Archive for December, 2007

Less of a roadmap and more of an orienteering challenge

Saturday, December 15th, 2007 by

Nail-biting drama UN conferences are certainly not, but I’m sure a film maker somewhere might be considering dramatising the final hours of these protracted negotiations.

Bleary-eyed government negotiators had stayed up all night trying to thrash out a deal that would satisfy everyone. By the morning the only ones who looked set to be satisfied were the government of the US and its protégés Canada, Japan and now Russia who had put their all into producing a very weak paper. To their credit China and India faced down the threat. Developing countries then joined with the European Union to force through an improved deal which the US reluctantly swallowed at the end of the most drawn-out discussions ever.

Relief at achieving an improved deal was tinged with regret for what could and should have been a breakthrough in the battle against dangerous climate change. We hoped to achieve a Bali roadmap for drastic action against climate change, but instead we’ve more of a Bali orienteering challenge. Important markers, such as the need for adaptation and technology transfer, have been set out but the guidance of science has been relegated to a footnote.

So was it worth it? Well, poor communities on the front line of climate change will have to wait for further negotiations to agree how the nations of the world will tackle what was repeatedly called the greatest threat to the planet. However, we do still have an international process, despite the best efforts of the US and its minions, so there is still hope.

I spoke to a member of the EU negotiations team at the end who told me that it was public pressure that brought us this far – and it’ll be public pressure that ensures the world will stop dangerous climate change. Although such negotiations feel isolated, we’ve all a responsibility to make sure decision makers make the right choices in future.

Bali roadmap fails to recognise adaptation as a landmark

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The Waiting Game….

Friday, December 14th, 2007 by

As the sunsets on the final day of the UN Conference negotiations look set to extend through the night in an effort to reach consensus. The US has continued to be the main sticking point in continually trying to undermine a successful outcome.

During the day others confirmed their place in the climate change hall of shame. Canada seemed bent on disrupting the process and didn’t even attend some of their meetings. Meanwhile the Japanese continued to press for a voluntary rather than binding process. Russia was a late comer to the wrecking crew by insisting that the 25 – 40% cut in rich country emissions, recommended by scientist, be removed.

All was not doom and gloom thank goodness, countries such as Germany, Norway, New Zealand and South Africa played very constructive roles, providing the glimmer of hope so desperately needed.

Outside of the conference negotiations bubble the world is demanding success. In a reflection of this young people from all over the world gathered outside the conference centre to present a petition of over two million names (including Practical Action supporters) calling for positive action.

Now that the final private discussions are taking place we feel rather impotent. Having been so involved in pushing for a deal that is so central to the world’s poor all we can do is wait and hope.

The Wrecking Crew

Thursday, December 13th, 2007 by

I have to admit I started Thursday’s negotiations with a heavy heart. A few country governments, now christened the ‘wrecking crew’, appeared to be prepared to sacrifice all the time, energy and not to mention carbon dioxide that had been put into the last 10 days of the conference for their own ends. Mass frustration hung in the air like a foul smell during the morning.

But maybe the US, Canada and Japan had revealed their cards too early. As the afternoon wore on more positive message emerged, it seems as if government negotiators are standing up to be counted.

During breaks in negotiations, small huddles of negotiators form knots outside of each meeting to decide on their latest position before reentering conference rooms. Negotiations are no longer open to us NGOs, instead we have to try and help country delegates during breaks or through the media. I spoke with the Nigerian delegates in one such lull, they were irritated with the actions of a few rich countries but were resolute in their desire to overcome them.

From these brief conversations and second hand information it seemed by the end of the day that the main issues for a positive agreement were back on the table. The European Union at last came out of the shadows and squared up to the US by insisting that reducing emissions by 25-40 % by 2020 must be included in the agreement. If not they warned they’d boycott the US’s Major Emitters meeting next year, the diplomatic equivalent of an upper cut.

Al Gore closed the day with a stirring call to action in which he singled out the US as the principle barrier to a successful outcome but encouraged delegates to work around them. So at the end of penultimate day things feel more optimistic but we still are walking a tightrope – success won’t just be a relief, it’s a necessity.

Will the real Hilary Benn please stand up?

Thursday, December 13th, 2007 by

Practical Action's postcardWednesday saw the arrival of high-level ministers from around the world. Practical Action greeted the decision makers by delivering a huge postcard emphasising the importance of tacking climate change for the world’s poorest people.

Inside the packed conference centre a buzz of anticipation preceded some very well crafted and well-intentioned speeches. Each one highlighted the need for urgent action and a successful outcome to the Bali talks.

Matching the fine words of their politicians with fine actions appears difficult for some of the negotiators unfortunately. Again number one offender was the US. Although the US says it doesn’t want to disrupt negotiations they are blocking many aspects necessary for a positive outcome.

Possibly most critical is the US’s insistence on trashing the pivotal concept of rich countries committing to cut their emissions by 25-40 % by 2020 – as advised by UN scientists. Even when it comes to the issue of helping poor countries develop without dirty technology, the US is disabling negotiations – despite all the speeches from Bush declaring that technology is the solution to climate change.

