Bridge to Nowhere?!


The battle over the interpretation of COP-17 in Durban is raging with some prominent voices seeing a breakthrough while others feel fortified in their belief that the whole system of the UNFCCC is about to crash against the wall. While climate science is clearly backing the latter perspective, it may still be of a certain value to look inside the negotiations and judge pragmatically what has happened. The hbf has written quite a good analysis which sets foot into both worlds (here) and calls it “a largely empty package”.

Andrew Lights view on the climate negotiations[/caption]

Other writers from the North have found more positive headlines (despite some of them sharing hbf’s analysis!). Andrew Light from the Center for American Progress sees Durban as the third pillar of a bridge into the future of international climate politics (see picture): „Durban was a critical success at a critical time in the history of this process.“
Finally, here is my assessment of Durban. This list is up to changes – I am happy to have more discussions with you on it:

  1. COP-17 did not deliver what science and people demand. Just because nobody expected this to happen in Durban, doesn’t make this lack of ambition in any way less horrible than it is. It was probably one of the few COPs where no country used the public attention and political arena to announce an increase in its respective target. Addressing “the gap” (call it gigaton-gap, ambition-gap…) is a minor step forward, though. Nevertheless, it is only a rhetoric one.
  2. COP-17 delivered what big business demands. The inclusion of CCS in the CDM – hailed by Shell and other proponentsof large-scale, pro-business solutions to climate change – was just the tip of the corporate ice-berg which swam in the warming waters of Durban. The surrounding of the conference was basically a big expo on new technologies and methodologies for making money out of solutions (and false solutions) to climate change. Some of them, most prominently CCS, soil-carbon or REDD, have already made it into negotiation-texts or even decisions. Others (think big: geo-engineering) will most likely follow suit. While we saw a debate about market-mechanisms in Kyoto (between the EU and the US!), 14 years of failed markets have miraculously made them the only option – opposition to this is met with raised eyebrows (at best!). ”The real winners of the Durban climate summit are thus the big polluters and the fossil fuel producers, who have secured a package that guarantees largely business as usual in the brown economy while opening up new opportunities for them to make profits in what is termed a slowly growing green economy – often very narrowly defined and leaving equity consideration among and within countries aside. They have once again through effective lobbying of and infiltration of government delegations in Durban secured an outcome that serves their interests over the interests of the planet and all its people.” (Lili Fuhr et al. 2012)
  3. The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is almost worthless. I agree on the significance of  ”cp2″ in terms of political trust (between North and South and in the process of the UNFCCC). But trust is undermined by countries showing that they are willing to break such a central treaty (Canada’s Exit can be seen as a breach of word) or cheat on their calculations (just google “hot air”!). So this basically equals each other out: countries in the Global South will not jump joyfully because there is cp2. And let me tell you another detail: they have not even decided how long cp2 will be. Do you really think they put ambitious numbers on the table until May 2012 (look at para5) if nobody will know until when the targets have to be reached? The carbon market would have survived one way or the other as there is solid domestic legislation within the EU. But of course proponents of the CDM can cheer now, we now surely get another round of this “additionality-Roulette”.
  4. The cp2 of Kyoto cannot be scaled up to anything, but it was effectively used to lure Southern countries. But this is neither bad news nor news at all. Kyoto comprises only the EU, Switzerland and Norway after Canada left and Japan being on the verge of jumping off. Even if all these countries get progressive governments by tomorrow, the world’s emissions will continue to grow as they do now. However, during the negotiations, cp2 was used to bring China, India and others to agree to work towards some quasi-binding agreement after 2020. This is probably the best thing the talk about a cp2 could have achieved in Durban.
  5. The Green Climate Fund remains “just another fund” until the main issues are solved. These include: who pays how much until when? The current strategy of getting rich countries to sign checks by printing them on a different type of paper is not working. We have to come up with something innovative! Innovative sources of finance (read: progressive taxes on pollution!) are needed. If the GCF does not bring the necessary transfer of money, it was a waste of time.
