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South African civil society calls on government to boost national climate action

South African civil society organisations have released a statement to their government calling for less talk and more national action to tackle climate change and boost the clean energy transition. These organisations collectively emphasise that human rights, like access to sufficient food and water, are directly threatened by climate change. They urge the South African government to protect these human rights by taking concerted action to shift away from dirty, resource intensive fossil fuels and harness instead the massive potential of clean, renewable energy. They also provide the South African government with a number of improvements that can be made at the national and sub-national levels to enhance the effectiveness of climate change dialogue and policy-making. You can read the full statement below

Statement from concerned civil society organisations regarding the lack of ambition for the National Climate Change Dialogue

Climate change is the greatest challenge faced by human kind.  Without determined political will and practical action by Government, business and society to tackle both the emissions that cause climate change and the adaptation needed to survive its impacts, we risk derailing development and putting the wellbeing and prosperity of the people of South Africa at risk.  What is more, human activities that drive climate change are destroying biodiversity and ecosystems that are vital to our survival and that of future generations.

The time for words is over, we need action from the South African Government now. Many civil society organisations are therefore coming together to raise our collective voices at this critical point ahead of the next round of climate talks at COP20 in Lima this December. 

South Africa faces a desperate fight for climate justice: many of our poorest communities are already living with the impacts of climate change. Global green house gas emissions continue to rise driving increases in extreme weather events such as drought, flooding and rising temperatures which are leaving people struggling with more water shortages and ever-rising food prices. These impacts fall hardest on the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities but they affect us all.

The South African constitution protects basic human rights including access for all to sufficient water and food and an environment that is not harmful to our health or wellbeing. All of these rights are threatened by climate change. 

The President acknowledges that we are a water scarce country and that climate change will make the situation worse. So why is the Government looking at future coal power stations and increasing mining activity, when taking coal out of the ground then preparing and burning it uses huge amounts of water?

We seek a just transition for South Africa and its people away from the current and planned future dependency on coal, oil, gas and nuclear power toward a socially inclusive development path, built on renewable energy including solar and wind. The South African government must hold to its most ambitious emissions targets if we are to make our vital contribution to global emissions cuts and together hold average global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.

As such we call on Government to reaffirm its commitment to pursuing not a ‘lower carbon economy’ but a truly inclusive low carbon economy by stopping investments and subsidies into the fossil fuel industry and choosing a pathway that increases investment in renewable energy to unlock greater access to electricity and that focuses on skills development and job creation in the renewable energy sector. 

We are calling on the South African government to show much greater ambition and match words with actions, to stick to and enforce its most ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  South Africa must also stand alongside its fellow developing countries, calling on the developed countries that have caused climate change, to do much more to cut their emissions and deliver on the finance and technology transfer needed to support adaptation in developing countries.

To do this effectively, it is time for Government to walk the talk and deliver on its promises. Government has set emissions and policy targets that it is already missing. Fine policies are not enough, we must see real political will to drive the climate change agenda in a coherent way across government, so that development planning takes account of the inter-relations between energy, water, agriculture and food sovereignty.

The ongoing Integrated Energy Planning (IEP) process, which is expected to deliver a final report with a national energy ‘Road Map’ for Cabinet approval this financial year, is the most fundamental indication of government’s commitment to effective climate change response and inclusive development. 

All national and provincial departments – not just the Department of Environmental Affairs – must accelerate putting in place co-ordinated plans to both mitigate for and adapt to climate change, and then get on with delivering interventions that will protect and enhance the lives of all South Africans.

It is the South African people who will bear the full force of climate change so it is the wellbeing and livelihoods of people that should be paramount in efforts to address the issue rather than the interests of those businesses which contribute the most to emissions. 

It is disappointing that the National Climate Change Dialogue favours big business and the current economic paradigm while excluding many of the communities already fighting against increased hunger, water shortages, falling crop yields and lack of access to electricity.

Our organisations re-commit to ensuring that engagement takes place around national development policy, including over the next year as the UNFCCC negotiations move toward COP21 in Paris. Now Government must commit to and guarantee that it will enable regular, meaningful participation of civil society and communities affected by climate change in policy development and implementation.

