An estimated 100,000 people marched on the streets of
Copenhagen on 12 Dec IF a bridge had a 50% chance of collapsing, would you cross it? I wouldn’t. But it seems that most developed countries, except Norway, are willing to take this risk in the face of our global climate crisis, just so they can continue with business as usual.
Industrialised nations that have ratified the legally binding Kyoto Protocol are supposed to submit their carbon reduction target for the second commitment period at the 15th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP15). The conference began on 7 Dec 2009 and will conclude on 18 Dec.
Third World Network has reported that based on the UN secretariat’s estimation, the numbers that have been put on the table so far would result in an aggregate 16% to 22% cut by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. This falls seriously short of the 25% to 40% that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in their 2007 assessment report, said would give the world a 50-50 chance of limiting global warming within 2°C by 2100.
If we don’t limit global warming within 2°C by 2100, the world is likely to see catastrophic climate disasters.
It should be noted that the UN’s calculation has not taken into account various loopholes in the protocol, such as carbon offsets and other mechanisms.
Scorecard so far
The most ambitious nation thus far in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is Norway. Oslo announced in October 2009 that it would cut emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
However, Russia and Japan earned the wrath of developing countries when they announced last week that the emission reduction pledges they submitted were not intended for the Kyoto Protocol, but were mere political statements.
Despite having ratified the Kyoto Protocol years ago, the truth is that most developed countries do not want it to continue as the protocol is legally binding. Both Japan and Australia have submitted proposals to replace the protocol with a new text, upsetting several developing countries including Malaysia in the process.
The Danish text that was leaked to The Guardian earlier in the week further revealed the industrialised nations’ unwillingness to commit to legally binding carbon reduction targets. The developed world also demonstrated that they were not willing to pay the climate debt they owe to the developing world.
US chief negotiator Todd Stern said on 10 Dec 2009 that he recognised the US’s “historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere … But the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations — I just categorically reject that.”
Climate refugees are people displaced by climatically
induced environmental disasters. Organisations like the
IPCC, Red Cross and The Christian Monitor estimate
that between 150 million and 1 billion climate refugees
will be displaced within the next four decades
In response, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, said: “Admitting responsibility for the climate crisis without taking necessary actions to address it is like someone burning your house and then refusing to pay for it. Even if the fire was not started on purpose, the industrialised countries, through their inaction, have continued to add fuel to the fire.
“As a result, they have used up two thirds of the atmospheric space, depriving us of the necessary space for our development and provoking a climate crisis … a crisis created by the rich and their overconsumption.
“In Bolivia, we are facing a crisis we had no role in causing. Our glaciers dwindle, droughts become ever more common, and water supplies are drying up. Who should address this? To us, it seems only right that the polluter should pay, and not the poor.
“We are not assigning guilt, merely responsibility. As they say in the US, if you break it, you buy it.”
What can be done?
Taking into account the emission debt of developed countries, Bolivia proposed that the developed world cut their emissions by more than 49% from 1990 levels for the second commitment period in the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 to 2017. Such cuts would be viable through technology and lifestyle changes.
Additionally, there should be dedicated and assured funding for developing countries to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and to reduce their emissions within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Bolivia’s proposal was jointly endorsed by other countries, including Malaysia.
“[The developed countries] are telling us they don’t have enough funds to implement measures to change their lifestyle, [but] when there’s a financial crisis, they suddenly prove that there are enough funds to maintain their lifestyle.
“What we are asking for is so much less [compared to] what they are giving for the bailouts … It’s not a matter of ability, but a matter of choice,” one of the Malaysian negotiators, Dr Gary Theseira, told The Nut Graph.
In search of leadership
The European Union has claimed leadership in this crisis. In the meantime, American president Barack Obama also noted, when receiving his Nobel Prize on 10 Dec, that “there is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades.
“For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action — it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance,” he said.
However, we need world leaders, particularly those from industrialised nations, to pay more than lip service in this crisis. The talks are now in deadlock because of the divide between developed and developing nations.
Youth reminding negotiators they need to save the Himalayas from melting –
the water source for millions of people across Asia
But everyone at COP15, be it government negotiator or member of civil society, recognises the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. Hence the convergence of so many stakeholders in Denmark’s capital.
For the same reason, tens of thousands of people marched on the streets of Copenhagen on 12 Dec despite the cold. More than 3,000 events were also held worldwide that night to tell our leaders the world wants nothing less than a real deal, one that is ambitious, just and binding.
More than 110 heads of government are attending the high-level meeting at COP15 from 17 to 18 Dec in Copenhagen. People worldwide have made their call; now it is up to the world leaders to decide if they will listen. I hope against hope that they will decide to build a bridge that will allow us to have more than a 50% chance of preventing runaway climate change.
Gan Pei Ling’s trip to Copenhagen 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 herein are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsors.
For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Climate Change