Archive for November, 2006

The verdict …

Sunday, November 19th, 2006 by

Angelique OrrThe view from Nairobi
Practical Action campaigner Angelique Orr reports from the UN Climate Change negotiations in Kenya

The conference came to a close on Friday. So, the verdict …?

In terms of the big picture, I’m afraid it’s a depressing one. The international community failed to reach agreement on another round of legally binding cuts in emissions when Kyoto runs out in 2012. It did not manage to set a timetable for the negotiation of cuts, which potentially means that there will be a gap between commitment periods.

I’ve been so close to the negotiations that I know it’s not for want of trying. Many people, NGOs and some governments have done all can they within their powers to try a close a deal. In my opinion, our own David Miliband did a good job pushing for a positive outcome – I leave Nairobi realising that the UK government is a voice for action within the international community. There have been some positive outcomes here. In particular more resources have been agreed for clean development and to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change in Africa – that’s got to be good news.

But frankly, I come away with one overriding sentiment. Where did the urgency go? Hundreds of thousands on the streets around the world; a solid economic case for action; robust science; evidence from the very country where the negotiations took place that climate change is impacting now, first and worst on the world’s poorest people. What more does it take to bring about change? As my colleague Sharon put it in Friday’s press conference – “all it would have taken was for a bunch of men and women in expensive suits to make the right choices”.

In spite of my frustrations, it has been an incredible fortnight. Personally I have learnt an enormous amount and met inspirational people with whom I hope to continue to work. And for Practical Action? An international team from 8 countries each influencing their own governments; a fringe event with a packed lecture theatre and stimulating debate; the direct handover to David Miliband of thousands of messages from our supporters; spearheading an unprecedented march of thousands through Nairobi, including many Maasai pastoralists calling for action; watching my colleague Sharon single-handedly take on the UN Conference and the world’s media to express her dismay at the lacklustre performance by politicians …

Our team has made a real difference here. Without them, the voice of the world’s poor would not have been so strongly heard. It’s been an incredible inspiration, honour and privilege to be a part of that.

So, back to the UK tonight. I am knackered and need a couple of days to take it easy. Then again, we clearly have a lot more work to do …

So what’s next?….

Inspirational!

Friday, November 17th, 2006 by

I can’t go to Turkana anymore – the flight I was on has been cancelled because of bad weather. (There is some irony there somewhere??) I was really disappointed when I found out – I was so looking forward to it.

My disappointment soon passed by though. Since I didn’t have to leave the UN and get to the airport, I was able to stay and watch Sharon’s speech to the main conference. She was, frankly, incredible. Her words are posted here – she can tell you like it is much better than I could hope to.

Sharon addresses the conference Sharon is mobbed by the media!

She was, frankly, incredible. She could hardly complete the main speech because she was being applauded and cheered for so many of her points. At the end she got a standing ovation – with cheering – for over a minute. It stood in complete contrast to the other drier speeches that were delivered through the morning. It was amazing to see in the UN setting.

After her main speech, she did at least 15 media interviews – both TV, radio and print, including BBC TV news, BBC Radio/Online, Reuters, Associated Press, Independent, UN Radio and a whole host of Kenyan media. We can hardly walk her around the campus, because so many people are stopping her to congratulate her. It is the main talking point across the site.

Now we have to hope that the leaders that have heard her take the window they have available to them today to act robustly …

Delegates before Sharon's speech ...

Busy, busy, busy

Friday, November 17th, 2006 by

It’s all go and we’re doing all we can to push for action. Late last night I found out that my Kenyan colleague Sharon will today have the opportunity to address the formal conference. It’s an incredible, unusual opportunity – all the leaders and politicians will hear directly from someone who is part of and works directly with communities that face the brunt of climate change. She’s also part of a major press conference on the same theme. Sharon is (understandably) a bit nervous, but I know she’s going to be amazing.

I’ve also found out that later today I have the chance to travel to Northern Kenya to a region called Turkana for a few days to meet and talk to pastoralist communities that have faced ongoing drought. It’s going to be amazing – after all the talking and negotiating – actually getting out to see the reality for myself.

Would love to write more but have to help Sharon prepare. I may be offline for a few days now – where I’m going there is no internet access!!

I’ll post more as soon as I can… thanks for reading

Mind the gap

Thursday, November 16th, 2006 by

Across the conference site, furious negotiations are going on … Everywhere I turn, suited people from the across the world speaking every language I can imagine are rushing through corridors, constantly receiving texts and calls, waving papers, perching wherever possible to draft speeches and texts on laptops.

