Doha climate talks and the clash of interests
2012-12-05, Issue 609
In its recent report, the World Meteorological Organization said that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a record high – 390.9 parts per million in 2011, “which is a 40 percent increase over levels in 1750, the period humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest”. Levels of other heat-trapping gases including methane, nitrous oxide have also jumped to record altitude. The amount of excess heat prevented from escaping into outer space was 30 percent higher in 2011 than it was in 1990.
Plants’ and oceans’ capacity to absorb the excess CO2, said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, “will not necessarily continue in the future” as these natural sinks have been saturated.
Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, the World Bank’s recently released report, said: All nations will suffer the effects of a world 4C hotter, but it is the poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food scarcity, rising ocean levels, cyclones and droughts. Without significant emissions reductions, the planet’s average temperature could climb by 4C by as early as 2060.
Most vulnerable cities in developing nations including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, the Philippines, Venezuela and Vietnam have been identified in the WB report
Almost immediately before the release of these two reports, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report said in November: This planet’s temperature will increase by 6C within 88 years, which is triple the goal of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Although global carbon intensity is down, energy-related carbon emissions grew by 3 percent from 2010 to 2011.
According to the report, the US carbon intensity and energy-related emissions fell while these reductions were matched or exceeded by a number of industrialized countries including France, the UK, Germany and Italy and they were offset by rising emissions in a number of countries including China, Australia, Turkey, Argentina and India.
Leo Johnson, partner of the PwC, writes in the report’s introduction: “It’s time to plan for a warmer world. Even doubling our current rate of decarburization would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees (Celsius) of warming by the end of the century.”
To meet the Copenhagen Accord’s target, Johnson writes, decarburization by 5.1 percent annually is an imperative. In 2011, the world reduced its carbon intensity by 0.7 percent. “[N]ot once since World War II has the world achieved that rate of decarburization but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years.”
Countries have already started facing the impact of the climate crisis. Randy Astaiza reported in Business Insider (“11 Islands That Will Completely Disappear When Sea Levels Rise”, Oct. 11, 2012):
Kiribati is negotiating with Fiji to buy up to 5,000 acres of land to relocate its population as that’s their last resort, “as the tides have reached […] homes and villages” of the Kiribati people. Most of its population has already moved to one island, Tarawam, after the rest of their land disappeared in the ocean. A sea level rise of just three feet would submerge the Maldives, the world’s lowest-lying country. Seychelles, the Torres Strait Islands and Palau are facing the absolute uncertainty in the face of ocean’s rising water. Palau’s “coasts are being eroded, its local farmlands tainted by seawater, and its valuable reefs threatened.” The UN declared the approximately 100 residents of Tegua, part of the Torres Strait Islands, the first climate change refugees in 2005. The island of Vanikoro is sinking along with rising sea levels. Micronesia is being eroded away by the sea waters. High tides inundate the Carteret Islands, destroy its crops, wells, and homes. The highest point of the Tuvalu is less than five meters above sea level, but most of it is less than a meter above. Total population of these island-countries is hundreds of thousands.
In 2009, an Andhra University scientists’ research finding published in the Journal of Geophysical Research said Indian summer monsoon rains have been decreasing steadily over the past three decades, a trend not seen in the 19th century.
The monsoon impacts agriculture and water supply, and on these depend the lives of more than a billion South Asian people.
Bangladesh with worsening floods, storms and sea surges is looking at a grim future in terms of climate crisis. Countries in other continents are also facing the same gloomy future.
Assessments and predictions on global sea level bear a bleak message. The rise, according to the EPA, is eight inches since 1870; the National Academy of Sciences’ 2009 predictions suggest that by 2100, the level could rise between 16 inches and 56 inches, depending how the world responds to changing climate.
This, obviously a very little description, global climate crisis reality stands as a background of the two-week 2012 UN Climate Change Conference – COP 18 (18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change)/CMP 8 (8th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol), which kicked off on November 26 in Doha.
The conference has to search for a legally binding international framework for carbon emission cuts beyond 2012 as the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period will reach to its demise within a few weeks. Financing for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is also in the conference agenda. Six countries were competing to host the GCF: Germany, Mexico, Namibia, Poland, South Korea and Switzerland.
After the Copenhagen COP failure in 2009 and the deal in Durban COP 17 the climate negotiation process made small achievement: the GCF with $100 billion a year to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries to cope with climate crisis.
The climate crisis diplomacy begins at this point. Economies have respective interests, which get reflected in the climate diplomacy. A number of the climate diplomacy actors are powerful.
A number of countries, fewer than the number in the original 1997 Protocol, prefer a Second Kyoto Protocol ready to roll on January 1, 2013 while another group’s choice is non-participation in the process. Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia probably will not sign up to the Second phase. Probably, the Second Kyoto Protocol will only find the EU countries, Australia, Norway and Switzerland to sign.
Extension of the Kyoto protocol is probably Brazil’s priority while a number of countries prefer bigger emission cuts.