US tactics may be frustrating, but they were somewhat predictable. The time is now right for those countries that want a good deal to push for it. UK Prime Ministers have repeatedly declared themselves as climate change world leaders: well now Hilary Benn, the UK’s representative here, must help pull these negotiations back on track and challenge deal-blocking countries.

The clock is ticking.

Happy 10th Birthday Kyoto

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007 by

Tuesday marked the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. Delegates from across the world celebrated the Birthday of the first international agreement on Climate Change with a huge chocolate cake supplied by Greenpeace.

In Kyoto the science of climate change was compelling but ten years later the science is now definitive and we are feeling the impacts – surely we must conclude this week with agreement to create a successor to the Kyoto commitments that will tackle dangerous climate change.

As the day unfolded however it was clear that a number of countries wanted to have their cake and eat it. You’d think the Japanese, who after all hosted those negations ten years ago, would be positive but their negotiators mustn’t have been told about the Birthday as they continued to undermine important discussions.

Like someone who hadn’t been invited to the party the US turned up in a sour mode. Having spent the last week in the shadows the US revealed it’s clear intentions to derail the negotiations. In a range of ways forum negotiators stalled and blocked vital aspects necessary for a successful outcome, we can only hope that their efforts will be in vain.

Let the games begin…

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007 by

Footballers often insightfully declare that ‘it’s a game of two halves’, well here at UN negotiations the teams have come back on for the second half and things are getting heated. National delegates spent the initial week of discussions posturing and sparring. In between the infighting and name-calling a range of proposals that will form the ultimate text have began to emerge. With time running out we enter the final week with some very important and substantial negotiations coming to a head.

The next few days will be make or break for what most acknowledge is the greatest threat to the world. Will the international community be set on a path that stops dangerous climate change and provides the appropriate assistance to those poor communities already being affected or will we once again duck the issue?

Monday’s negotiations still left this question very much open. On the plus side the UN has proposed a set of text to be discussed this week that largely adheres to what we want . We also saw agreement on the mechanisms for providing adaptation funding to those impacted by climate change. The mechanisms might not be quite as perfect as we may have wished for but developing countries are included in the decision making structure – all we need now is the money from rich countries to fund the necessary projects.

On the other side of the coin the usual suspects were up to their usual spoiling antics. The US appears to be trying to undermine any progress by blocking negotiations. Meanwhile the Saudis are repeatedly contradicting other developing countries and themselves, whilst Canada and Japan are continuing to try and torpedo the binding nature of the Kyoto protocol and are trying to get everyone to sign up to a voluntary agreement.

Let’s hope the final score sees the world beating vested interests comfortably.

Pushing adaptation up the agenda

Saturday, December 8th, 2007 by

Saturday morning saw us hosting a meeting on the vital issue of how the UN conference should help poor communities adapt to the impact of Climate Change [more …]. Our projects staff spoke of how the poorest are on the frontline of changing weather patterns, how we’re developing appropriate ways for communities to adapt but how much more such work is needed.

Nepalese climate change activists parade as part of the Global Day of Action“Adaptation”, as this subject is referred to in UN speak, has historically been way down the list of topics discussed at these conferences. However, thanks to the recent report from the UN’s scientists stating the need for vital action on adaptation, and work by groups such as ours, adaptation is central to discussions this year. As the poorest are being hit first and hardest we need the politicians here to commit additional and sufficient funds to deal with the problem.

Once the meeting was over a few of us dashed over to the capital to join the global day of action demonstration, held in coordination with cities across the world. Amid a flotilla of fluttering flags and smiling faces we joined thousands of largely Indonesian voices in calling for immediate and decisive action against climate change.

Eric was particularly keen to attend as he had organised the demonstration in Nairobi at last year’s conference. Dinanath, from Practical Action Nepal, was also glad to be on the carnival as he’d helped organise a similar event in his home town, which we later learnt had been a great success too. Hopefully our combined voices will be enough to spur the delegates onto great things in this week’s crucial negotiations.

Outside the meeting rooms

Friday, December 7th, 2007 by

Local children with a message for conference delegatesA cry of childish laughter pierced the seriousness of the UN conference today as a gaggle of children from a local school toured the conference centre carrying messages for the decision makers. Whilst the delegates from around the world have spent the first week of the UN conference locked in detailed discussions this reminded me that a vibrant backdrop is urging them to make bold decisions.

Inside the security cordon all delegates are greeted by a giant inflatable thermometer exploding from the earth urging them not to cook the climate. The critical level of 2 degrees is highlighted alongside a couple of inflatable trees emphasising the need to stop deforestation. I was impressed to see that solar panels are used to power these and the eco taxi that glides around the centre – something that might not not be so easy in less sunny climes.

Free bicycles for delegatesAs a keen cyclist I was also overjoyed to see that a free bicycle hire scheme is provide for delegates to travel to the side events taking place in separate buildings. I hopped on and peddled off joyfully until a friend translated the name of the sponsors to reveal that the green-minded funders of the scheme were in fact Indonesia’s largest oil company.

