Too Little, Too Late

By John Dillon

Politicians are portraying the outcome of the Durban climate conference as a “success” because they have agreed to keep on talking in the hope of arriving at a legally binding pact by 2015 that would take effect in 2020.

Climate scientists warn that if we do not act sooner than 2020, climate change is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible. Current greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pledges have put the world on track for temperature increases of 2-5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If global average temperatures rise by 3.5 to 5 degrees, they would increase between 7 and 8 degres in Africa, causing immense human suffering and ecological destruction.

KAIROS partner Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, asserts that “delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions. An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide.”

According to the official communiqué issued at the end of the Durban conference “Governments, including 38 industrialised countries, agreed a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from January 1, 2013.” But these 38 countries do not include the United States, Russia, Japan or Canada. The Canadian government has declared that it has no intention of accepting new commitments under the KP and is expected to formally withdraw from it before the end of December.

Pablo Salon, former climate change negotiator for Bolivia, has exposed numerous loopholes in the Durban text. He says that without any new commitments for emission reductions by industrialized countries, “the Kyoto Protocol will be on life support until it is replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker.” However, the part of the KP that will continue is its so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that allows developed countries to avoid making their own emission reductions through the purchase of “offsets” from developing countries.

At the Durban conference, the scope for developed countries to avoid emission reductions by purchasing offsets was expanded. Dubious carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects will henceforth be eligible under the CDM. Nele Marien, a former Bolivian negotiator, said the inclusion of costly CCS projects will generate an enormous amount of carbon credits, which will make the carbon prices sink even further, thus lowering incentives for domestic reductions in developed countries. But the worst is that CCS is a very insecure system given the risk that greenhouse gases stored under the ground will escape sooner or later.

Another serious problem is the failure of the Durban conference to address loopholes under the Land Use and Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) provisions of the Kyoto Protocol. According to Alex Lenferna, chairperson of the South East African Climate Consortium Student Forum, this could allow developed countries to increase their emissions by up to 6 gigatons (billions of tonnes) by 2020. This is a significant amount since 6 gigatons is also the amount that scientists say global emissions must fall by 2020 if we are to have just a 50% chance of keeping temperature increases below two degrees.

The availability of offsets under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) initiative was denounced at Durban by the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities as a “privatization and commodification of forests, trees, and air through carbon markets and offsets … [that] threatens the survival of Indigenous Peoples and forest communities.”

The Durban conference failed to clarify the legal status of the promised US$100 billion Green Climate Fund (GCF), as many developing countries continue to resist putting the GCF under World Bank management. Moreover, the GCF still lacks significant commitments from governments of industrialized countries, despite some initial pledges by Germany and Norway. Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, said that Canada would not contribute “scarce dollars” to the GCF until all major emitters accept binding reduction targets. The GCF remains largely an empty shell as no decisions were taken on the use of innovative financing mechanisms such as a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT). However, there was a joint call at Durban by the governments of France, Norway and Bolivia for using an FTT as a source of long-term finance.

In the final days of the Durban conference religious leaders denounced the lack of commitment on the part of the richest countries whose historic emissions are most responsible for climate change. United Church of Canada Moderator Mardi Tindal asserted once again that “climate change is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue…. When lifestyles of the wealthy hurt the lives of the poor….and future generations, it is wrong,”

South African Bishop Geoff Davies insisted that “Historic polluters like the United States have to reduce their emissions dramatically,” calling their behaviour “shocking,” “reprehensible” and “sinful.” Bishop Davies, also called the current economic system “immoral” as it encourages “people to get as rich as they can and forget about anyone else.”

KAIROS partner Ivonne Yanez from Acción Ecologica in Ecuador voiced what many civil society increasingly believe when she summed up the Climate Justice Network’s call: “The only real solution to climate change is to leave the oil in the soil, coal in the hole and tarsands in the land.”

Filed in: Ecological Justice

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