With the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development coming up in June, it’s important to reflect on what we want the next ten years to look like for our environment, our economy, and our communities.
Under Stephen Harper the Canadian Government has become a seasoned veteran when it comes to dealing with criticism for their lack of action on climate change and reckless approach to tar sands expansion. This week in Canada, there has been a triple blow to the Government’s climate and energy policy from some prominent sources:
- National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy – this para-governmental institute with close ties to the conservative government released a report that estimates climate change impacts and adaptation costs in Canada have been seriously underestimated. The report finds that these costs could reach between 21 and 43 billion dollars per year by 2050.
- Canada’s Environment Commissioner – the Government’s own watchdog, issued a report saying he could find no evidence that the government had any plan that would come close to reaching even its own weak GHG reduction targets. He went on to berate the government for basing tar sands projects on “incomplete, poor, or non-existent environmental information.”
- European Commission – despite years of aggressive lobbying by the Canadian and Albertan Governments, the European Commission is sticking to the science and insisting that their Fuel Quality Directive reflect the high GHG content of the tar sands. This precedent-setting decision, sends a clear signal reinforcing the truth that the tar sands are one of the world’s dirtiest fuels.
Responding to questions in Parliament on these reports Environment Minister Peter Kent tried to reassure his colleagues that, “our government has definitely not given up on the environment.” One could almost hear the proverbial ice melting from under his feet. Oh Canada!
After a unexciting first couple of days, today out of the blue in the LCA contact group on finance, delegates picked up the pace. It was a pleasure to see negotiators giving thoughtful and creative responses to the Chair's questions and to each other's proposals. The Chair chose wisely in selecting finance, which underpins progress on many other areas, for the first deep engagement with the new negotiating text. Parties responded by presenting new ideas and arguments on the complex linkages between institutions as well as the need for effectiveness and accountability to the UNFCCC and its governing bodies. There is a clear consensus about the establishment of a new fund, and some new and creative thinking about how an overarching Finance Board could provide an oversight or coordinating function. But no institutional framework for financing can be effective without sufficient funding. To ensure rapid progress on scaling up finance, the LCA must also continue its discussion of sources, in parallel with the discussions under the Advisory Group on Climate Finance (AGF), which is holding a workshop on Saturday to report on progress and receive input. The AGF has an opportunity to make rapid progress on identifying sources of funding for climate actions in developing countries. However, the LCA cannot just wait until the AGF presents its final report in November to take up the issue of sources, if it hopes to move from analysis to action this year. Parties should start actively discussing sources of public funds in the LCA now, and incorporate and build on the analyses and recommendations of the AGF, starting with the interim report expected in July. Avenues to explore include new and innovative sources of public finance, including bunkers mechanisms, financial transaction taxes (FTTs), Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) and international auctioning of AAUs. Then in Cancun, the LCA can be in a position to adopt substantial decisions and provide clear guidance for the work of the UNFCCC and other bodies in the coming year. This can lead to adoption of a comprehensive set of decisions on financing sources and institutions as part of an ambitious comprehensive agreement in Cancun. All this is possible if leaders have the political will; but short of that, Parties can agree a more modest but still ambitious package of decisions to demonstrate the viability of the UNFCCC process and support the scaling up of mitigation and adaptation actions on the ground.
As parties walk into the LCA contact group on Shared Vision this morning, ECO will be thinking ahead to a final destination does not yet look clear. Nearly all Parties agree to a global goal of staying below 2o C, and even so, more than 100 parties call for stabilizing temperature rise at well below 1.5o C compared to pre-industrial levels. But the current path Parties are taking us towards is a close to a 4o path. So we hope the contact group proceeds with the right motivation and a visionary mindset. The Shared Vision discussions can help avoid the 4o path only if parties engage in a constructive and trust-building dialogue today that will advance the text in substance, move towards convergence of views and provide clarity to both.
