Dec 05, 2010
Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, is observing the UN climate talks in Cancun. Here he assesses the first week of negotiations; from the nations clambering to reject the Kyoto Protocol to the Mexican hosts cooking up secret texts.
"With the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, emitting greenhouse gas (CHG) emissions over a set limit entails a potential cost. Conversely, emitters able to stay below their limits hold something of potential value. Thus, a new commodity has been created – emission reductions. Because carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal greenhouse gas, people speak of trading in carbon. Carbon is now tracked and traded like any other commodity."
The above quote is taken from a publication of the UNFCCC on the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms. The publication focuses on international emissions trading, the clean development mechanism and joint implementation – all market based mechanisms set up to ostensibly help the private sector and developing countries to contribute to emissions reduction efforts.
Reflecting on the framing of the protocol one could easily reach the conclusion that there is no point seeking its continuation or validation for another commitment period. It does however appear that the world is in a tight corner right now with the crop of policy makers intent on inventing new ways of carrying on with business as usual and doing nothing concrete to fight climate change. Because the Kyoto Protocol is the only existing climate treaty that has legally binding targets inscribed by parties, many see it as better than nothing.
Could this be a case of half a loaf is better than none? Or is it the case of drowning persons hanging onto straw? You must find your answer!
The first week of the climate conference in Cancun drew to a close with no cheery news and lots to worry about. The first shocker came when Japan declared that they would not inscribe any targets in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Let me quickly add here that the term inscribe may sound like chiselling a rock, and casting commitments in concrete, but in reality the inscriptions in the first commitment period have been promises made only to be broken. Nothing inscribed in stone or concrete.
So why are people worried? One reason could be that Japan is wishing up to what the USA knew long ago. Let us take a trip to Kyoto in 1997.
It is reported that when the protocol was being negotiated, the USA, led by Al Gore, made the inconvenient demand that carbon emissions reductions must be tackled under a framework of carbon markets. This led, rather conveniently, to the formulation of what some termed innovative ways of emissions reduction through the commodification of carbon or emissions. Did the USA sign the protocol after they got what they wanted? No. They conveniently walked away. Now we are in the inconvenient corner, pressed on every side and perching precariously on the brink of catastrophic climate change. The USA just walked away from Kyoto once they got the world on the roller coaster of carbon markets. Japan can equally walk away. So can Canada. And Australia.
The European Union says they are willing to consider either option. Wise guys. The fence could be a great place to sit, especially when the only smoke of battle is raised not by canons but by carbon trade.
The carbon market paradigm spun the so-called clean development mechanism (CDM), among others. At the Bali conference another item found its way on to the platter – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). This quickly brought up proposals for REDD plus, REDD pluss pluss… and who knows what else is waiting in the wings. The entire idea is to find ways by which carbon can be quantified and valued wherever it can be found. So far carbon stocks in trees are valued under REDD.
Progress or regress is being made about carbon stocks in the soil, so that those who do not have forests, but presumably have lands can key in and make some bucks from the carbon beneath their feet. For those who have neither forests nor land, there is hope that they can find some carbon in the water on which they float. And if they have no forest, no land and no water they will probably have some air over their heads. The bigger the atmospheric space over your head, the bigger your chance of making a kill in the carbon equation. Probably.
There's no doubt that there may be some folks who in the future may have none of these natural assets: no forest, no water, no land, no air. This will happen when every natural thing would have been privatised. Believe me. In that case, all any one would need to tap into the carbon market will be to prove that their bodies embody some amount of carbon.
As the first week drew to a close, the rumour mill was abuzz with stories of a text being prepared by the Mexican chair of the COP to force a path for the outcome of the conference. This was the method of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. If the text is not a phantom, it will materialise over the weekend in time for ministers who will be arriving then to have something to chew on.
In a statement pre-empting this move, civil society advocates, including Friends of the Earth International and the Third World Network demanded, “that delegates reject any attempts to introduce such a text into the conference.”
They said so because the text would seek to replace “the aggregate global emission targets that are supposed to be negotiated under the Kyoto Protocol with the non-binding pledges of the Accord could, according to a UN analysis released November 23, [and] set the planet on a course for devastating changes by the end of the century - as much as 5°C (9°F) of warming.”
It appears that policy makers are not living on planet earth. With a temperature increase of this magnitude, no amount of mitigation or adaptation would preserve most lives, as we know it.
The week was not all talk. Action time came on Friday when groups led by Jubilee South took to the streets of Cancun, marching from the municipal office to a Wal-Mart Supermarket and demanding that the World Bank must not be allowed to become the climate bank. Why? For one, the bank is notorious for funding fossil fuel related projects and is thus one agency that is deeply implicated in the climate chaos.
Will the last week of the COP bring any hope? We will have to see.