  6. The Durban Platform will give new impetus to optimists waiting for the US. True, “the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution (95-0), which said the Senate would not even look at a climate treaty that divided the world between the responsibilities of developed and developing countries” (A. Light) kept any administration from moving. But Durban is not setting the USA en par with China/India but merely stating the aim to look into some legal parity. Further, climate-denying and tea-soaked Republicans didn’t even bother to use Byrd-Hagel to argue against any climate treaty – there are bigger rocks to move, dear optimists! Under the current mode of politics, the US will not join any new protocol in 2012, not in 2015 and not in 2020 or thereafter. Stop dreaming!
  7. Yes, we have a roadmap! Again. It sounds tempting for all those folks, who were sitting until Sunday morning just to wait for a moment to cheer to something. Anything. But here is the big hangover-news: We did have a roadmap before. We have a new one now. We will get another one. Just like Percy Mayfield sang: “Hit the road, Jack!”, the treatydream is hitting the road and might “come back no more” anytime soon. We had the Bali-Action-Plan in 2007 which hoped to get by Copenhagen what we are now expecting by 2015/2020. Seriously people, this is about as likely to be finished as the Bush-Roadmap for Palestine is leading us to eternal peace.
  8. The firewall between A1 and NA1 (North & South) is cracked wide open. While I can see the advantages of the promise of a universal treaty with legal parity between countries like Singapore, Qatar, USA, China or Tuvalu, I strongly object to any notion that responsibilities have to be share equally. Legaly parity means, that the same mechanism applies to all in the same way. It does not mean, that all countries get the same targets. With this differentiation now gone, also the principle of cbdr/rc (“common but differentiated responsibilities / and respective capabilities”) fell below the table. Was it forgotten or deliberately given up? What Southern countries (and especially the rich ones in the “South”, hiding behind the poorer ones) fought for so hard seems gone, lost in the shores of Durban.
  9. India was the bad guy in Durban due to its own inflexibility. The initial idea in New Delhi was probably to be the fighter for Southern interests; to be the avatar of climate-underdogs. Well, they failed. Western negotiators, western NGOs and western media criticized India for its “too hard stance”, for “not willing to negotiate” or for “falling back behind old positions”. Well, after having replaced the eloquent Jairam Ramesh with the more resolute Jayanthi Natarajan, words sounded harsh in diplomats ears. But what might have moved India from being less deal-maker? The position of the government did not change much – India remained set on the position, that they’re not taking on emission-reductions anytime soon, given the lack of action in most A1-states. Further, India did in no way profit from green growth as its rival China did (which is why they rightly put emphasis on IPR-issues). More to it, India is increasingly seen as “one of these emerging economies, which want power but don’t reduce emissions” – despite very low per-capita emissions (that’s why equity-issues are central to them).
  10. The EU played hardball, and (sadly) won. Connie Hedegaard’s strategy of exchanging cp2 for a good roadmap worked. She was heavily supported by European NGOs which also helped override some strategic flaws. I tend to agree with Connie, that by simple giving a EU-only cp2 to the world, even less would have moved in Durban. However, a Europe which is back in the driver seat (of an electric car, running on power from businesses) doesn’t automatically save the climate. The EU did push for some “better things” within the negotiations, e.g. stronger language on safeguards for CDM-projects, but mostly failed to succeed. NGOs pushed Connie to not give up on the 5-year length of cp2. So maybe the entanglement of civil society and governments in the EU can help somehow in the future. Europe is back with big balls and has learned from Durban, that playing hardball, waiting until the last moment, and blackmailing is working.
  11. The Polish presidency was coalish-polish. The environmental minister from Poland did not play any significant role, except for giving everybody a headache. As the Polish economy is entirely coal-dependent and the country has the same issue as China (“we need to develop first”), despite a relatively high standard of living, this is the place to focus even more attention to as Europeans. The wanna-be-rebel attitude in Warsaw needs to be changed to a more European and more pro-active climate course. Much to do!