ECO is eagerly awaiting today’s side event at which the EU will present its preliminary report on its fast start finance pledge. Not because the report itself will bring any new information to light -- it was leaked to the press weeks ago -- but to see EU negotiators try to answer the question on the lips of NGOs and developing country negotiators everywhere . . . how exactly is EU fast start finance 'new and additional'? Other developed countries might like to attend and pick up some tips. The EU had the right idea in suggesting a report on whether they were keeping their promises. This might help make up for the fact that most EU Member States have done a pretty good job over the years at breaking long-standing promises to provide finance to poor countries, whether as aid or climate finance under the UNFCCC. The Spanish Presidency started well, collecting information on Member State pledges, but then a problem arose. The EU's commitment first made in Brussels at the December leaders’ summit did not address whether the promises they were making were “new and additional” as required by the Copenhagen Accord. It is clear that this means over and above the target to provide at least 0.7% gross national income (GNI) in official development assistance (ODA). Climate change imposes new costs on developing countries, so new money is needed to tackle it. Instead of owning up to relabeling old some ODA pledges and then adding them to the new fast-start climate finance total, EU governments thought it best to keep quiet and hope no one noticed . . . but some did. Failing to ensure that climate finance is new and additional to existing ODA targets takes money that would otherwise have been available for spending on schools and hospitals in developing countries, to name one example. And that at a time when budgets for essential services are already being cut in the face of economic downturn. And we won't mention more than just this once that most countries aren't even achieving their longstanding ODA pledges. All that said, ECO welcomes the EU’s readiness to face the music in today’s side event. We hope they come clean about recycling past promises and are ready to answer questions on the scale of money going to different countries, and will detail how it will flow through bilateral and multilateral channels, as grants and loans, and for adaptation and mitigation. This is just a preliminary report, and the EU will have another chance to get it right in the annual report due at COP 16. But to provide genuine transparency, and to ensure that the US and other rich countries are held accountable too, they should seek a common reporting framework. The Secretariat could be asked to take that on and add meat to the EU’s bare bones.
This is the International Year of Biodiversity. ‘So what’ ECO hears you say. ‘Nothing to do with us – we just deal with climate change.’ That would be wrong! Biological diversity supports ecosystems essential for human life, including climate regulation, water, food security and protection from natural disasters. Climate change is an increasing cause of biodiversity loss that in turn adds to the impacts of climate change. Healthy ecosystems are particularly important for people living in poverty – they depend far more directly on natural resources for their livelihoods and survival. Ah, now you’re seeing the connection to our agenda . . . The starting point is that mitigation and adaptation must be based on sound science. An important new report, ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 3’ (Convention on Biological Diversity, May 2010) supports this. GEO3 is also a wake up call. In many places across the world, natural systems supporting economies, lives and livelihoods are at risk of rapid degradation and collapse. While the poorest people suffer disproportionately from deteriorating ecosystems, ultimately, everyone stands to lose. Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked. Government policy and our personal choices determine how human drivers of both will shape our future. Time is short. The challenge to stay below 2o C of warming looms ever larger. The current Copenhagen pledges add up to a 3o to 4o C world by 2100 at best. At the same time, we have massively failed to meet the CBD’s target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss globally by 2010 (agreed by world leaders at the Johannesburg World Summit in 2002 and integrated into the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs). Catastrophic changes to our planet could happen well within the lifetime of our children. One planet. Unabated, these crises will change our planet’s unique human-life supporting conditions. Above 2o C of warming, ecosystem capacity to meet the needs of present and future generations will be severely compromised. In fact, even at a 1.5o C increase, lives in vulnerable places such as small island developing states and communities in the polar regions will be tremendously difficult, and for some, impossible. Costs increase the more we delay. TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, 2009) is providing an economic evidence base for decision-makers, as Stern did for climate change. Addressing these challenges together will reduce costs and secure multiple benefits. But we must not steal from one pot to put money into another. New, not recycled, public money is essential. Money promised in the CBD process in the past should not be counted towards satisfying fast-start finance promises. Adaptation can support or harm nature and people. Supporting natural and social resilience is cost effective, locally appropriate and our insurance mechanism for the future. Mitigation. Nature can help. Ecosystems such as forests and peatlands absorb and store carbon, as do oceans and water bodies. If our mitigation choices harm natural systems, such as biofuels replacing natural forest, we risk releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. 190 Parties engaged in the UNFCCC are also signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Meeting the MDGs by 2015 is the international commitment to tackle poverty. This year through to Rio+20 in 2012 provides an opportunity not to be missed. Governments will meet to discuss biodiversity in New York this September and Nagoya in October, international development at the MDG Summit in New York in September and climate change in Cancun at the end of 2010. Parties in the UNFCCC have a crucial role to play in encouraging cooperation and ensuring effective opportunities to make sure the links are made at national and international levels. Addressing these interconnected crises in a mutually reinforcing way is the only realistic and cost effective way forward for our modern world.
