First published in the South African magazine The Thinker in April.
2010 may go down as the year in which climate change really went global. In August, Russia suspended wheat exports as an unprecedented drought ravaged yields. In January, 2011, the Tunisian president fled following riots caused in part by soaring bread prices whilst similar unrest spread across Algeria and Egypt. Floods in Australia knocked out nearly half its coal export capacity and steam coal prices reached $130/tonne into Europe just as snow-bound British consumers faced big price rises in electricity. Drought in Argentina impacted on soya prices which fed increase in meat prices.
Can climate change been blamed for all this? No one can say with any certainty. The strength of La Niña which has caused the heavy rain is Queensland is not without precedent and, whilst the Russian drought was abnormal, such lengthy episodes have occurred elsewhere. The UK had its coldest December on record but its electricity prices are mainly driven by European gas prices though these are, in turn, impacted by the cost of coal. And there were many other factors at work in Tunisia and elsewhere such as the lack of democracy. Protesters in Cairo were reported as chanting “Bread. Freedom. Social Justice” which summarises it. But as I noted in The Thinker a year ago, the number of extreme meteorological events have been steadily increasing . What 2010 showed was that such extreme weather events bring not just TV pictures of far-off calamity but will increasingly also effect people’s lives remote from that actual flood or drought or snowfall.
Such was the background to the Cancún conference. More formally, the “United Nations Climate Change Conference [which] took place in Cancún, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. It encompassed the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) and the sixth Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), as well as the thirty-third sessions of both the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the fifteenth session of the AWG-KP and thirteenth session of the AWG-LCA.”
It would be wrong to suggest that Cancún was a failure in that there were any hopes dashed at its conclusion. It was universally expected that it would achieve nothing and so it turned out. Essentially all that was achieved was to insert some of aspirations reached on a multilateral basis at the Copenhagen conference (COP 15) the previous year into the agreed UN statement though without any kind of formally binding pledges. Perhaps the most dispiriting moment of the conference was the sight on the final morning of the Bolivian representative protesting on his own that the agreement was counter to the multilateral rules of the UN whilst it was being gavelled through by the Mexican foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa. The previous year’s alliance of small nations had effectively disintegrated with delegates cheering Espinosa so that at last they could flee to the airport.
There are, however, two actions at which the COP16 proved adept: the creation of new agencies and the deferral of decisions. The formal opening statement quoted above shows that the ‘Conference of the Parties’ already encompasses six other bodies, each with their own formal structures, secretariats, reports and responsibilities, which have been created in the previous fifteen conferences. Additionally the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which had its sixth session in Cancún, is the body which considers the progress of the Kyoto Protocol and which contains within its own structure a web of committees and advisory panels. COP16 added two new agencies to this network. First, the Conference:
102. Decides to establish a Green Climate Fund, to be designated as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention under Article 11, with arrangements to be concluded between the Conference of the Parties and the Green Climate Fund to ensure that it is accountable to and functions under the guidance of the Conference of the Parties, to support projects, programmes, policies and other activities in developing country Parties using thematic funding windows;
103. Also decides that the Fund shall be governed by a board of 24 members comprising an equal number of members from developing and developed country Parties; representation from developing country Parties shall include representatives from relevant United Nations regional groupings and representatives from small island developing States and the least developed countries; each board member shall have an alternate member; alternate members are entitled to participate in the meetings of the board only through the principal member, without the right to vote, unless they are serving as the member; during the absence of the member from all or part of the meeting of the board, his or her alternate shall serve as the member;
It was further agreed that this Fund would be run, initially, by the World Bank and designed by a Transitional Committee of 40 members supported by a secretariat drawn from relevant “United Nations agencies, international financial institutions, and multilateral development banks, along with the secretariat and the Global Environment Facility”
Any fund needs money even more, perhaps, than it needs staff to run it and the Conference:
97. Decides that, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, scaled up, new and additional, predictable and adequate funding shall be provided to developing country Parties, taking into account the urgent and immediate needs of developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change;
98. Recognizes that developed country Parties commit, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries;
99. Agrees that, in accordance with paragraph 1(e) of the Bali Action Plan, funds provided to developing country Parties may come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources;
100. Decides that a significant share of new multilateral funding for adaptation should flow through the Green Climate Fund;
Essentially, money tomorrow but more meetings today. Just how this new fund will differ either from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) set up as an independent agency in 1994 or the Special Climate Change Fund set up in 2001 to complement the GEF or indeed the Adaptation Fund set up under the Kyoto agreement is unclear given that the GEF already claims to act as the “financial mechanism” for the Climate Change Conference.