  12. The US kept a low profile – and won. For many days, observers in Durban asked themselves, whether the United States of Absence are actually in the city. They raised some eyebrows only by saying strange things during their press briefings, thus showing no willingness at all to either step aside or step back. The US managed to stand in the way of any ambitious climate deal, but the blame was given to Canada (for a good reason!!!) and other countries. Meanwhile, US-lobbying managed to kick out cbdr/rc, back-stabbed the 2°-goal and mixed up numbers.
  13. The new alliance is result of hard work, but not enough. When the EU announced a strategic alliance with Grenada, Nicaragua and “over 100 Southern countries”, it was joined by Brazil a little later under the songs and praises of western NGOs. But this came to no suprise. Under German auspices, many states have gathered for months under the “Cartagena Dialogue” umbrella to form a coalition of more willing nations. Their common position: something needs to be done. When we look more pragmatically onto this group, we see that the middle-ground actors have agreed to more middle-ground. AOSIS and the EU agreed to the position, that USA and China need to do more. No news! Now the EU gave up some of their less progressive stances while SIDS (small island developing states) agreed that calling of the ambition necessary to safe them is not leading anywhere (in this system). Some ambiguity was still visible inside the negotiations, but in general the alliance “worked”: the South kept quiet and the EU had a moral high-ground.
  14. China was not willing to take the blame again, and engaged more heavily in the media-war. It was only understandable, that China did not want to take the main blame like in Copenhagen, when world “leaders” collectively (incl. Obama and Merkel!!!) failed to do anything meaningful. Two years ago, the western media blamed the Chinese stubbornness for the failure. This time, they took the offensive and proposed by the middle of the negotiations to accept binding targets, if 5 conditions were met. This was no real news to insiders, but the fact that China was willing to negotiate a dodgy thing such as their own targets and put them under international law is groundbreaking. The Global North countries were terrified by this approach, because China did not suit their image as the new big bad country in the East, saying “njet” to all the good western stuff. China is not the new USSR, but way more pragmatic. Thus, Europeans fled into their old boxes of thinking, starting the blame-game. This was also the only time that German minister Roettgen took the helm. Instead of being smart and over-interpreting the Chinese “offer” by seeing it positive and start negotiating (“ok, for this we give you cp2. now it’s up to you again!”), they called upon their NGOs to blame China for not being honest. For this alone, Durban will leave a dark stain on the UNFCCC’s coat.
  15. The BASIC were split, but they will find back together. With South Africa being a fairly-prepared but overly ambitious host and Brazil fearing the debris of Durban going down over its Rio-20 show in June, two BASICs left the hard frontline and joined the EU in their “progressive alliance”. India and China – not the best friends anyhow – were left to fight for there own. But rest assured, 90% of climate-policy are being done outside of the UNFCCC and these four states will continue to bound together in the UN, the G-20 and elsewhere.
  16. Somebody called it “the African COP” – but a quote by Mandela is not enough! There was nothing African about the COP, except for the serious wish by the host to have an open and transparent process (different from Denmark or Mexico). The delay in time adumbrates that this promise might have been fullfilled. Apart from this, the Africa Group did neither speak prominently nor with one voice. Again, Africa was sidelined due to “insufficient resources” (a.k.a. not enough people to follow the negotiations) and political marginalization. Having nice slogans and a dancing Zuma is not enough.
