the other UN agencies.

- Make sure you have domestic resource mobilisation on the agenda -- only this will ever give developing countries the confidence to start reducing their own emissions and get involved in mitigation efforts. If African nations stop cutting reducing their overall forest coverage that provide carbon sinks (which doesn't mean sustainable forestry couldn't continue as in Scandinavia), they need to know that they can cover the lost revenues via taxing the resident companies and individuals more effectively.

- Funds towards climate change adaptatin should come from global taxation. Adaptation for climate change is equally important as mitigation, one cannot come before or after the other, as if we increase temperatures, we'll end up with a much larget bill to foot for adaptation in terms of resettling an ever increasing number of 'climate refugees', and ensuring livelihoods and food sovereignty for millions displaced.

- Tax carbon dioxide and other green house gas emissions from all sources. While developing countries would be more penalised on a maritime fuel tax (as they are exporter nations), it's the rich nations (who do the bulk of flying) who would be penalised by an aviation fuel tax. Taxing only carbon-intensive coal-fired power production is something that would only penalise China and potentially Australia (with the largest coal reserves), but the US would be penalised on high-polluting buildings, industry and aviation. Let's put some balance to the proposals.

- Finally, legally binding targets need to be coupled with legal sanctions, this was the weakness of the Kyoto Protocol, where targets were broken. To have the confidence of agreeing to targets we need an International Climate Court, which has powers to give sanctions for countries not living up to their promises. Sanctions could be in forms of higher carbon taxes levied on produce and financial transactions from such countries, or any other effective manner.

Rescuing the dead corpse from the bay of 'Hopenhagen' will require much more than diplomacy, it will need public pressure, this is what we should build for the next round of climate talks in Mexico end of the year.