Yesterday there were a host of speeches by Ministers and Heads of State. Kofi Annan was amazing – inspirational in his call for action and critical of “a frightening lack of leadership” in tackling global warming – unusually bold language for a UN Secretary General. My personal “dud of the day” award went to the Canadian Minister Ambrose’s contribution – who claimed her (non-Kyoto) climate plan “recognises the need for urgent action so that we can finally make progress towards our 2012 international obligations”. In reality, this “plan” allows Canada’s emissions to stay above current levels until at least 2020!!

The main point of negotiation is still about setting a firm timetable, to ensure that there is no gap between the Kyoto Protocol and its successor. I’m really involved in an international network of NGOs called the Climate Action Network – including ourselves, Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Tearfund etc . Every morning we meet together for an hour to share intelligence and strategise for the day ahead. Tempers can be frayed because so many of us are up working into the early hours – but there is also a massive sense of solidarity. It’s brilliant to be part of the team.

I am lucky to be in the company of Practical Action colleagues from across the world – including from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Zimbabwe. They are doing an amazing job of influencing their own governments here and “telling it like it is”. Between them they have a wealth of experience in helping poor communities adapt to the effects of climate change and to use renewable energy to escape poverty. It seems their own governments are really valuing the expertise and experience that my colleagues bring to the table. Over dinner last night, Mizan from Bangladesh was telling me how he’s looking forward to continue working with government officials into the future when he goes back home.

This morning, representatives of our team had the chance to meet with Sir Nicolas Stern, who has recently written an important report on the economics of climate change. In a nutshell, it would be much, much more expensive to adapt to the effects of climate change than it will be if we choose to take action now to prevent it. By being here, Sir Nicolas is managing to communicate that message to the international community – which I think is great.

So, tomorrow’s the last day (unless negotiations do have to run into Saturday). Seems funny to think that the culmination of weeks and months of work hangs in the balance. There’s lots of fine detail to tweak, but the big message is the one I hear whenever I travel on the London Underground: “Ladies and Gentlemen … Please Mind the Gap …”

Where is the urgency?

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 by

There’s a real buzz about the place now as talks reach crunch point. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived this morning to full red-carpet treatment. Our own Environment Minister David Miliband came into town yesterday afternoon. I had the opportunity to hear him speak about a process the British government has set up to address climate change up as part of its Presidency of the G8 last year called the Gleneagles Plan of Action. It’s fair to say that many people in the audience of the meeting were impressed by his vision and leadership. I was really pleased that he kicked of the meeting by highlighting the devastating impact of climate change on people in Kenya. The day before he’d travelled to the north of the country, where he met communities who are struggling to survive because of the severe droughts. I’ve been busy trying to make leaders think about climate change as a development issue for so long, so it’s really great to hear a British government minister so explicitly make the link.

But, of course, such positive language must translate to action otherwise they are just empty words. Mr Miliband must take a meaningful lead on the international stage in urging countries to commit to drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. My colleague met him in a closed meeting with other NGOs yesterday and she had the opportunity to present him with thousands of messages from Practical Action supporters, calling for urgent action while he’s here in Nairobi. The pic shows our international team holding up some of those messages (in a quick photo-shoot in between their sessions lobbying their own country representatives …).

Practical Action's international climate change team with some of the messages from Practical Action supporters to UK Environment Secretary David Milliband (click for larger version)

Unfortunately, in terms of the big picture the signals are still worrying. At the minute, what’s on the table for an international agreement when Kyoto expires in 2012 is staggeringly weak. It contains no plan to agree a global target and no adequate timetable to reach agreement on cuts. Where is the urgency? Why don’t the Ministers here seem to see what is so glaringly necessary?

Back to reality

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006 by

After the euphoria of the march at the weekend, coming back into the main conference I have come back down to earth with a massive bump. The simple fact is that the politicians and negotiators are simply not moving fast enough. It seems to me that they are acting as though they have all the time in the world – but they don’t.

At these negotiations last year, world leaders agreed that they would work together to build an improved international agreement for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. This was great news at the time but it’s essential that this conference in Nairobi reaches a consensus on reviewing Kyoto quickly and effectively, so that lessons learned can be fed into shaping an agreement for post-2012. The timetable’s tight and if the new agreement is to come into force as soon as Kyoto expires, effective talks about its detail must start now. Otherwise we risk the situation where there is a gap between Kyoto and its successor – so carbon emissions could sky-rocket out of control.