The second new agency will be a Technology Executive Committee supported by a Climate Technology Centre and Network. The composition of these is carefully set out in an Annex to the main report:
Composition and mandate of the Technology Executive Committee
1. The Technology Executive Committee shall comprise 20 expert members, elected by the Conference of the Parties, serving in their personal capacity and nominated by Parties with the aim of achieving fair and balanced representation, as follows:
(a) Nine members from Parties included in Annex I to the Convention;
(b) Three members from each of the three regions of the Parties not included in Annex
one to the Convention (non-annex I Parties) namely Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, one member from a small island developing State and one member from a least developed country Party;
2. The decisions will be taken according to the rule of consensus;
3. Parties are encouraged to nominate senior experts with a view to achieving, within the membership of the Technology Executive Committee, an appropriate balance of technical, legal, policy, social development and financial expertise relevant to the development and transfer of technology for adaptation and mitigation, taking into account the need to achieve gender balance in accordance with decision 36/CP.7;
With a further eight paragraphs detailing terms of office, procedure and protocols of working. Again, much detail as to how the meeting will be organised but precious little as to what they will actually do.
Set aside, for a moment, the implications of this organisational expansion for there is a much larger matter which will be sailing into Durban harbour this November when COP17 convenes in its next venue; the deferral of key decisions as to just how climate change is to be tackled. Three of these are contained in the main report:
…Agrees, in the context of the long-term goal and the ultimate objective of the Convention and the Bali Action Plan, to work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050, and to consider it at its seventeenth session…
6. Also agrees that Parties should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries, and bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that a low-carbon development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development. In this context, further agrees to work towards identifying a timeframe for global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions based on the best available scientific knowledge and equitable access to sustainable development, and to consider it at its seventeenth session;…
14. Invites all Parties to enhance action on adaptation under the Cancún Adaptation Framework, taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, by undertaking, inter alia, the following:
(a) Planning, prioritizing and implementing adaptation actions, including projects and
programmes, and actions identified in national and subnational adaptation plans and strategies, national adaptation programmes of action of the least developed countries, national communications, technology needs assessments and other relevant national planning documents;
(b) Impact, vulnerability and adaptation assessments, including assessments of financial needs as well as economic, social and environmental evaluation of adaptation options;
(c) Strengthening institutional capacities and enabling environments for adaptation, including for climate-resilient development and vulnerability reduction;
(d) Building resilience of socio-economic and ecological systems, including through economic diversification and sustainable management of natural resources;
(e) Enhancing climate change related disaster risk reduction strategies, taking into consideration the Hyogo Framework for Action where appropriate; early warning systems; risk assessment and management; and sharing and transfer mechanisms such as insurance, at local, national, subregional and regional levels, as appropriate;
(f) Measures to enhance understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation, where appropriate, at national, regional and international levels;
(g) Research, development, demonstration, diffusion, deployment and transfer of technologies, practices and processes; and capacity-building for adaptation, with a view to promoting access to technologies, in particular in developing country Parties;
(h) Strengthening data, information and knowledge systems, education and public awareness;
(i) Improving climate-related research and systematic observation for climate data collection, archiving, analysis and modelling in order to provide decision makers at national and regional levels with improved climate-related data and information;
15. Decides to hereby establish a process to enable least developed country Parties to formulate and implement national adaptation plans, building upon their experience in preparing and implementing national adaptation programmes of action, as a means of identifying medium and long-term adaptation needs and developing and implementing strategies and programmes to address those needs;
16. Invites other developing country Parties to employ the modalities formulated to support the above-mentioned national adaptation plans, in the elaboration of their planning effort referred to in paragraph 14 (a) above;
17. Requests the Subsidiary Body for Implementation to elaborate modalities and guidelines for the provisions of paragraphs 15 and 16 above, for adoption by the Conference of the Parties at its seventeenth session;
80. Decides to consider the establishment, at its seventeenth session, of one or more market-based mechanisms to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions, taking into account the following:
(a) Ensuring voluntary participation of Parties, supported by the promotion of fair and equitable access for all Parties;
(b) Complementing other means of support for nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties;
(c) Stimulating mitigation across broad segments of the economy;
(d) Safeguarding environmental integrity;
(e) Ensuring a net decrease and/or avoidance of global greenhouse gas emissions;
(f) Assisting developed country Parties to meet part of their mitigation targets, while ensuring that the use of such mechanism or mechanisms is supplemental to domestic mitigation efforts;
(g) Ensuring good governance and robust market functioning and regulation;
84. Decides to consider the establishment, at its seventeenth session, of one or more non-market-based mechanisms to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions;
85. Requests the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention to elaborate the mechanism or mechanisms referred to in paragraph 84 above, with a view to recommending a draft decision or decisions to the Conference of the Parties for consideration at its seventeenth session;
There is an understandable tendency for eyelids to droop when confronted by a page of this kind of officialise but it is really necessary to read it attentively in order to appreciate the awesome task which will confront delegates to COP 17 in twelve days between 28 November and 9 December.
