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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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匿名 | Anonymous

限制规模

既然一些国家的代表太少,不妨限制富国的代表团规模,从数量上求得适当的公平。

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

唯一出路

小国和大国本来就不平等,哪有绝对的公平?小国联合起来,是为自己争取利益的唯一出路。

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

当前“减少砍伐森林和森林退化导致的排放”行动之重心已经步入歧途

肆意砍伐森林是“17%”的人为排放温室气体的一大原因,它主要发生在两个国家——印尼和巴西。其中,印尼的商业种植园(棕榈油和纸浆)和巴西的农业综合企业(大豆和牛肉)是主要的排放来源。假如我们继续购买那些温室气体排放大户的产品,我们是在故意造成气候变化。事实上,那些公司的负责人(以及其政府代理人)已经对全球环境犯下罪行。最经济、迅速和有效的方法是降低这些土地开荒的进一步排放(并提高管理),拒绝购买(或惩罚性征税)这些企业法人产品。
(田亮翻译)

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.

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匿名 | Anonymous

挑战:在不公平的世界寻求公平

作者来自法律界,也许是为找到介入会谈的法律咨询生意找个机会吧。世界上没有绝对的公平,对发展中国家,也就是人力物力处于绝对劣势的穷国家,确实是个巨大的挑战。爱因斯坦说过,你不可能用产生了问题的思维方式再来解决这个问题。西方世界的主要毛病就是头痛医头,脚痛医脚,找不到问题的核心所在。所谓的绿色革命也好,生态文明也好,过一百年看来,也和达尔文的生物进化论和第一次工业革命一样,解决不了我们人类面临的根本问题。对物质财富的贪婪追求是导致我们现代社会诸多毛病的根源,我们需要降低欲望,而这个只有等到气候变化的巨大灾难降临到某个倒霉的穷国以后,才能引起世人的关注,才会思考我们的未来究竟在哪儿。不被蛇咬过,谁知道痛呢?!气候变化为我们的思考提供了一个绝佳的机会,就是回归自然。另外,美国人多不代表什么,假如它不加入京都议定书或者促成哥本哈根的协议。我们中国人也不会少,关键是看你能说什么,你能说服谁。开过会的人都知道,现在有很多会虫,他们的生存的意义就在于开会,开会,开会,陶醉于开会这个美好的词汇中,至于需要达成什么协议,很大程度上不需要关心。目前看来,气候变化的缔约方大会,搞得不好,就像我们国家以前的21条似的,让某个国家的代表团回国后日子不好过,谁知道呢。毕竟,这么专业的会谈,这个由发达国家首先造成的问题,也由发达国家良心发现提议解决的问题没有现成的答案。

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

气候变化!?

症结在哪里?
其影响不确定,其影响不在你身边,所以你不用担心。
如果有一天全球每一个角落的人都得承担气候变化的破坏,也许只有在那时人类才能反思要超越政治地理的边界来应对全球气候变化的影响。
也许有人会讲,放到历史的长河中,这也许是大自然正常的规律,但是我们不要忘了一点:人类是在进步的,社会是在发展着的。我们是在往前走的,如果我们能够做些什么,我们为什么不做呢。如果我们能够为别人减少一些苦难,我们为什么不做呢。
每个人都要学会换位思考,特别是和处在金字塔最底层人换位,然后再想想自己能够做些什么,最后再看看自己做了什么。
(YZHK)

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

气候的变化

你可能会这么想,无论发生什么,社会都将会继续发展。我不认为你已经理解了气候变化将会产生的影响。社会可能会在发张的同时破碎倒退。看看在20世纪的前半叶中国都发生了什么。从目前的投影图中我们可以看见地球可能会上升6度,这就意味着大部分世界都将无法生存。你现在还认为社会将会前进吗?

本篇评论由陈丽英(anna)翻译

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?

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匿名 | Anonymous

气候变化和战争:一个类比

我很赞同上面的评论。社会并不是总随着时间的流逝而发展,当然了,发展对不同的人有不同的标准。生活在现代的人我看也不一定就比古时的人幸福,或在城市里的人现在也不一定比农村人生活质量高到哪里去。

气候变化目前是个风险问题,谁也不能100%肯定说一定就是由什么具体的原因造成的,温室气体可能是罪魁祸首的概率超过95%吧。这个概率很有意思。我们看看战争,谁也不知道什么时候会爆发战争,这个概率多大是个谜,多少学者都在偷偷研究。我们不能说好像没有战争的迹象,我们就不要军队了,我们不要国防了,我们不要开发新技术,新武器了。目前大规模的地区战争的概率肯定远远低于气候变化是确实的以及温室气体是罪魁祸首的概率。美国每年花几千亿美元用于国防,世界加在一起恐怕不下七八千亿美元,投资在应对气候变化上是多少?相比没办法和这个数字相提并论。更何况,温室气体的减排是个经济活动,是个可以营利的活动,确实没有理由不去做。气候变化是没有硝烟的战争啊,等到你看得见敌人的时候,恐怕一切都结束了。
[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

急待升级人类思维意识

气候环境问题已步入误区!降污减排不能阻止全球变暖!治理环境污染不能延缓冰雪融化!从一开始,温室效应对根治根治气温升高造成误导!人为因素并非其根本原因!标本兼治才可从根本解决全球气候变暖!······

人类新意服务共同体

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

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匿名 | Anonymous

问题在于谈判之前

曾经作为一个发展中小国的“谈判代表”,我懂得积极有成效的参与联合国气候变化谈判过程有多难。“谈判代表”一词我用了单数,是因为大部分时间里我是唯一参与谈判的该国代表,而联合国气候变化谈判秘书处只解决一名代表的与会经费。但谈判过程中的问题还不算多,谈判之前的问题才是根本的。这些发展中小国无力为谈判做前期准备,或是事先起草与本国利益攸关问题的文件。由于在本国国内就事务繁冗,即便他们能够参加若干议题的谈判,他们也通常无法做好准备工作。(本评论由杨宾翻译)

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.

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匿名 | Anonymous

温室效应导致冰雪加速融化

写给联合国秘书长·各相关机构·哥本哈根会议联合体:事实早已证明气候环境问题步入误区!绝不能继续沉默在‘京都议定书’框架下的‘温室效应’!······只有【地球新工程】有百分之百的理由证明与世人---从根本遏制全球气候继续变暖!······

民间气候研究者

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.