(Pic by Dez Pain / sxc.hu
(Corrected at 7:55pm, 20 Jan 2010)
FROM Hopenhagen to Dopenhagen to Brokenhagen, a series of puns has emerged from the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) held in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In fact, the negotiations were on the verge of collapse as developed and developing nations remained divided over several key issues near the end of COP15. US president Barack Obama arguably “rescued” the talks by cutting a deal with 25 other countries in a closed-door meeting to produce the Copenhagen Accord.
However, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord is not legally binding. Countries who have signed on to it are not obliged to implement it. Indeed, they may have called it an accord just to make it sound grander than a declaration.
Moreover, only a few representatives from countries most affected by climate change, particularly African countries and small island nations, were present at the closed-door meeting.
It should not have been a surprise then that the accord was fiercely rejected by exhausted negotiators when it was presented to the remaining 167 nations towards the last remaining hours of COP15. After all, COP is not a G8 summit, where major countries can broker self-serving deals behind closed-door meetings and expect the rest of the world to follow.
“It looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future. Our future is not for sale,” Tuvalu negotiator Ian Fry said to applause in the plenary hall on 19 Dec 2009.
At only 4.5m above water, Tuvalu is already losing some of its lands to rising sea levels. If submerged, its entire population will become climate refugees.
More importantly, the accord may have targeted to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C, but experts claim there is a large gap between the aim of the accord and the carbon reduction targets offered by individual countries so far.
Global temperatures are set to rise approximately 3.9°C by 2100 based on current national commitments, according to a research team from Sustainability Institute, MIT School of Management and Ventana System.
“The longer we delay … the more costly it will be to cut emissions, the worse warming will be, and the more the people of the world, rich and poor, will suffer,” said MIT Professor John Sterman in a press release from the research team on 19 Dec 2009.
The UN climate negotiations have been going on for the past 17 years since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Yet developed and developing countries remain divided over the same issues.
The truth is, we can no longer afford to wait for our political leaders to act to save us from climate catastrophes. Despite strong calls for a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal from civil societies worldwide, our political leaders continue to fail us.
It’s true that COP15 brought unprecedented spotlight on climate change, so much so that for the first time, over 120 heads of government, including Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, attended the conference.
People around the world have demonstrated their concern over climate change. But it’s time to go beyond switching off our lights once a year, signing online petitions or bringing our own shopping bags.
Clearly, to sway political will, we need to do more. We need to hold politicians accountable to develop our country sustainably, and vote them out if they continue to mess with our future and environment.
(Pic by Ervin Bacik / sxc.hu) As Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed has always stressed: “After all, it is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport.
“Low-carbon alternatives now exist, to provide every good and service that we need for development and prosperity. Developed countries created the climate crisis; developing countries must not turn it into a calamity.”
(Corrected) Malaysia has pledged to, by 2020, cut its greenhouse gas emissions per unit GDP (or gross domestic product) by 40% below 2005 levels on the condition that we receive the financial and technological support required from rich countries. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas said a roadmap to achieve the reduction would be presented to the cabinet soon. The cabinet also passed the National Climate Change Policy last December.
However, our country remain heavily dependent on fossil fuel; public awareness on climate change issues also remains at an all-time low. Apart from holding the government accountable, Malaysians also need to rethink our way of life. Are we consuming responsibly? Are we reusing and recycling? Are we living, as the cliché goes, green enough?
These are questions we should be asking post-COP15. After all, it’s when the people lead by example that politicians and businesses are more likely to follow.
Gan Pei Ling was in Copenhagen for COP15 in December 2009. Her trip was made possible by sponsorships from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Selangor government, and the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated in her writings are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsors.
For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Climate Change