We call for transparency and high ambition in the process of setting emission reduction targets per economic sector (the Desired Emission Reduction Outcomes). Undertakings by businesses to meet ‘carbon budgets’ should be made public. The work of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change needs to be accounted for. All affected parties must be kept appraised of the nature and content of these processes.

Climate change is happening now. It is affecting the lives of all South Africans. It is time for the South African Government to act, not talk, if we are to avoid worsening hunger, water scarcity and poverty.

The organisations here listed endorse this statement:

Project 90 by 2030

Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)

Earthlife Africa

Greenpeace Africa

Oxfam in SA

World Wildlife Fund

350.org Africa & Arab world Region

Fossil Free South Africa

 

To negotiations and beyond

ECO has become increasingly concerned about the slow progress towards negotiations based on draft text for the elements of the 2015 agreement.

The Co-Chairs’ approach to this task reminds ECO a bit of the movie “Groundhog Day”, where the main character relives the same day over and over again. Sure, the workshop approach has yielded some interesting exchanges of views and even a few new ideas. But the exercise of Parties continually repeating their well-known positions has its limits. And it seems to ECO that this should really come to an end now so that real negotiations can begin.

Negotiators will notice there is strong asymmetry between the various texts, with actual draft decision text for the INDCs and for Workstream 2, but only a Co-Chair’s paper listing Parties’ ideas for elements for the 2015 agreement.

This delay in moving to text appears to be rooted in fears of being overwhelmed by a comprehensive text running to several hundred pages and polarisation of Party positions. The fear of a long text can be addressed by Parties agreeing on a proper mandate for the Co-Chairs. Yet, the fundamental differences in positions are real. ECO believes it could help to bring them out in the open so they can be confronted directly by ministers and leaders.

ECO suggests that the Co-Chairs produce a draft negotiating text on the elements of the 2015 agreement before Lima. They can draw on the discussions here in Bonn, along with Party submissions (including any additional ones made over the next couple of weeks) to produce a bracketed text with options that reflect the range of positions of Parties.

The Co-Chairs could then be given the mandate to synthesise the various Party proposals to some extent, to avoid ballooning the text up to hundreds of pages, while still presenting a representative range of positions in a manner that is recognisable to the proponents.

Having the chance to engage in real negotiations around clearly defined proposals for the 2015 agreement, representing the full range of views of Parties, will create the conditions for finalising the INDC and WS2 decisions in Lima, as well as the long list of other ongoing work under the COP and SBs. Conversely, a continuation of the discussion format that we’ve experienced at the last two sessions in Bonn on the elements text will almost certainly not lead to agreement, and could jeopardise chances for agreement on the INDCs decision as well.

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The end of king coal?

As delegates prepare to leave these halls, many may be feeling that there’s only been a lot of talk. ECO turns its eyes back to the real world—and sees actions that offer a glimmer of hope. China’s “war against pollution” may be one of those, with Chinese President Xi urging an“Energy Revolution”. It’s signs that China’s transition away from dirty coal is gaining momentum. For the first three quarters in 2014, both production and consumption of coal in China have decreased by over 1% compared to last year, pushing down the price of coal to its lowest level in many years (due to a lack of demand). As a result, the coal industry, often referred to as “King Coal”, is suffering from huge profit loss and ominous future prospects.

China’s coal use was booming until 2012. Now, a potential coal peak is seen as possible in the coming years. Cement, iron and steel production could also peak by 2020. ECO hardly needs to point out how significant such a shift would be to the global effort to limit carbon emissions.

The main driver of these developments is China’s economic restructuring efforts. However, there have also been recent environmental and low-carbon policies that may lead to a sustained transition and enable a more appropriate and strong price signal to the market. Such policies include resource taxation reform, a renewed tariff on coal imports, and efforts to address air pollution. If such efforts are maintained with strong political support, they could hedge against potential market fluctuation and renewed coal growth in the future, and stimulate faster growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions to climate change.

If this continues, these recent developments could put China below previously assumed emission trajectories. Perhaps on the road to Paris, we might hear ambitious statements relating to regional emission peaks from Chinese delegates?