The irony is rich: interventions by two nongovernmental were mysteriously overlooked in the SBI yesterday. The topic? Public participation in the climate negotiations. Civil society participation plays a critical role in this process. We can't say it better than the Secretariat itself in its guidelines. 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 [and] promotes transparency." Importantly, effective public participation also helps ensure the legitimacy and public acceptance of negotiation outcomes. To be sure, the experience in Copenhagen – where the public was more engaged than ever before – has caused some Parties to forget that they agreed in the Convention to "encourage the widest participation in this process, including that of non-governmental organizations." Instead, civil society is being pushed to the margins, with opportunities to contribute increasingly limited to chance hallway encounters and loading up the tables near side events with food and drinks to entice elusive negotiators. Civil society is happy to promote conviviality and informal contact, but the negotiations require substantive and formal involvement as well. ECO suggests the UNFCCC and its parties embrace the growing popularity of the process and seek to use that as an opportunity to improve performance rather than shy away. And now is the time to start. A contact group is meeting today to discuss process issues related to intergovernmental meetings. This group must take up the question of public participation ensure meaningful participation throughout these processes. It should start by permitting designated NGO representatives to actively engage on the issue of participation in today's contact group, as well as in future formal and informal sessions on this issue. As the SBI and the Secretariat consider these issues, ECO urges them to ensure a few basic principles. Measures should always be aimed at ensuring the broadest participation possible in the given circumstance. At a minimum, this means preserving and enhancing opportunities for routine civil society input through official interventions, submissions and consultations. Relevant rules must be transparent and provide for independent review of particular decisions limiting participation. Access to information is the lifeblood of meaningful participation; all key documents should be posted on the Secretariat's website as soon as they are finalized. Indeed, the Secretariat should take the lead in ensuring meaningful public participation and so must have sufficient and increased resources to be able to do so effectively. Additionally, each host country government bears great responsibility as well. Host country agreements should be made public and incorporate an obligation to facilitate participation. As host of COP-16, Mexico must take proactive steps to guarantee effective civil society participation in Cancún. Ambassador de Alba's proven record as a strong defender of human rights gives ECO hope in this regard. Unfortunately, Cancún's geography creates a cause for concern. Direct access to negotiators is essential. Civil society should have broad access to the venues where formal negotiations are taking place except in extreme conditions. In addition, Mexico must guarantee that space for side events and other civil society activities is easily and quickly accessible to all participants. Civil society also serves as an extremely valuable technical and political resource for Parties, especially in developing countries. Parties should always be enabled and encouraged to take advantage of these resources however they choose, including by inviting them onto their delegations where appropriate. Finally, the SBI and the Secretariat should take advantage of an expert resource: the Secretariat of the Aarhus Convention has offered its assistance in resolving UNFCCC public participation concerns. Aarhus input would be valuable. Civil society is not here just to vent our frustration or make the negotiations more difficult. We have a right to participate and much to contribute. It is time for the Parties and the Secretariat to take heed, and then take action.
ECO has been excited about the buzz that’s been created around closing the gigatonne gap over the last few days. Delegates are waking up to the need to raise ambition, close loopholes and seek new and innovative solutions to cutting emissions. But ECO would like to remind developed country delegates that it’s not just a mitigation gap – it’s a finance gap too. In line with the mandate to implement all elements of the Bali Action Plan, billions in new, additional, public finance are needed to support nationally appropriate mitigation actions in developing countries. Failure to do so would keep the gigatonne gap wide open.
As delegates negotiate here in Bonn, northern parts of India are suffering through a record heat wave pushing thermometers to nearly 50o C and setting new temperature records – a hallmark of climate change. Hundreds have died, a tragic reminder that adaptation has its limits. Pakistan, too, has lost lives to the heat wave gripping South Asia. Elsewhere this week other countries also suffered through events that fit the grim trend of ever more extreme weather driven by global warming. Tropical storm Agatha ravaged Central America, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands and taking over a hundred lives in epic flooding driven by record heavy rains, another likely fingerprint of global warming which drives more moisture into storms. In Alaska, temperature records are tumbling and wildfires rage in an unprecedented early start to the fire season that has already witnessed 193 fires and emptied every smokejumper base in the state. With negotiators now staring at each other over the tables in Bonn, already six months removed from Copenhagen, the question of the day is whether they have a political mandate from their home capitals to get moving, or whether we will witness two weeks of rhetoric and no action. The climate has already delivered its mandate, but will politics trump science?