First, one should note the compression of the choices to be made. After sixteen annual sessions, the conference will finally try to decide upon a “ timeframe for global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions” taking into account the different pace of change which social justice demands between developed and less-developed countries. At the same time, it will try to decide upon an appropriate “process to enable least developed country Parties to formulate and implement national adaptation plans” as well as reviewing at least two mechanisms “to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions”, one or more of which will be market-based and one or more of which will be non-market based. Now it should be apparent to the least technically-inclined that these choices are not independent. Clearly, any adaptation strategy depends crucially upon the timeframe within which that adaptation has to be made. Peaking of emissions within ten years carries quite different implications for climate change impact than peaking within fifty years. Similarly different mitigation mechanisms are likely to be effective within quite different time-scales so their adoption must also depend upon decisions about time-scale. It is also probable that both adaptation and mitigation mechanisms are likely to interact with each other so cannot be considered in isolation.
Second, round every corner in this complex maze, the issue of money , specifically how much money is going to flow from rich to poor countries and just when, confronts one. A commitment to providing $100 billion annually from unspecified sources by 2020 gives precious little insight into just how much and under what mechanism money is going to flow before then, in particular how much is going to be provided to poorer countries to develop the “national adaptation plans” for meeting climate change. Here one might note another decision deferred to Durban: a request for
…the Subsidiary Body for Implementation to continue its consideration of the second comprehensive review of the implementation of the framework for capacity building in developing countries at its thirty-fourth session on the basis of the draft text contained in the annex to this decision, with a view to preparing a draft decision on the outcome of this review for adoption by the Conference of Parties at its seventeenth session.
This draft Annex contains the ominous clause “that gaps still remain and the availability of and access to financial and technical resources is still an issue to be addressed, in order to progress qualitatively and quantitatively on the capacity-building implementation”. In other words, poor countries still lack the money even to undertake the required adaptation plans let alone implement them. The Green Climate Fund with its 40-person Transitional Committee will, in the end, be responsible for allocating much of the promised funds but fails to answer any of the pressing immediate problems of financing both adaptation and mitigation. Both are to be answered by decisions in Durban.
There are two dream scenarios for Durban. The first is that the first Afro-American President of the USA will go to Durban and promise to make as a key feature of his re-election campaign US commitment to immediate and binding action to save Africa from the worst effects of climate change and to immediately commit substantial, quantified funds to adaptation. A dream but not one to bet the farm on. Over half US citizens are now reported to doubt climate-change and it would take a miracle for Obama to secure re-election with such a policy having failed to get what was then a nominally Democratic Congress to pass even a modest climate change bill.
The second dream is more realistic: that China should present a new policy initiative committing itself to substantial domestic emission cuts and to guarantee significant funds to transferring new technology to poorer countries. In other words to grab the leadership role abdicated by the USA. There are indications that the Chinese government has focussed on environmental technologies, in particular clean energy, as the main vehicle for shifting its manufacturing sector up to a new level based upon technology rather than cheap labour. Chinese-built electric cars are already entering the US market and it has taken a lead in the manufacture of photovoltaic panels. Judicious purchase of overseas firms with the right technical base is already underway using a handy war-chest of more than $1 trillion of US Treasury bonds. The key technology is undoubtedly carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS), an essential to reducing carbon emissions in any country based upon coal as its primary fuel. CCS is a tricky bit of heavy-duty chemical engineering but it is not quantum electrodynamics and will succumb to a healthy dose of investment. There have been rather half-hearted pilot programmes in Europe and the USA but the barrier to success has always been that it has been very difficult to impose investment in the required centralised transport and storage systems on the free-market structure which has evolved in both continents. Progress has also been hindered by the fact that powerful environmental lobbies have largely opposed CCS development preferring to support enhanced conservation and renewables, technologies appropriate to mature energy sectors but not to ones with rapidly growing electricity demand based on coal. Neither of these will trouble China and if it could crack CCS and then offer it to the world, it would not only gain leadership in climate change but also reap substantial financial rewards.