  17. Civil society was – once again – left out. Of course, NGOs came into the ICC by the thousands and many had delegation-badges. Close lobbying was possible and even direct actions and occupy-stuff was happening inside. But the alternative voices were outside – and wanted to be outside. Thus, the stories of local struggles were lost between some “big heads” of the intellectual climate justice movement and the physical distance between the University campus – venue for “The People’s Space” – and the ICC. Funding was given only last minute by the ANC-government and the broad “C17″ coalition (including radical actors as well as mainstream-NGOs) was supposedly blasted by the WWF just five days prior to the COP. Again, being on the “left side” gave everybody the feeling to be marginalized and somehow far away from power. Some, however, were more optimistic:   “Thus, the People Space, with its fair share of logistical challenges was availed to NGOs by South African civil society. However, events at the Space tended to present a fragmented, uncoordinated message and no political engagement with the COP due to the fact that organisations mostly worked in isolation and with individual mandates. Also, working from a very weak political base, it is not likely that South African civil society were ever going to be able to mediate a convergence of thinking and strategy between those NGOs that prefer to work inside and those that prefer to work from outside the UN process. That having been said, South African civil society were hugely successful, if read against this background, in bringing together all CSOs to one Global Day of Action march. The general feeling is that South African civil society did what they could within their means and to reasonable success in enabling engagement of civil society with the COP. Politically, though, a greater discussion still needs to be conducted on how best to bring about convergence […].” (Lili Fuhr et al. 2012)
  18. The term “historical responsibility” was again only folklore. Thus, one of the central themes of the Cochabamba Conference and many climate justice groups was not raised or used by certain actors to cover up an emerging dirty developing path. A real discourse was not allowed to start.
  19. The western eyes and ears do not want to see starving Indians and hear from poor rural Chinese (except suppressed Tibetans). They look towards numbers (the ones they like – total emissions; not per-capita emissions) and fearful see a rising middle-class with they German cars and US-houses, living in the suburbs of Mumbai or Shanghai. I myself become angry when I see “these people” do the some stupid mistakes we did: burn fossil fuels. We need a methodology which takes the “North in the South” (and the “South in the North”) into account but still
  20. The discourse changed again, away from climate justice. It was echoed over and over again, even by progressive media and NGOs, that “the world has changed” and “these Chinese and Indians need to take on reduction targets” as well. People are so eager in talking about these newly industrialized countries that they totally forget that Northern companies and a Western lifestyle is what they are critizising in these new competitors. The blame-game is just about to start, because it is seems promising right now to play the “Germany is so great, China is so bad” – card. I see very little difference in party-policies on this issue. NGOs largely follow the strategy of complementing their own government (positive-messaging, funds, access to intelligence) and pushing others. It is up for debate in 2012 whether this strategy is honest and suitable.
  21. To be fair to all people and to get real ambition, we need to revive the cbdr/rc-debate. Those praising the demolishing of the firewall will soon recognize how much this formula was bridging gaps. Further, we need to fill the open words with a methodology that is comprehensible and fair. One, which is common to all but has differentiated targets (mainly: different numbers) while also paying tribute to respective capabilities (which are up to rapid changes, as one can see).
  22. The Greenhouse Development Rights framework should become the new centre-piece of global climate architecture. This framework brings together historical responsibilities and economic strengths but requires common legal numerics and an all-encompassing treaty. See more here. It can be “used” to calculate the contributions into the GCF as well as reduction-pledges and much more!
  23. Climate policy will remain a domestic issue and climate struggles need to be fought on a sub-UN level. We need to target the drivers of inaction (e.g. Shell, BP, Exxon, Mercedes, Ford, Deutsche Bank, ENI . . .) and push them out of their dirty business – forever. Just as they use the UNFCCC-level for advancing a corporate agenda (think “how to make climate protection efficient and win-win“), we have to remain active on this level to prevent them from doing so.
  24. We need to cooperate much better. Take for example Canada, a country once hailed as progressive. Its inhabitants don’t even know how their country’s reputation sunk in recent years. Let’s make a public cross-issue campaign against the maple leaf and its elite-driven policy – this can help progressive actors within Canada as well!
  25. An approach of different speeds needs to be thought-out and implementedIt is harder to get a still-world power like the USA to act on a global problem (despite Katrina, a hurricane which mainly affected the black community in New Orleans!). To make intellectual progress in this field is our challenge for 2012 – it should go beyond simple phrases and include bold new ideas.

I am very open to discuss these points as they are jsut a collection of thoughts that went to my head over Christmas. Thesis 20 is the most most very much most important one. Number 22 and 25 will be my (intellectual) homework for 2012.

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