Lip Service

September 24, 2009

The sun has set on the 2009 Summit on Climate Change at the U.N HQ in New York. Despite the media getting its knickers in a twist, the summit faithfully followed the ‘set menu’ pattern of previous climate summits. Kids pleading to ‘save the planet’, green celebrities stating ‘time is running out’  and world leaders reading out ‘what needs to be done’ speeches. Oh yes, the emissions generated by flying everyone to the summit were offset by funding a tidy little project in poverty land. The awards for the outstanding performers of the Summit go to…

1. The most confusing statement: Barack Obama, President of the United States

“Unease is no excuse for inaction. And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress”

2. The most feel-good but highly unlikey statement: Hu Jintao, President of China

“China stands ready to join hands with all countries to build an even better future for the generations to come”

3. The most honest: Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt

“We are only 76 days from the Copenhagen meeting- but the negotations are going far too slow and they are still lacking real progress. We are close to a deadlock.”

4. The most funny without intending to be: French President, Nicolas Sarkozy

“Considering how complex this negotiation is, a new summit before Copenhagen is needed”

5. The most heart-breaking: President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives

“We at the Maldives desperately want to believe that one day our words will have an effect, and so we continue to shout them even though, deep down, we know that you are not really listening”

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Dirty debt

September 9, 2009

With the climate change summit not far away in December in Copenhagen there is a perceptible buzz about possible outcomes and consequences. While few countries are keen to accept tough emission targets, nobody wants to be labelled as the spoilsport who sabotaged the ‘deal that could save the planet’. However, there are disturbing signs of ‘scapegoat hunting’ and ‘excuse exploration’ even before delegates have booked their flight tickets for the summit. One such example is placing all the onus on developing countries as deal makers or breakers. Media and think tanks in developed countries (that are responsible for the great majority of past as well as current CO2 emissions) are increasingly trying to shine the spotlight on developing countries to divert attention from their own unwillingness to adopt tough emission cuts or clear mid-term targets. As a result, even developing countries that have shown an interest in embracing a low carbon development strategy are feeling like the schoolkid who is being bullied for his lunch money.

The situation with developing countries is this; They will not accept binding emission reductions until the carbon inequity issues are addressed first. Developed countries have to pay developing countries for;

1. Reducing their legitmate share of the historically available carbon space from 1800 to present day.

2. Currently consuming more than their fair share of the carbon space.

3. The consequences of extreme weather events like floods and droughts that can be scientifically attributed to human-induced climate change.

4. Climate change adaptation infrastructure like flood defenses, relocation of displaced people, crop technology, etc.

Not to mention the tranfer of technology for renewable power generation that had been promised but nor delivered since the Kyoto protocol.

Martin Khor of the South Centre estimates that the total bill will amount to $ 23 trillion. This may seem like a fantasy number but let us not forget that bailout package for failed banks financed by the U.S Governments alone is expected to add up to $ 23.7 trillion by this year. Even if we take into account that climate change was acknowledged formally only in 1992 and write off the historical carbon debt (1800-1992), we are still left with a bill of $ 3.9 trillion according to Fraser Durham of Carbon Sense. He also states that this amount is roughly equal to the monetary debt of all developing countries. And this just begins to takes care of the carbon equity issue. It does not however magically make the CO2 emissions from developed countries disappear (only realistic emission reduction targets, regular verification and strict penalties can do that). What it does is make the climate change negotiations a more level playing field.