In a wider context, the future role of China and also in India (now the third biggest carbon emitter in the world having overtaken Russia in 2009) in progressing action on climate change can be seen as just part of the historic shift eastwards in economic leadership. How these two countries respond to the environmental challenge could become a defining moment in this shift.
But if this second dream is better based in reality, it remains just a possibility without any base in government action and in its absence there has come to be increasing focus on just whether the annual UN Climate Change Conferences can possibly deliver any significant agreement on new policies. It has been reported that even the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has given up on the process and there seems little optimism that COP 17 will be able to tackle the long list of deferred decisions.
It is eighteen years since the so-called Earth Summit in Rio kicked off what has now become an annual jamboree for the environment business. Rio was claimed to open up a new kind of international conference which banished back-room deals in smoke-filled rooms in which ‘openness and transparency’ were its watchwords and environmental lobbies of all kinds were promised full participation. In Cancún, as well as 190 country delegations of varying sizes, no less than 1,297 environmental groups took advantage of this and were given full observer status ranging from Aarhus University and A SEED Europe from the Netherlands to ZeroFootPrint from Toronto and the London-based Zoological Society. In addition, 83 so-called inter-governmental organisations ranging from the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development from Niamey to The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites were accredited. The exhibition centre adjacent to the conference had over 250 stalls whilst journalist accreditation was capped at 2000. No one really knows how many people attended in one capacity or another. Perhaps 20,000. As well as the six official meetings running simultaneously, some 250 side-events were organised, each given a 90-minute slot . Most of this can still be seen on Climate Change TV ( http://www.climate-change.tv/ ) which was run from an onsite studio.
All done in the name of openness and transparency but, in practice, deals are still done in backrooms, possibly less smoke-filled, and the conferences are dominated by rumours as just who is being pressured to do what and by whom. When a delegate from a poor African country stands up to effectively denounce the policy agreed by the group of African countries, it is widely (and probably justifiably) assumed that they have done this because the Americans have threatened to remove their US aid allocation. In both Cancún and Copenhagen, the final document agreed by the conference was essentially cobbled together by delegates from a small group of countries and pushed through despite objections from those outside the inner circle.
The Kyoto Protocol agreed in 1997 remains the high-point of this mode of international negotiation. It took a further eight years for enough countries to ratify Kyoto for it to actually come into force and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, since then, the annual get-togethers have not served any real purpose apart from absorbing huge amounts of time and money. The reality is that the basis of any new agreement essentially depends upon China and the USA as the major players with the EU, Russia and India acting as important secondary agents. The process set up at the Earth Summit in Rio was intended to ensure that, by allowing full inclusion, the importance of the issue could not be dodged and the major actors would be forced to accept their responsibilities. The problem is that the solution has become the problem as now these major agents are able to use the cacophony of the event with its mass of simultaneous meetings of a dozen different bodies and thousands participants, each trying to make their voices heard and insisting on their equivalent importance, to erect a smokescreen about their actual intentions. They are able to hide inside the pandemonium.
What is required is a forum within which the major national agents are fully exposed to the pressure of world expectation but are also isolated and required to reach agreement about action within their own small group. Just how this can be achieved remains unclear. Not one of the 1,297 observer NGOs or 83 IGOs let alone any of the 190 member country delegations is going to voluntarily cede their status provided they can finance the trip. Durban is set to be just as much of a mass circus as Cancún or Copenhagen. The South African government could kidnap the appropriate delegations as they landed at Durban and seclude them under armed guard in a remote town with only sandwiches and one beer a day each until they signed an agreement. This, however, seems unlikely. But the South African government as the President of COP 17 is going to take on a heavy responsibility for steering it to even a moderately successful outcome, success being defined in terms of some decisions actually being taken rather than once again deferred. A third successive failure would cast serious doubt over the point of the annual Climate Change Conference.
It is not possible to make any forecasts as to where the world will stand on 10 December, 2011. Just one certain prediction; look elsewhere than Durban for any pre-Christmas break in early December if what you want is quiet beaches and cheap hotels.