Last year large areas of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, were underwater and on the verge of being evacuated. Fast forward nine months and from 30 August to 5 September the capital is host to the latest United Nations conference on climate change, talks which are also entering deep water. The outcome could determine whether or not the Kyoto protocol sinks or swims and with it many flood prone countries around the world.
The 2011 floods in Thailand were the worst in 50 years. Afterwards Thailands Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawtra, said “We need to learn a lesson from the big flood last year”. That lesson is that once rare and extreme weather events associated with climate change are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life for many vulnerable people around the world.
Thailand’s floods claimed over 800 lives, directly affected over 2.5 million people and cost the insurance industry an estimated $20 billion. It is a salutary lesson that the 164 delegates from around the world attending the Bangkok conference would do well to remember as they negotiate the agenda for the next round of climate talks in Qatar in November in their working groups and round table discussions.
In the plenary session Nauru representing the Alliance of Small Island States - the 44 countries whose very survival depends on getting an outcome said: “We have three months left to deliver a Kyoto plus outcome. It cannot be window dressing or full of accounting tricks and conditionality. Kyoto runs out on the 1st of January 2013. But there are still so many unresolved issues from ambition to the length of commitment period”.
Although the conference is not decision making, over the next week they will discuss a range of important issues from extending the existing Kyoto protocol which runs out at the end of the year to a detailed work plan for a legally binding climate change agreement post 2020. Also at stake are whether developed countries who did not sign the Kyoto agreement will adopt stringent targets, the role that developing countries should play in climate mitigation and funding new forms of climate finance including the Green Climate Fund.
I’m covering the talks on behalf of Practical Action and am lobbying the delegates to attend an event we have organised at the climate talks in Qatar on 28 November. Entitled “learning the lessons from flooding in climate adaptation” it will highlight the work that Practical Action is doing around the world with flooding victims in countries from Bangladesh to Peru. For many of them climate change is already a reality and whatever the outcome at Qatar, putting serious money into climate adaptation measures over the next few years will be critical.
The meeting at Bangkok will be critical to ironing out those details. A failure to do so will result in the Kyoto protocol being buried in the sand in Qatar.