“Mommy, before you go to work, tell me again the story about how ships and airplanes saved the world…”
“Sure, dear. Back at the beginning of the century, believe it or not, most people weren’t very sure that we could avoid a climate catastrophe and still give the world’s growing population a long, prosperous and happy life.
“Government diplomats met over and over again at big international meetings and mainly told each other why their countries were already doing more than they needed to and why other countries should do more. Just like mommy and daddy arguing over who should wash the dishes after dinner.
“But their most clever and silly arguments were about ships and airplanes. They even argued about where they should argue about this. They would argue in one meeting that voting was against everything they stood for, and in the next that voting was healthy and indispensible. ”
“But why would they do something silly like that, mommy?”
“These diplomats weren’t quite sure how to blame each other for pollution from ships and airplanes, because it happened in between countries. And if they couldn’t blame each other, they had to come up with new arguments. The people who owned their own ships and airplanes came up with clever arguments for not doing anything, which many diplomats repeated enthusiastically.
“But they never argued so much as when one group of countries got tired of all the arguing and decided to actually do something to control pollution from planes visiting their countries. That got other countries arguing even louder, especially those who listened most closely to the owners of ships and airplanes.
“But what they worried the most about was that success in controlling pollution from ships and aircraft might encourage efforts to reduce the rest of the pollution.
"Some rich countries thought all the ships and planes should get the same treatment. Some poor countries (and some richer ones who still wanted to be treated like poor ones) thought this was the worst idea in the world, because if all ships and airplanes were treated equally, then all cars, steel mills and coal plants might also be treated equally. ”
“But, mommy, you can’t cross the ocean in a car or a steel mill, right?”
“That’s right dear, so the arguments went on and on. Until one day they stopped. No one was quite sure why. Perhaps they got tired of arguing. Perhaps because a meeting happened at the same time as the most powerful typhoon ever in the world hit one of their countries, which made them think about what might happen to all of them if they didn’t stop polluting.
“Whatever the reason, they decided that ships and aircraft had to do their fair share to save the climate.
"They set limits for emissions from these sectors and made sure they paid for their pollution, and used part of the money to make more efficient ships and planes, and the rest to help poor countries develop without polluting, and to adapt to climate disruptions.
“The world was so thankful to the diplomats who made this happen, that the other diplomats decided they should stop arguing for doing nothing and find solutions for the rest of the emissions as well.
“And that’s why now I can be the captain of a ship with almost zero emissions, so efficient that on a good day it gets most of its power from the wind. Now I’ve got to get on board and raise the sail. Promise me you’ll study hard while I’m gone.”
“Mommy – I’m so proud of you. See you on Skype soon!”
Photo Credit: SustainUS
ECO has been pondering the evident marginalization of the ‘civil society voice’ lately and started scribbling a few preambular thoughts on a serviette…
- Reaffirming that vibrant public participation “allows vital experience, expertise, information and perspectives from civil society to be brought into the process to generate new insights and approaches”1;
- Acknowledging the respectful, positive and constructive dialogue at the December 1 ADP Special Event;
- Encouraging Parties and the Secretariat to provide roundtables and other opportunities to enhance the full inclusion of civil society as a relevant and meaningful voice in these negotiations; . . .
1Guidelines for participation of representative of NGOs at meetings of the bodies of the UNFCCC.
Photo Credit: CAN Europe
Negotiations here at Rio+20 appear to have come to a standstill. Member states can’t seem to agree to much of anything; the multilateral process, intended to promote ‘cooperation, compromise and dialogue’, has turned into a frantic scramble to produce ‘some’ nay ‘any’ kind of tangible outcome of the conference. So far, ‘compromise’ has meant the deletion of entire paragraphs of text that countries have been unable to agree upon. There is a real threat here that this enormous global opportunity could be wasted.
At this crucial moment delegations would do well to take heed to civil society groups, who have had no trouble coming to consensus on some of the most important outcomes from this summit, namely ending the nearly $1 trillion annual subsidy for fossil fuels.
Over the last several weeks thousands of people around the world have voted online for their sustainable development priorities as part of the Rio-Dialogues process. The No.1 response was “take concrete steps to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.” In the lead up to Rio, Avaaz.org, 350.org and many others collected over a million signatures against these regressive handouts and yesterday on Twitter #endfossilfuelsubsidies was a top trending topic worldwide; while hundreds of youth and their allies marched through the Rio Centro complex to highlight that incentives for atmospheric pollution and outdated technologies are not part of the future we want.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, as part of its Vision 2050 report, said that by 2020 governments must “remove subsidies that encourage over-consumption and resource degradation.” The Trade Union Assembly on Labour and the Environment, held last week, articulated a very different vision than the business community on many issues. However, the two groups agreed on the importance of “fair and environmentally-sound tax policies” with labor calling for a “just transition” away from fossil fuel dependency. Over 170 NGOs have co-signed a letter calling for a socially equitable phase out. Similar calls have been made by other major groups for the scientific and technological community, youth and women , to name just a few.
Yet, despite all of this, over the past few days the text on subsidies has gotten increasingly weaker. We must ask why. One explanation is that civil society has not been given an appropriate space to voice the importance of this issue. In an attempt to move these negotitations forward, the Brazilian government took energy negotiations behind closed doors at the beginning of the prepcom. They facilitated discussions that included only a few key states and no representatives from civil society. While this could be seen as a pragmatic move, ECO must dissent. Fossil fuel subsidies are clearly a critical issue for civil society globally and must be brought into the center of deliberations in the coming days. Bringing in more voices, particularly those who have already come to consensus across ideological divides, enhances the credibility and productive potential of this process.
The Brazilian Presidency and the UNCSD have an enormous opportunity but they need to act fast. By bringing fossil fuel subsidy reform into the heart of negotiations they can demonstrate a commitment to responsive leadership,and to the global mandate they have received. This would significantly improve the actual and perceived legitimacy of this process and would be an important first step toward advancing a more ambitious agenda.
There are no guarantees that subsidy reform will make it into a final text. However, there is a strong case to made that by discussing it openly we can find language acceptable to all parties. For example, it appears that some countries are worried that a phase out would undermine their ability to develop or would create a domestic political backlash. These concerns can be assuaged by discussion that includes actors like Switzerland, Costa Rica or Ethiopia. These delegations will surely be happy to talk about how their countries have removed perverse energy incentives and found more effective ways to protect the poor and reinvest in projects that drive positive feedbacks for sustainable development. Civil Society groups can offer enormous insight based on their research and experience in affected communities.
We have an important choice to make. We can continue grasping at straws over issues that are stuck in the mud or we can directly tackle one of the largest obstacles to achieving a green economy that alleviates poverty and strengthens opportunities for development. Civil society has provided a path, now leaders need to take it.