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Take-aways on finance

ECO would not want negotiators to leave Bonn with the feeling that no progress was made on finance–which is what will enable the implementation of any fair and ambitious agreement reached in Paris.

The good news first: ECO senses convergence on the view that future finance arrangements should build on the existing architecture. This includes the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Standing Committee, the Strategies and Approaches process (a work in progress, hopefully useful), the biennial ministerial engagement, and the MRV provisions (modest and with room for improvement). This fact should keep the developed countries happy, and allow negotiators to focus on the substance: how to get more money flowing to climate action.

But before money can get out, it will first have to get in–that is, into the Green Climate Fund. The Fund is waiting for pledges.This week the G77 and China called for an initial capitalisation of  at least US$15 billion. Thanks to the remarkable pledge by Sweden, we are inching closer. Will the US, the UK, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Finland, Austria, Iceland, Ireland, Poland and others rise to the challenge?

ECO is pleased that climate-proofing of investments has gained a lot of attention and support here in Bonn, perhaps even enough to be expressed through  specific decisions to be made in Paris. ECO is all for climate-proofing, with public entities taking the lead. Governments, development banks, export credit agencies, etc. should shift their financial or political backing away from dirty fossil fuels.

Much to ECO’s dismay, however, no real progress was made on delineating the “vehicle” for finance between Lima and Paris. There is fierce resistance to including information on the provision  of finance in developed Parties’ INDCs, meaning that developing countries will head home from Peru without any confidence that the Paris agreement will lead to binding commitments on finance. These commitments are an integral part of the “fair shares” that developed countries must make towards an equitable and ambitious outcome. ECO challenges them to offer credible ideas to create such confidence.

In this regard, ECO very much liked the Brazilian proposal to include South-South co-operation in their INDCs. Developed countries would be enlightened (or maybe embarrassed) to see other INDCs with information on support and co-operation without having anything to showcase themselves. Or, as AILAC noted, developing countries could prepare two-tier INDCs, starting with their fair-share level of ambition without support, and then an indication of how much  further a country could go with sufficient support. Developing countries could then decide in Paris whether to lock-in their more ambitious INDCs, subject to finance becoming available.

Some developed countries (New Zealand is one) seem open to the idea of a global target on finance (and other means of implementation), as part of the Paris package, though most remain silent. Such a target on the provision of public finance is essential to ensure that adequate support is available for adaptation and to catalyse an investment shift from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency technologies.

The AILAC proposal of periodic finance pledges or commitments by developed countries (and other countries with comparable levels of responsibility and capability) has gained attention this week. The EU, for one, does not seems entirely hostile to the idea, as a way of creating predictability and transparency in the fulfilment of  longer-term promises and commitments.

Parties on the lookout for something more short-term may remember that there is still no forward-looking transparency with regard to the Copenhagen promise of $100 billion. ECO echoes the calls from Malaysia, Jordan and Iran for a finance roadmap towards 2020 and has no idea why the developed countries continue to resist this. Such a roadmap will be an essential ingredient to the success of the overall Paris package.

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The EU 2030 package: on time, yes, but where was the ambition?

ECO waited with bated breath for the European Council decision on the EU’s climate and energy package as news trickled through in the early hours of Friday morning.

Is this package, setting a reduction target of “at least” 40% by 2030, up to the challenge of preventing dangerous climate change and staying well below 2°C? The short answer is no. The longer answer is still no, unless other Parties are willing to make up the remainder of the EU’s fair share.

Either way, the package shows that the EU isn’t serious about the necessary transformation away from dirty fossil fuels towards 100% clean energy by mid-century.

Of course, the EU is first in the class to submit its homework (take note, fellow developed country Parties). But being the first does not mean being the best, and ECO sees a lot of room for improvement. The EU may want to review and improve its proposed 2030 target with the word ambition always in mind. There is at least an opening for such an outcome, as the two key words “at least” leave room to bring the reduction target (and the renewable energy and energy efficiency targets) more in line with the 2°C limit. ECO calls on EU Member States to make every effort to do this, as the last thing the world needs is a lock-in of low ambition in the Paris agreement.

A discussion is also needed about the EU’s obsession with its ten year cycle — five-year cycles are much more suitable to avoid a dangerous lock-in of low ambition.