It’s so frustrating. After the passion and positivity of Saturday’s march where poor farmers called for action, the sluggish progress that’s being made here in Nairobi feels absolutely out of kilter. Practical Action’s team and other organisations are working hard to push governments towards more urgent action. My colleague Rachel will be meeting the UK’s Environment Minister David Milliband later today and I know she’ll be reminding him that he has to pull his finger out and take a meaningful lead in the international community (though perhaps she’ll phrase it slightly differently!!).

On the plus side, I was able to attend a brilliant debate yesterday about the US position on climate change. I’ve always felt a bit despondent about the Bush Administration’s position – not least the fact that it failed to ratify Kyoto. But yesterday I heard so much positivity about the future of US policy – 388 mayors have agreed to limit carbon emissions at local level and there’s also lots of movement by State governments. The Democrat majority in Congress following last week’s election is also viewed as a real opportunity for change….

Anyway, that’s it for this posting – I need to get on with the job in hand.

On the march

Sunday, November 12th, 2006 by

Angelique addresses the rally Maasai farmers singing

There are some days in my job where I have to pinch myself and take a deep breath, because I feel so privileged and lucky. Yesterday was definitely one of them. I joined around 2,500 people marching through the streets of Nairobi, to call for urgent action on climate change. There were children, supporters from environmental groups, two bands – and over 70 Maasai pastoralists that work with Practical Action, who had travelled to Nairobi from their farmland to take part.

It was amazing to see the very people who are being so badly affected by climate change there in Kenya’s capital city to make their voices heard, just a couple of miles down the road from where leaders and politicians are gathered at the UN conference. The farmers sang beautifully as they marched; when I asked one of the ladies what the words in Maasai meant, she told me they were singing “Our weather is changing; all we can do now is hope God helps us”.

When we arrived at Uhuru Park, our final destination, there were a whole batch of speeches and performances, including songs and poems by children, drama and traditional dancing. I had the honour of making a short address to the rally. It was great to have the opportunity to explain that a week ago in London 25,000 people gathered to call for action on climate change; that we are there in solidarity with people in Kenya and that we will continue to build the global campaign.

When I got back to my hotel at the end of the afternoon I was pretty exhausted and over a cold beer I thought about the song the ladies were singing. I understand why they chose the words they did given their strong faith, – but I honestly believe that the politicians gathered here in Nairobi really do have the power and opportunity to make a difference to those farmers’ lives this week – if they make the right choices on climate change.

Maasai farmers on the march - click for larger version Maasai farmers on the march - click for larger version

UNFCCC Nairobi – first impressions

Friday, November 10th, 2006 by

Saturday 4th November was an amazing day; 25,000 people overflowed in Trafalgar Square I was there with a big group of Practical Action supporters, to highlight the impact of climate change first and worst on the world’s poorest people.

Just a couple of days later, I arrived in Kenya for the start of official UN Climate Change Negotiations. Here, the international community and world leaders have the opportunity to kick-start talks about a really meaningful, effective international agreement to tackle climate change. As I arrived and drove through the bustling, noisy streets of Nairobi I wasn’t sure how it this could match up to the energy and positivity that I felt when I was with so many others calling for urgent action in London, less than a week ago.

Perhaps predictably, I was wrong. I’ve been here just a couple of days now, but already I can sense the feeling that change and action really are possible. Yesterday Practical Action and Tearfund jointly organised a fringe meeting, to discuss how communities across the world can best be supported as they cope with increasingly severe floods and droughts. We heard from Mizan from Bangladesh – who explained that community-led initiatives are successfully helping people to adapt to more flooding. He told us about women building floating gardens and rearing ducks so they have vegetables and eggs, even when the waters are high. Florence and Peter – two grassroots farmers from rural Kenya gave moving and inspirational accounts of how droughts that they face are now worse because of climate change. But again, I was struck by their optimism – their community is working together with support from Practical Action to cultivate crops that grow even when there is less rain.

At the end of the meeting, over lunch in the smart United Nations campus, Peter looked around at all the people there in suits, busy negotiating the fine details of UN agreements. He asked me how many of them were aware that just a few miles away Kenyans were living in a totally different world, facing devastating droughts year on year because of climate change. I wanted to be able to reply “of course they know that” – but I wasn’t sure I could.

I promised him I’d do all I could to make sure every delegate, politician and journalist alike would know by the end of the conference that climate change is impacting now, first and worst, on the world’s poorest people. For me and the Practical Action team, it looks like there will be a busy week ahead…