COP17 UnMerry-Go-Round: US Delays, Canada Obstructs, China Willing To Act, But India Won't
The COP17 climate talks in Durban are moving into a closed-door phase of talks, with both some small encouraging but mostly discouraging developments. Let's review some of the headlines.
US Hamstrung on Climate
Let's lead off with what UN climate head Christiana Figueres has said about the United States in regards to climate. She's pretty much nails it for me:
The US is hamstrung. And I wonder how long it's going to take the US civil society...to realize that climate change is affecting them directly; it's not just affecting somebody else. I really think the US population needs to understand that this is not just their historical responsibility, but this is their future that they're compromising. And when that awareness is raised, then I think the government will make more ambitious decisions. I think there's no public pressure in the United States to take any more ambitious decision.
Well, I'm not sure Figueres is entirely right about that last part. Polls consistently show that a majority of US residents (if not an overwhelming one) want action on climate change. The issue is partly about public pressure and certainly about not yet feeling like climate is affecting the public, but it's more about it seems the fact that the US political process is thoroughly corrupt at the moment, with all but a meager handful of national politicians either in the pocket of polluter or financiers and neither having the will to change from what they perceive will turn them a quick short-term profit.
Which feeds directly into...
Delaying Climate Action Till 2020 Means Death
Adopt a Negotiator, ever diligent as they team is, highlights the move to push off a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to 2020—what they are calling "Durban's Dirty Number"—a move which would ensure that we will exceed 2°C temperature rise, condemn millions of people to death due to climate-related disasters, and, well, fail miserably as a species.
Until the new post-Kyoto agreement comes into play the parties would be locked into the agreed emission reduction targets from the Cancun Agreements (if they sign onto the Kyoto Protocol). These targets, if maintained until 2020, while certainly better than nothing, would lock us onto a path towards 3.5 degrees Celsius, according to a recent analysis by Climate Action Tracker. In order to deviate from that pathway towards a 2 degree (never mind 1.5 degree) target, the effort that would have to be taken from 2020, as opposed to if we implemented the new treaty on 2015, would be monumental, and, quite frankly, politically impossible. That is because the longer the delay the faster we need to reduce emissions and the harder it becomes. According to the Climate Action Tracker report if we take on an ambitious new treaty at 2015 to take us 2 degrees, we will need to reduce our emissions by 2.1% per year. If we wait until 2020, however, the rate of reduction in order to arrive at the same target, if we only move at 2020 will be 4% per annum. Given that the highest predicted reduction rates at 3.5% per annum, according to the UNEP Emissions Gap report, that would put us in the realm of the extremely difficult to impossible and the costs of doing so would be immense.
In my more cynical moments I think that the polluting class knows full well that putting off an agreement to 2020 will ensure the climate change happens, and then will be able to argue that there's no point in cutting emissions—after all, dangerous climate change would then be assured so we might as well just keep polluting. But then again, I actively try not to be that cynical.
Canada Loves Tar Sands Profits More Than Climate
And then there's Canada, standing up as a solid member of the polluting class of nations, and in the way of taking any meaningful action on climate—no doubt and with no obfuscation because of their sizable tar sands reserves and gleeful desire to refine every last bit of them.
Adopt a Negotiator again:
Of notable concern is the stance of Canada towards commitment to a second KP period. At a press conference yesterday in Durban, Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent suggested it will not be swayed by China to sign on to a second commitment period. When asked this morning in the Canadian Delegation briefing Ambassador Guy St. Jacques suggested that they anticipated the actual demands from China before taking a serious opinion of them. But when asked whether the release of such details would sway Canada to being committed to a second phase of KP the ambassador deferred his response to the same speaking notes repeated since the beginning of the COP that they are looking for an alternative arrangement. Such an arrangement one can guess would be far weaker in ambition and based on voluntary targets and pledges.
This puts Canada in a seriously disappointing position. As the only major emitter to outright refuse any of China’s conditions, Canada is literally the greatest block standing in the way of an internationally agreed upon and legally binding set of emissions under a second KP period. With only a suggested six years to peak global emissions before the window on keeping global average temperatures under 2C, Canada’s failure to negotiate in good faith with the international community shows their intention to put polluters before people, especially communities downstream from the Athabasca tar sands, which Minister Kent has openly expressed his commitment to defending at COP17.
China Willing to Make Moves With EU, But Who Will Join Them?
As for that part about being swayed by China, it refers to the apparent willingness of China to go along with EU proposals (at least consider them with conditions) that attempt to salvage some semblance of progress in Durban.
Xie Zhenhua , head of the Chinese delegation in Durban, said China was happy to talk to the EU and others, but said that the richest countries should meet existing obligations to cut emissions, enshrined in the Kyoto protocol, and shoulder the burden of cuts. "Every country shall undertake obligations and responsibilities according to their capacity. China would love to take part in that. China would like to join a legal document," he said.
Which is great—though tempered significantly by the fact that India, which continues to take notable positive action on expanding renewable energy and tackling climate domestically, now says it won't be going along with any new climate treaty that binds it to emission reduction targets.