The US signed the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it. The US’ argument is: The Protocol didn’t impose any binding commitments on big emerging economies including China, India and Brazil. The Chinese line of reasoning is: China is a developing country; so it shouldn’t face the same requirements of emission reduction as the Western countries face. The Western countries have polluted the atmosphere for centuries, says the Chinese contention.
It should not be hoped that the US-China debate will be resolved in Doha.
Funding of the GCF is an area of debate. The European Council’s choice is private sector and market mechanism. The choice stands on a foundation of economic interests. But, market doesn’t favour the poor and the weak, and market doesn’t follow democratic principles.
Along with these interest-positions, powerful climate crisis is creating changes in areas including perceptions and politics in a number of major economies that are influential in climate diplomacy. Parts of a number of economies or sections of capitals are finding new “horizon” for reaping profit.
Current series of extreme weather trajectory is changing public perception in the US. A recent poll by Rasmussen found: 68 per cent of Americans perceive climate change as a “serious problem”. In July, a poll by the Washington Post found 60 per cent of the Americans surveyed perceived climate change was real. Some ultra-conservative politicians are also now concerned with the crisis.
In the US, in terms of climate sensitivity, it’s a big shift. In a Rasmussen poll in 2009, only 46% of Americans perceived climate change was a serious issue. In 2010, Gallup found 48 per cent of Americans perceived the seriousness of global warming was exaggerated.
Two major hurricanes within 14 months including the superstorm Sandy, the recent extreme weather, record high temperatures are pushing the US people connect the changing weather and the climate crisis. This year, 2012, is the warmest year on record in the US, the warmest spring on record, the third-hottest summer on record, and July was the hottest month since weather records began in 1895. About 60 percent of the contiguous US faced drought conditions.
Obama was explicit on the climate crisis issue after his reelection. In his victory speech, in his first press conference since winning reelection, he mentioned the “destructive power of a warming planet”. “Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children's future”, said Obama. He said: “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions.” The US president said: “[W]e’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
These statements are different from the utterances of his predecessors. But, sometimes, wishes turn solo. Uncertain politicalscape makes many journeys impossible.
Big businesses with relationships to potential climate crisis market are super-active in the US: the catastrophe-modeling, catastrophe risk companies, insurance industry, reinsurers, designing and construction industry, neo-fuel industry, and many others. A section of them has already got involved while another is getting prepared to get involved in the emerging climate crisis market. Companies are planning to invest billions of dollars to construct carbon capture and storage (CCS) mechanism, and infrastructure. Concepts are being floated to build safer nuke power plants.
As an asynchronous reality, the climate crisis deniers’ camp is still strong. Millions of dollars were spent by oil and gas lobby (OGL) to promote oil, gas, and coal interests. Fossil fuel-friendly campaigns were launched. Political maneuvering is there. Lobbyists know the art of making bubbles, painting rosy pictures and propagating fabricated threats.
A section in the fuel-conservative camp has not liked Obama’s reelection. To the section, the reelection is synonymous to “the empowerment of government over the liberty of the individual and free markets” and “a profound rejection of the benefits of free enterprise”.
A highly profitable industry gets big amount of subsidies. Its anger with scientific findings on climate crisis, and political support to the fact of the crisis is not without reason. The profit margin, the industry apprehends, may get squeezed. So, there is the free-market US think tank the Heartland Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity concerned with market’s liberty.
Market competition is pushing down coal industry in a number of countries. Its competitor is natural gas.
In the UK, nuclear, wind, wave and tidal energy industries – more than 1,000 companies – have made an unprecedented joint appeal to ministers not to abandon their commitment to combat climate change. They want a legally binding decarburization target for electricity generation. But the government lacks uniform position on the issue, a reflection of conflicting interests.
Similar conflicts of interests, essentially conflict of competing capitals, are overwhelming economy and politics in countries. At the same time, states, as a single state or as a group, represent conflicting interests also. Climate crisis diplomacy reflects these conflicting interests while people’s interest is thrown out from agenda.
A glimpse of history helps in these moments of inaction.
Droughts brought collapse of the Classic Maya civilization over centuries. The Maya people’s agriculture got disrupted, big cities gradually crumbled down, people abandoned cities, instability and political collapse followed. Research by Douglas Kennett, environmental anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, found the agonizing fact. (D.J. Kennett et al, “Development and disintegration of Maya political systems in response to climate change”, Science, Vol. 338, November 9, 2012, p. 788, doi:10.1126/science.1226299)
However, part of mainstream is now concerned with the climate crisis. The crisis will not only ultimately hurt drive for profit, but endanger profit’s cherished status quo also.
“We will never end poverty if we don’t tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today”, the WB chief told reporters on a recent conference call. The statement tells the urgency.
But, capitals have not yet resolved own conflicts. So, the crisis remains unattended by its sections, remains on bargaining table.
Now, it’s universally accepted, other than a few deniers, that the climate crisis is a planetary crisis, a human crisis. Now, there are at least 25 million climate refugees. More than 1 billion people, most of them are poor, live in low-lying coastal areas. The planet is facing climate catastrophe. To the people, climate crisis is not a hoax. To avoid irreversible damage to humanity, the present pattern of economy – the maximization of profit – has to be changed as essential steps are not taken simply to maximize profit.
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