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UN climate talks 2011: Background to the talks

by PhilLee — last modified Nov 18, 2011 01:10 PM

The world is on a precipice. Already the lives and livelihoods of millions of people are being devastated by the impact of increased extreme weather events like flooding, droughts and hurricanes. Climate change is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people per year, most of whom are in poorer communities in the poorest countries of the world.

Flood-2If urgent action is not taken, not only will climate change get worse but we could overreach dangerous tipping points into irreversible and catastrophic climate change. 

 Developed countries’ governments are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe.  The positions of these governments at global climate talks are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites and multinational corporations while the poorest communities suffer. 


These interests, tied to the economic sectors responsible for pollution or profiting from false solutions to the climate crisis like carbon trading and fossil fuels, are the key forces behind global inaction.


the solution

Tackling climate change means changing the unjust and unsustainable economic system, especially our dependence on polluting fossil fuels and the over-use of the world’s resources.  To do this we need to push governments to act in the interests of ordinary people, workers and communities and the poor and vulnerable.  


Within the UN, rich developed countries must meet their historical responsibility by committing to urgent and deep emissions cuts through the Kyoto Protocol – the existing legally binding framework, without carbon trading, offsetting and other loopholes, They must also repay their climate debt to poorer countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America so that they too can tackle climate change. This will benefit people all around the world by ensuring a safe climate, more secure livelihoods, more green jobs, clean affordable energy and energy efficiency. 


Questions and answers on the talks

What is happening at the UN climate talks?

Should the world abandon the UN talks and try and tackle climate change somewhere else?

What do FoEI want to see happen at COP 17?

Do FoEI support the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol?

What is wrong with carbon markets?

What is REDD and what are forests credits?

What is climate finance?

What is the 'corporate capture of the UN'?

What's wrong with biofuels?

What is industrial agriculture's role in climate change?



Nnimmo Bassey addresses journalists 1The UN climate talks are supposed to be making progress on implementing the agreement that world governments made in 1992 to stop man-made and dangerous climate change.  
The agreement, made nearly 20 years ago, recognises that rich countries have done the most to cause the problem of climate change and should take the lead in solving it, as well as provide funds to poorer countries as repayment of their climate debt. But governments have done very little to deliver on these commitments and time is running out.  

What’s more, it looks like rich countries want to use the Durban climate talks to further diminish their responsibilities to tackle climate change and dismantle the whole framework for binding reductions of greenhouse gases, without which we have no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. They are also pushing for the expansion of false solutions like carbon trading, a further escape hatch from emissions reductions which will make climate change worse and cause further harm to people around the world while bringing huge profits to polluters.


Cancun demo at UN climate talks, 2010The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the best forum for international negotiations to tackle climate change. It represents all 192 countries from around the world with each country having an equal voice, at least in theory.   
There are still big power imbalances and issues with transparency, resources and participation in the UNFCCC which need to be addressed, but it is much better than forums like the G8 and G20 where poor countries have little or no voice.
The problem with the UN talks is not the talks themselves but the fact that the positions of governments are increasingly hijacked by narrow corporate interests linked to polluting industries and industries which are seeking to profit from the climate crisis.  
These interests are pushing rich industrialised countries to dodge their commitments to urgent and dramatic cuts in their emissions and provide climate funds for poorer countries, because this would challenge opportunities for national level growth in established economic sectors like manufacturing, industrial agriculture and resource extraction.
Governments and corporations are also using the talks to expand false solutions to climate change like nuclear power, biofuels and carbon trading – these activities make the climate worse and often cause a lot of harm to poor and vulnerable communities. 
If we want to unlock the negotiations we need to tackle the excessive influence of these interests and ensure that our governments are representing the interests of ordinary people and communities, those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and those who are articulating the real solutions to the climate crisis.


March of the Campesinos, cancunIf we are to stop climate change getting worse and maximise our chances of avoiding catastrophic and irreversible climate change we need a transformation of our unsustainable economic system and a rapid move away from global fossil fuel dependency and the over-use of the world’s natural resources by a small minority.  
This requires rich industrialised countries to stop their drive to dismantle the global framework for binding emissions reductions commitments and commit to emissions reductions without offsets or loopholes in line with the latest scientific evidence and with their responsibility for causing the problem of climate change, and to the transfer of adequate public finance to developing countries so that they can build low carbon and sustainable economies whilst also attending to urgent poverty eradication and development needs.  
To ensure this happens, we need to see the governments of the poorest countries, like those in Africa, truly stand up for the interests of their people and communities and demand that rich countries take action on climate change and repay their climate debt.

Do foei support the continuation of the kyoto protocol?

Minimum 40%, no offsettingTo stop climate change and do to so in a fair and equitable way we need international legally-binding obligations to drastically cut emissions based on science and equity. The basis of this system already exists in the form of the climate convention and the Kyoto Protocol.

Rich countries, led by the US, Canada, Japan and Russia, are trying to tear up these international treaties and replace them with a high risk voluntary approach.  