And ECO hasn’t forgotten the EU’s environment and finance ministers. Their respective council meetings over the next weeks have the potential to keep the EU keep working hard on the road to Lima and thereafter. Both meetings should send much clearer signals to developing countries that the EU is serious about all of the elements of the 2015 agreement, importantly including the means of Implementation for both mitigation and adaptation.

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Hungry but still walking in the Philippines

SolidarityMR

ECO wonders if delegates have noticed that a distinguished fellow negotiator from the Philippines, Yeb Saño, has been absent from this intersessional. Saño, alongside 12 other dedicated fellow walkers, is engaged in a 1000km #ClimateWalk from Manila to the “Ground Zero” of Tacloban city to mark the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda. Known outside the Philippines as Typhoon Haiyan, this superstorm has a semi-official death toll of 15,000, with many people still unaccounted for even a year later.

Along their mammoth journey, the climate walkers are visiting villages devastated by the typhoon, delivering disaster resilience kits and holding forums to discuss how communities can adapt to a changing climate. They will also join the global fast for the climate on November 1st, adding hunger to tiredness in solidarity with the many people whose lives are being affected adversely by climate change.

Delegates who would like to show their support are invited to send their support on social media using #fastfortheclimate and #climatewalk. The campaign continues after the walk concludes, where the first day of the COP in Lima will see many fasting. ECO invites all to participate to set the right tone for the start of COP20.

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Bangladeshis protest against coal expansion in the Sundarbans

Bangladeshis will take to the streets of the capital, Dhaka, this weekend in a colourful, and popular protest against plans for a dirty coal plant that will demolish and degrade huge parts of the Sundarbans - the world’s most pristine mangrove forest, an important tiger reserve, and a UNESCO world heritage site.

People will be taking part in a rally that will showcase local artists, singers and other cultural icons - all of whom are calling on the Bangladeshi government to ditch proposed plans to build a coal-fired power plant in Rampal, a site right on the edge of the precious Sundarbans. This is not their first rally, more than 20,000 joined last year, and they will not stop until the dirty power plant plans are overturned.

The people of Dhaka join a fast-growing group of brave communities taking to the streets and even the seas to prevent dirty energy expansion plans which threaten the world’s most pristine and iconic habitats. A group of Pacific Warriors blockaded an Australian coal port last week, in a spectacular effort to protect their homes and the Great Barrier Reef from dirty energy expansion.

Also last week, the people of the Philippines held a national day of action against coal. More Filipinos are joining every day with the group of dedicated walkers on their 1000km climate change awareness march from Manila to Tacloban - ground zero for typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda that devastated the Philippines in 2014.

The people of Bangladesh are one of many brave communities taking a stand against coal power. The huge coal-plant proposed for Rampal would threaten the world’s most ancient mangrove forest with destruction, dredging, and pollution from boiling, toxic effluent. The effects of the planned coal-plant construction would not only exacerbate climate change, but directly exacerbate climate impacts.

In the recent past the Sundarbans have protected local communities from dangerous cyclones Aila and Sidr. The mangroves provide vital protection from storm surges exacerbated by sea level rise that are a direct result of increased coal use. On top of this the rich Sundarban ecosystems support millions of people with food, water and artisanal industry.

UNESCO have raised serious concerns with both Bangladeshi and Indian governments over the proposed coal plant in the Sundarbans. The questions raised by UNESCO have still not been answered and now the voice of the people of Bangladesh is rising to join the challenge - will the regional governments take heed?

A parable for our time

Far back in the mists of time, Parties agreed on a Durban Platform. Concerned that the train of negotiations might leave the station and quickly gather speed, Parties proceeded to have a two-year “contemplation phase” in an effort to stay on track.

They then decided to go into a “workshop phase” where they were expected to express their basic desires to their benign and all-knowing spiritual guides. These guides would then translate these desires into suitable language for polite company before presenting them to the outside world. But some of the travellers began to complain that they preferred their own words, however unrefined and divergent.

The language of the much-anticipated central covenant of all the peoples was given special treatment, since agreement was not needed immediately. It was particularly elevated and deliberately vague, so that the travellers would not begin to bicker over the details. But some began to rebel against the ritualistic debates and increasingly frustrating attempts to discover exactly what others were talking about, and what they might be able to agree on once they had to make decisions.

