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An uneven playing field

Countries are meeting this week in Germany to help decide a new framework to address climate change. But for the most vulnerable nations, write Joy Hyvarinen and Mike Shanahan, the talks are far from fair.

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With less than nine months to meet the December 2009 deadline for a new global framework to tackle climate change, this week’s gathering in Bonn, Germany, of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be a critical negotiating session.

And while all right-thinking people agree that a new deal must be fair and equitable, the negotiations themselves are anything but. The talks risk focusing too much on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, without paying adequate attention to the urgent need for vulnerable nations to adapt to inevitable climate-change impacts. If the rich world does not address these disparities, the negotiations could result in a broken deal that adds to the burden of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

The current rules under the Kyoto Protocol commit a number of industrialised countries — but not the United States, which has not ratified the protocol — to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by set amounts by 2012, when the targets expire. Countries urgently need to agree replacement rules by the end of December, or there will not be enough time to enact them by 2012. The last thing a climate-constrained world needs is a period without any nation having binding commitments to reduce their emissions.

High on the agenda at Bonn will be new targets for both the developed countries and what might be the first binding targets for rapidly developing large countries, such as China and Brazil. But a certain level of climate change is already “hard wired” into the system, meaning that some impacts will be inevitable even if all greenhouse-gas emissions were halted today. So we need to adapt.

In fact, impacts are already being felt in the form of harsher and less predictable weather, melting ice caps, coral bleaching and rising sea levels. While we will all be forced to adapt to the impacts of climate change, it is often those least responsible for them — the least developed nations and small island states — that are the most vulnerable. But the international negotiations, which revolve around the competing power agendas of nations, are unfair to those vulnerable states.

Size matters — the big players are the rich, powerful states — but is not the only factor that comes into play in the conference room. Technical and legal expertise, as well as knowing how to play the negotiating game, can have a decisive role in determining outcomes. This means that most developing countries are on the back foot from the outset. They lack the resources and personnel they need to stand toe-to-toe with the big players.

At the last big climate conference in Poznan, Poland, the US delegation numbered over 80 representatives, while the small Pacific island state Kiribati, where climate change is a survival issue today, had only three and Congo had just two.

This matters because the negotiations usually break up quickly into many small groups to thrash out difficult issues. Delegates from the least developed countries and small island states must rush between groups, often late at night, getting very little sleep compared with larger delegations. And so they lose out. Such nations also have minimal capacity or time for crucial preparation, but it can take months of analysis to understand complex issues and their implications.

Meanwhile, the delegations from wealthy industrialised nations meet in advance to prepare their negotiating positions — and fallback strategies — bolstered by technical, scientific and legal advisers. Although some of the small island states have managed to punch far above their weight by having some exceptionally good negotiators, most of the vulnerable countries cannot claim that advantage.

A climate-change conference may need climate policy specialists, highly qualified scientists, legal advisers and experts in several other fields, such as forestry and agriculture, but most countries simply do not have the skilled staff or the resources needed. This can result in developing countries missing opportunities to influence decisions that could help alleviate poverty, such as the design of incentives for rainforest nations to avoid deforestation and forest degradation, which account for about 17% of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions.

Equally, the deal that governments will be negotiating must include a robust and effective long-term plan for helping vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change. But there is a risk that the focus will instead be on mitigation because emissions, and any attempts to impose binding targets to reduce them, are the major concerns of the larger, more powerful states.  

Despite their size and limited capacity to negotiate against much larger delegations, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has succeeded in making its voice heard and has been a leader in promoting the moral dimensions of climate change. Likewise, the formation of a Least Developed Countries group that works together with a common negotiating stance has bolstered the weak starting point of these countries.

But the disparities in negotiating power remain. And while UN treaties have dedicated funds to support the participation of developing countries in the negotiations, these are voluntary and underfunded. The Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island States will need support from other nations to ensure that the deal strikes a fair balance between mitigation and adaptation concerns.

Some would say that the current situation is fair and that it is only to be expected that large rich nations have more say. Others would argue that to reach global solutions, which work for all states, international negotiations need to be based on a truly common agenda. Whatever the viewpoint, the playing field is not a level one.

Joy Hyvarinen is director of the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development

Mike Shanahan is press officer at the International Institute for Environment and Development

Homepage image from Piotr Fajfer / Oxfam International

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



limit the scale

Since there are only a few representatives from some countries, may as well limit the scale of the rich countries' delegations. Fairness can be obtained through numbers. (Translated by David Vance Wagner)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Only one way out.

Of course smaller countries and bigger countries aren't equal, is there anywhere that is absolutely fair? The smaller countries unite to fight for their own interests, because this is their only way out.
(Translated by Braden Latham-Jones.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The current focus of REDD initiatives is seriously misguided

The great majority of the "17%" of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions attributed to deforestation takes place in two countries - Indonesia and Brazil.

Land clearance for commercial plantations (palm oil and pulp) in Indonesia and agribusiness (soya and beef) in Brazil accounts for the great majority of those emissions.

If we continue to buy products associated with the few enterprises which account for most of those green-house gas emissions we are wilfully compounding climate change.

The directors of those enterprises (and their associates in government) have in effect committed global environmental crimes.