There are no such compromises in the Indonesian Civil Society Village, a short ride away from the conference centre. An array of palm shelters huddle around a stage providing a base for many of the local environmental and social organizations. In the short time I was there the stage played host to dancers in traditional Bali costumes, farmers and women’s rights campaigners and then a very lively band – quite a contrast to the earnest atmosphere of the main conference.

Whilst I was there I got talking with Indah Budiani from the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation who lives in Jakarta the capital of Indonesia. She told me how climate change was already a massive problem for the people of Indonesian islands. The changing weather has meant farmer’s crops have failed, fishermen’s catches are down, forest fires are more frequent and species are becoming extinct. She was optimistic about the UN conference and had been impressed by all the countries coming together to build a roadmap for stopping climate.

Tomorrow sees the Carnival for Climate Justice taking place in the capital of the island amid very tight security. A small contingent of us from the Practical Action team will be joining the carnival along with campaigners from across Indonesia. We’re looking forward to this global day of action that will see demonstrations taking place across the world for climate justice.

the giant inflatable thermometer Indah Budiani from the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation Performers at the Indonesian Civil Society Village

Similar processes different contexts: What is different between the Bali and Nairobi climate talks

Thursday, December 6th, 2007 by

Eric at the UNIn 2006, I attended the climate talks – COP 12 in my home city, Nairobi. Twelve months down the line I am attending another climate talks – COP 13 in Bali, hundreds of miles from my home country – Kenya.

Yesterday, I decided to call my wife back home and Sandra, my 13-year daughter was first to pick the phone. “Dad, what is new there?” She asked. At first, I was confused about how to proceed and provide a befitting response to this question. Of course several things could be new here in Bali, especially to first time visitors such as me. What expectations did she have by asking; what is new? I haven’t seen much of Bali because I flew in at night and started the following day at 08.00 with meetings which run all day during the COP 13. In my response to her question, I attempted, in very simple terms to relate my day’s experiences at the COP 13 with those at COP 12.

A couple of months ago, I had told her a story about how a counsel of wise men and women who foresaw an impending threat from a changing climate came together to talk about how they could avert the threat. I had told her about the 2006 Nairobi talks that brought together human representatives from all communities of the world to talk about tackling threats from climate change. Again, representatives from all corners of the world have assembled at this most beautiful spot of the earth – the island of Bali – to discuss the threat to the climate. The wise counsel has warned that this island and many others are under threat of being submerged from flooding and sea overflows unless all men and women of the world take action to stop climate change. They also warned that poor communities are already suffering from worsening weather leading to floods, storms and droughts.

My colleagues from Practical Action and I are at this world assembly in Bali to share experiences that we have gained through working with communities that are most threatened by the adverse impacts of climate change. We hope that by sharing our experiences, the world leaders will deepen their knowledge on the extent of the problem as well possible solutions and make wise decisions on how to deal with the issue. I want to return to Kenya next week and reassure my daughter that the wise men and women at this meeting made good decisions which will mean that her and the rest of the world don’t suffer from climate change.

Eric Kisiangani, Practical Action East Africa

Kyoto, Japan and Fossil of the day

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007 by

With the ending of the second conference day I’m not sure whether I feel more enlightened or confused. The UN conference is an alphabet soup of committees, sub groups and plenary sessions all taking place simultaneously and attended by hundreds of journalists, delegates and NGOs. Mix this with national political interests and a range of country groupings with differing nuanced positions and you’ve the recipe for a complicated couple of weeks

Seeming like a four dimensional chess game the first few days are proving to be largely a scoping exercise for the main parties. Nations appear to be testing the water, understanding who is planning to work for a deal, who is likely to obstruct and how far their ideas will be supported. With the world demanding a successful and far reaching deal by the end of the conference such diplomatic negotiations can seem frustrating.

One of the key demands of the poorest countries, and one that Practical Action has supported, is to achieve a deal on “technology transfer”. This would provide developing countries with the technology from rich countries such as solar panels or clean coal technology that will enable them to leapfrog the dirty development path followed by industrialised countries and develop their economies in a low carbon way.

Practical Action’s Policy Advisor Rachel Berger spoke on the subject at a well attended side event, focusing on the need for sustainable small scale technologies and not just grand, but relatively untested, schemes. We need to support simple but effective technologies such as seed saving and micro energy generation schemes that truly benefit poor communities.

In a clever move in the main sessions China lead the way in raising this issue of technology transfer from being a subject that would be put off indefinitely, as favoured by the likes of the US, Canada and Japan, to an item high up the agenda for discussion at this meeting. Whilst this represents an early victory in this protracted process we have also witnessed less positive moves. Japan has been particularly negative in terms of setting the way for a breakthrough in negotiations. On the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Kyoto agreement (in Japan) their delegation outlined a very disappointing vision for 2012 that would not include the essential elements of the Kyoto agreement, namely binding emission reductions and rich countries leading the way.

For their disappointing start to the negotiations the Japanese delegation were awarded the Fossil of the Day award by Practical Action and other NGOs for their work to undermine the vision of a future free from climate injustice. We hope that the publicity that this receives at both the conference and around the world will shame the Japanese into acting more positively from now on. We’ll see tomorrow.