More of them started putting forward their own versions of the covenant. Though the guides paid little attention to their crude efforts, they did generously offer the possibility of going into a side carriage on their own and return with more worthy offerings. But they never said what fate would await these offerings.

Meanwhile in the main carriage, the travellers continued to offer up their modest ideas, in the hope the guides would find some of them worthy to put into their non-covenant. But most of them looked in vain for a true representation.

However, the words of one wise traveler resonated from beyond the dawn of time: “Discussions in the absence of negotiations cannot prosper.”

Then began a clamour for true negotiations –to engage with the actual words of their fellow travellers, and not the words of the guides. More and more of them made this demand, but fearful of the consequences if the travellers became too aware of the real divisions among them, the guides preferred to hold to their more refined version as long as possible…

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Mail: from the UN Human Rights Council

Dear Negotiator,

We know you’ve been busy trying to hammer out the details of the Paris Agreement, but ECO would like to draw your attention to an important letter that has been addressed to YOU. This letter was sent, last week by 28 independent experts from the UN Human Rights Council.

Tasked to provide support to all countries with the promotion of human rights—like the right to clean drinking water to development–-these experts all came to the same conclusion: climate change threatens to undermine the protection of human rights. Let this sink in for a moment: it means that the UNFCCC has a crucial role in effectively protecting human rights for all. If you haven’t read the letter, please check your inboxes.

The open letter clearly states that “all of the State Parties to the UNFCCC have committed to respect and protect human rights.” Building on the Cancun Agreements, that makes reference to these obligations, the UN human rights experts urge Parties to:

recognise the adverse effects of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, and to adopt urgent and ambitious mitigation and adaptation measures to prevent further harm. We call on the State Parties to include language in the 2015 climate agreement that provides that the Parties shall, in all climate change related actions, respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights for all. And we urge the State Parties at COP 20 in Lima to launch a work program to ensure that human rights are integrated into all aspects of climate actions.

On behalf of present and future generations, ECO supports these conclusions and calls on all Parties to include rights protections for all.

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Beyond binary

ECO has always believed that the Convention, with its Annexes and principles, need not, and must not, be a straight jacket that restricts the ability of the UNFCCC to adapt to emerging realities. While some developed countries give the distinct impression that they would like to sweep the Annexes (and perhaps the whole Convention) aside and start over, there are now some developing countries showing how we can move forward by building on the current structure of the Convention.

Different proposals have been put forward that provide interesting ways to move past a binary world to cross the rigid firewall.

The LDCs proposed an interesting idea in this regard: Annex I Parties should adopt economy-wide targets, and non-Annex I Parties “in a position to do so” (the so-called “POTODOSO countries”) should do the same. Both of these groups – all parties with economy-wide commitments – would then inscribe these commitments in Annex A to the new agreement. This would be an elegant way of using the current Annexes to ensure no backsliding, while progressing beyond an exclusive reliance on these commitments. ECO could imagine other creative ways to do the same thing.

Another way of moving beyond a binary world is the route proposed by Brazil (yes, that Brazil!). Making clear they did not support a bifurcated approach, Brazil proposes “concentric differentiation”, where Annex I countries with absolute reductions targets are at the centre of concentric circles of less rigorous commitments going outward. (ECO is paraphrasing here.)

So far, so good (or, “so far, so Art. 4.1/4.2”, as it were). But where Brazil advances the discussion is by saying that everyone should be encouraged to move towards the centre over time. This would pave the way for voluntary graduation, and prevent any voluntary backsliding. Many countries should be prepared to move close to (and some into) the coveted inner circle now. ECO is sure they know who they are.

Not content to just signal an interest in an enhanced interpretation of the Convention, Brazil also made a very useful suggestion on finance. Brazil recommended that developing countries indicate South-South financial contributions and collaborative actions in their INDCs. The LDCs’ and AILAC’s submissions also call for financial contributions from an expanded group of countries, while placing primary responsibility on Annex II Parties.

ECO wonders how developed countries will justify their refusal to talk about finance in their INDCs when developing countries are willing to do so.

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