Rich countries must agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol with strong targets and no carbon trading, offsetting, or other loopholes if we are to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.


offsetting magic trickCarbon trading is a false solution. Carbon trading involves offsetting – an escape hatch for countries and companies from making urgently needed emissions reductions. Carbon trading is locking rich countries and poor countries into dirty, high carbon growth paths and development models and a continued reliance on fossil fuels. It is undermining our chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change by delaying the much needed transformation of our economies away from fossil fuel use.  
Despite its deep-seated problems, many countries want to expand the global carbon market. Such a decision would have disastrous impacts for it would provide industrialised countries with further opportunities to offset their emissions reductions and avoid making domestic emissions cuts.

Carbon markets also have potential human rights and environmental impacts resulting from the land grabbing associated with many offsetting projects like REDD, plantations and agrofuels. 
There is a very strong corporate lobby in support of the expansion of the global carbon market, coming from a variety of different financial, business and industrial sectors in both industrialised and developing countries. This includes financiers, traders, owners of polluting industries, owners of land or resources with potential to qualify for offset credits and others.  
Governments must resist the expansion of the global carbon market in Durban, and support real emissions cuts and real solutions to the climate crisis. 


Redd protest in cancunAt COP 17, governments will decide on how to finance projects under the mechanism known as "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation" (REDD). There are already big problems with REDD, with many communities in the developing world having their land rights and livelihoods threatened.

Now, in addition, there is a strong push from industrialised countries for REDD projects to be financed through the global carbon market, which will open up further loopholes in terms of global cuts in carbon emissions and also dramatically increase the chances of destructive impacts on communities and the environment in countries where REDD projects are based.  
Any agreement on deforestation should be a rights-based approach to stop deforestation and support land rights. Their protection must be part of recognition and repayment of rich countries’ climate debt. Forests must be kept out of carbon markets as trading forests for pollution has no part to play in a just international climate agreement. 

Including forests in carbon offsetting initiatives does not work: it diverts attention from real measures to reduce emissions and prevent deforestation, and threatens Indigenous Peoples and local communities who depend on them for survival. 


Philippine Movement for Climate Justice 2Climate finance is the repayment of the climate debt of the rich industrialised world which has done the most to cause the problem of climate change and has far greater resources available to tackle the problem. It is essential that developing countries receive adequate climate finance if they are to develop cleanly whilst also tackling urgent development needs. 
Climate finance must be new and additional to existing aid money and emissions reductions by rich countries, and must come from public sources and be governed by the UNFCCC. So far, progress on delivering climate finance where it is needed has been pitiful. Only tiny amounts have been committed, and much of this is recycled aid money diverted from other urgent causes.  
It is essential that the cash for the Global Green Fund comes from new and innovative sources that provide the adequate and reliable finance that developing countries need. The Global Green Fund should not rely on finance from carbon markets. Carbon market finance is not legitimate finance as it is based on the offsetting of rich country emissions cuts. 
The World Bank should have no role in governing or managing climate finance.  It is the largest multi-lateral lender for oil and gas projects and a major actor in deforestation and many World Bank-funded projects have had other destructive environmental and social impacts. The Bank has failed to accept its own internal recommendations to stop funding polluting coal, oil and gas extraction.


Brussels against WB and its lending to ESKOM-2Large multinational corporations and corporate and financial elites are unduly influencing political decision-making on climate change, and pushing for the prioritization of their short-term economic interests (such as energy, manufacturing, industrial agriculture and financial interests) over the protection of the environment and the wellbeing of people and communities. 
Major corporations and polluters are lobbying to undermine the chances of achieving climate justice via the UNFCCC. Much of this influence is exerted in the member states before governments come to the climate negotiations, but the negotiations are also attended by hundreds of lobbyists from the corporate sector trying to ensure that any agreement promotes the interests of big business before people's interests and climate justice. 

what's wrong with biofuels? 

David Gilbert, USA - 2nd placeGiven that biofuels mostly come from large scale industrial agriculture, and they are far from sustainable, and we prefer to refer to them as agrofuels. An increasing amount of scientific research shows that agrofuels are fuelling deforestation, loss of biodiversity and even climate change. They have also been proven to fuel food price increases, hunger, land rights violations, water scarcity and human rights abuses.

Agrofuels benefit large agribusiness and energy companies and their expansion does not help to address climate change. Instead, promoting agrofuels reinforces the current unsustainable model of consumption and production which has fuelled climate change in the first place.

what is industrial AGRICULTURE's role in CLIMATE CHANGE? 

gm protests in spainIndustrial agriculture is resource intensive and polluting, and drives climate change and environmental destruction. It feeds deforestation, loss of biodiversity and climate change, as well as food price increases, hunger, land rights violations, water scarcity and human rights abuses, whilst driving up the profits of large corporations.   
Industrial agriculture is a threat to the sustainable, small-scale farming which is truly climate-friendly. Protecting and expanding this type of small-scale sustainable agriculture is essential if we are to reduce emissions from agriculture whilst ensuring a safe and sustainable food supply for the world’s population.
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