The cheapest, quickest and most effective way to minimise further emissions from such land clearance (and to improve governance) is to stop buying (or punitively tax) the products made by those enterprises.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The Challenge: Searching for Fairness in an Unfair World

There is no such thing as absolute fairness. This presents an enormous challenge for developing countries in general, and in particular for those poorer countries whose levels of human and material resources put them at an absolute disadvantage. As Einstein once said, you can't go looking for solutions to a problem by appealing to the same ideas that brought about the problem in the first place. The main shortfall of the Western approach is a tendency to tackle problems at surface value without ever getting to grips with the core reasons behind them. The Green Revolution, Ecological Civilization, they'll be no different in a hundred years time than Darwin's theory of evolution or the first industrial revolution are today; they cannot solve the root problems that humanity faces. The greedy pursuit of material wealth is the basis of so many of the problems that plague modern society. There is an evident need to restrain our desires, and yet it will only be when climate change results in a disaster of catastrophic proportions crashing down on the head of some unfortunate, impoverished nation that we will finally pay attention and wake up to the question of where exactly it is that our future lies. You can't know what a snakebite feels like until one leaps up and bites you... Global warming has given us the most wonderful opportunity, one that involves a return to nature.
In addition, the fact that that there a lot of Americans is irrelevant if their nation fails to sign up to the Kyoto agreement or contribute to the Copenhagen agreement. There are a lot of Chinese as well! The key rather is how people view you, and whom you are able to persuade. Anyone who's been at a conference before will know that there exists today a breed of conference-lice whose sole purpose and sustenance in life is conferences, conferences and more conferences! They become so intoxicated by their own high-falluting vocabulary that when when the time comes for hammering out some kind of deal, they couldn't care less about its outcome. Still, if this current round of talks between climate change treaty signatories goes badly, then perhaps national delegates may have one or two tough questions to answer when they get home, as was the case with China's Agenda 21 a few years back. Who knows? In any event, at a specialized meeting such as this, it may be the case that, though moved by conscience into trying to fix a problem for which they themselves are responsible, developed nations realize that no such thing as a ready-made solution exists.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The climate change!?

Where is the problem? The impact of climate change is uncertain and far away from you, so you are not worried at all. Maybe human beings would only think about dealing with global climate change instead of geopolitical borders after every person in the world has to suffer the damages of climate change. Maybe someone would say the change might be a normal rule of nature from a historical perspective. However, we should not forget, human beings are making progress and society is developing. If we can do something or we can reduce the pain of others, then why not? Everyone should learn to put themselves into shoes of others, especially those in the bottom of the pyramid, reconsider what they could do, and then see what they have done. (YZHK)
(Translated by Xiaoyu Guan)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




the climate change

You seem to think that society will go on developing whatever happens. I don't think you have understood what the impacts of climate change will be... Societies can fall apart and go backwards as well as advancing -- look at what happened to China in the first half of 20th century. At current projections we are looking a possible temperature rise of 6 degrees, at which point large parts of the world become uninhabitable. Do you still think society will advance?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



[email protected]

Climate change and war: an analogy

I approve of the above comment very much. Society is not always developing as time goes on. Of course, different people have different standards for development. Living standards for today’s people are not necessarily more fortunate than living standards for people in the olden days; or else, the people whose lives in the cities are not necessarily better than those in the country side. Currently climate change is a question of risk. Who can say with 100% certainty what exactly caused climate change? Greenhouse gases are probably the main offender, causing over 95% of the damage. This probability is meaningful. And when we look at war, no one can know at what time war will break out. This probability is a riddle that many scholars secretly study. We aren’t able to say when there is no sign of war, we don’t want an army, and we don’t want a national defense, and we don’t want new technology and new weapons. Currently, the probability of local wars occurring in many areas is significantly lower than the probability that climate change exists and greenhouse gases are the primary cause of climate change. America spends billions of dollars on defense every year, when the total world spending on defense I’m afraid is less than 7 or 8 billion dollars. How much is spent on responding to climate change? It is impossible to talk about these numbers and talk about having no solution to climate change in the same breath. Besides, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an economic activity, even a profitable activity, so there are no reasons not to do it. Climate change is a war without any smoke. When you have seen the enemy, it is already over. [email protected] (Translated by Michelle Deeter)

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匿名 | Anonymous




How long must we wait before realising we must change the way we think about ourselves?

It seems like a fundamental misunderstanding about climate and the environment has perpetuated itself in recent years. Reducing pollution and cutting emissions won't be able to halt the process of global warming. Cutting back on environmental pollution isn't going to stop glaciers from melting! It is misleading to think that the Greenhouse Effect by itself is somehow the key to reducing the rise in global temperatures. People are certainly a factor in this situation, but they are not the fundamental cause! We can only tackle the issue of global warming by dealing with the symptoms and the root causes in tandem with each other... A new conception of humanity would be of great benefit to the entire global community. The Service Community of New Ideas for Mankind

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Problems start before the negotiations

Having been "the negotiator" for a small developing state, I know how difficult it is to actively and effectively participating in the UNFCCD process. And I said "the negotiator" because must of the time it was only me who participated in the negotiations, since the Secretariat of the UNFCCC only finances the participation of one person. But the problem is not so much during the negotiations, it starts long before; these countries have little capacity to prepare for the negotiations or to make submissions on issues of interest to them beforehand; overworked at home, were they attend several topics and negotiations, they usually go to them not adequately prepared.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Greenhouse Effect Leads to the Acceleration of Ice Melting

To the UN Secretary-General, related organisations and the Copenhagen Climate Congress:

It seems as if we have had a misunderstanding about climate and the environment for a long time. We can no longer keep silence and continue to pursue greenhouse gases reduction under the framework of Kyoto Protocol.
Only the "new geoengineering" has sufficient reason to prove itself.
And, we have to, fundamentally, curb global warming!

--by a civil climate researcher.