Not the Wakeup Call, the Final Call


As Parties took stock of the snail paced progress achieved during the first week at the Conference Centre, residents of Metro Manila were taking stock of lost lives, dwellings and personal belongings that came about due to tropical storm Ondoy.  An unprecedented flood, drenching the region with a month's worth of rain in 6 hours, seems clearly linked to climate change.

Following the dual plenaries on Friday afternoon, stretching into the evening, ECO wondered how many people would have to die and how much property would be destroyed before governments around the world take stock of their serious lack of ambition and wake up to the urgency of the moment.

As the representative from Mauritius pointed out, “This is not the wake up call, this is the final call.”

The KP and LCA plenaries seemed a flat ending to a fitfully productive week.  Was it the late hour, the profusion of repetitious rhetoric, or the inability of delegates to find new and transformational elements in the long discussions?

To be fair, negotiations have moved forward at a slow but measureable pace on adaptation, technology transfer and capacity building. But the keystone, emission reduction targets by developed countries, was sadly still cast in cotton. This is not at all good news.  Perhaps, as New Zealand said, enhancing the scale of actual aggregate and country by country proposals for emissions reductions is out of the hands of this process and must be taken up at the political level.

So that leaves the other essential task to be completed by next Friday in Bangkok: very substantial progress toward clean, non repetitive, negotiating text.  Parties should be in a position to step on the accelerator starting immediately.  This was the clear message from vulnerable country parties in the plenary.

The week-long discussions in the AWG-KP did not deliver the paradigm shift that would help keep global warming well below 2oC. Developing country parties raised the issue repeatedly in their interventions, pointing out among other things that for them this is a question of survival.

But a different and rather unfortunate emerging theme is the clear realization that the Kyoto Protocol is at risk of unraveling; indeed, as Mauritius said, a feeling that a deliberate attempt was being made to do so.  This is hardly the kind of  news the world is looking for while watching the evidence of our vulernability to natural disasters (whether or not climate related) in Metro Manila, Sydney, Samoa and Sumatra.

The lack of sufficient aggregate targets put on the table by developed countries, and only reluctant discussion on on finance and legal architecture, are holding other key parts of the discussions hostage. The lack of clarity on the future form and regulatory aspects of market and non- market based mechanisms is muddying the waters further.

The deliberate insertion of response measures into the adaptation text by some developing country parties is unhelpful and is verging on blocking progress in the contact group.  And the inability of both developed and developing countries to get their act to together on bunkers (especially on the issue of International Air Passenger Levy for Adaptation) is a looming failure in an increasingly climate constrained world.

Over the week in various contact groups it seemed that parties were resorting to their favorite activity – reiterating long memorized positions across the spectrum of issues so they can play the blame game later.  But blame aside, it is readily evident that the slow pace of negotiations only plays into the hands of those parties who don’t want a real deal at Copenhagen.

Despite the predictable recycling of rhetoric this past week, ECO doesn't mind repeating itself on this key reality: global emissions must peak within the next 5-year commitment period, and be reduced thereafter on the order of at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, in order to ensure the survival of the poorest and most vulnerable countries and communities.   These reductions must be pursued in the spirit of equity and justice, especially when it comes to the needs of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries.

Delegates should note that what was true in New York last week on the immensity of the climate challenge remains true here this week and next. Bangkok cannot be another lost opportunity for the international community to deliver on its obligations to the the environment, future generations and particularly the most vulnerable communities and countries.  The disaster zones we saw on our TV screens and laptops this week were a mere hint of the losses to come if dangerous climate change is not averted.

So ECO returns to the theme that closed our first review of the week.

Delegates here in Bangkok must realize that the best rhetoric in the world won’t by itself build a single wind turbine, save a single acre of rainforest, or help a single village respond to the impacts of climate change.  Actions speak louder than words.

[Article published in Climate Action Network's Eco Newspaper, Oct. 3, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand UNFCCC negotiations - full PDF version here]