COP17 Durban UN climate talks Nov 28

1:38am GMT: Here’s a new report, produced by the Canadian research group, Polaris Institute, called “Corporations, Climate and the United Nations. It has a sub-title that is so explicit that it almost excuses the reviewer from bothering to study the content:

 How Big Business has Seized Control of Global Climate Negotiations

The introduction explains:

The report will highlight examples of corporate infiltration of the UNFCCC process and show how multilateral and national level climate change policies carry the fingerprints of corporate interests.

At the heart of this conclusion lies the view that business has been awarded a status within the negotiations which is too similar to that enjoyed by NGOs. If you follow the talks, you’ll come across the UN acronym for business interests which rather gives the game away – BINGOs (Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organisations).

The number of BINGO participants attending these annual UN climate talks has grown steadily, exceeding 2,000 by the 2009 round in Copenhagen.

1:58am GMT: Local Durban climate activists put together an enterprising event on Sunday, drawing attention to the threat posed to the city by rising sea level.

They undertook a 3km walk following a blue line marking a potential future high tidemark. Lots of good pictures in this article, although the text isn’t strictly correct – there was no blue line because city authorities withheld permission to paint on roads and pavements.

2:29am GMT: I mentioned last week that the Board Meeting of the Clean Development Mechanism would be considering a proposal to stop awarding carbon credits for new coal-fired power stations.

The Board completed its business on Friday. The NGO CDM-Watch reports that, whilst the proposal was not approved, the Board decided that the rules for coal should be rewritten.

I wonder if the CDM Board will read this arresting article by Shell’s climate change advisor, David Hone. It’s not easy to understand but I think he’s saying that current fossil fuel energy supplies are unable to meet demand (he doesn’t use the phrase “peak oil”) and that the surge in renewable energy production is making good this shortfall rather than displacing oil, coal and gas as intended.

The current approach, which increasingly focuses on a “clean / renewable energy” solution, will not deliver a global reduction – at least not for a long time….. on a global basis we are simply shuffling the fossil energy supply from one place to another

This is not exactly a message to warm the hearts of environmental campaigners in Durban.

Mr Hone’s solution is to scrap all carbon credits for projects in developing countries except those relating to deforestation and carbon capture and storage technologies.

This is all quite radical and complicated. I hope that my colleagues or other media in Durban may be able to find David Hone and unpick his message.

10:40am GMT: At the first NGO press conference of the Durban talks, Friends of the Earth International has entered the ring with fists flying. Metaphorically of course, as Meena Raman in particular has more potent weaponry in her use of language.

Attendance for barely an hour of the opening plenary session in the main hall has been enough for Ms Raman to feel alarmed. She accused the new president of the conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, of framing the discourse without reference to the texts which should be governing her role – the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

Instead her speech prejudges a search for unsatisfactory compromise in which:

you have historical responsibilities wiped out…. and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities removed

The NGO battle lines are drawn.

11:32am GMT: There are rumours this morning that Canada may withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Not just from a second commitment period from 2012 (which we already know) but lock stock and barrel now, cheerio and goodbye.

The story was discussed by Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, at this morning’s press conference given by the Climate Action Network. Meyer outlined the global warming chargesheet against Canada that will lengthen further if the rumour proves founded:

first it has not respected its formal obligations under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol; second it has offered very weak pledges of emissions reductions to 2020, and third it dumps its participation in the Kyoto Protocol early

“This is not what we need in these talks – a race to the bottom,” said Meyer, “we need ambition to get to the top.”

He called for Canada to make its intentions plain. Either commit to the negotiations on the fight against climate change or stand aside. “Other countries can and should go ahead regardless,” he said.

I understand that the Canadian parliament will be in session later today and it’s likely that the government will be challenged to make its position clear.

12:15pm GMT: The Climate Action Network has just completed its first press conference of the Durban talks. CAN is a worldwide network of over 700 Non-Governmental Organizations in more than 90 countries – its experts hold regular media sessions at UN climate negotiations.

CAN’s checklist for a successful Durban outcome:

* agreement to a second commitment period of emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol from 2012 for those countries currently participating

* agreement by all other countries to a mandate to complete negotiations for a long term binding treaty on emissions by 2015 at the latest

* the establishment of the Green Climate Fund together with clarity on where and when its funding will come from

Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists sketched out the political forces which will determine whether these goals will be achieved.

He depicts a tussle between a “coalition of the willing” (who favour an outcome broadly consistent with CAN’s position) and a “coalition of the unwilling” (who want the binding regime of the Kyoto Protocol to wither way, to be replaced with a national “pledge and review’ system).

12:39pm GMT: Last night’s local flooding in Durban, with tragic loss of lives, is rapidly making its presence felt in the global political debate in the International Conference Centre. Here’s Artur Runge Metzger, head of the delegation of the European Commission in the press conference just ending now:

how high does the water need to get in these conference places before the negotiators reach agreement

Both Mr Runge Metzger and his colleague Tomasz Chruszow from Poland look tired and sound croaky and they haven’t even started the negotiations yet. But Artur spelled out Europe’s position:

Kyoto alone cannot save the planet. Today it covers only 25% of emissions, in the next period it may be only 15%. Countries are running away from the Kyoto Protocol and that’s not going to solve the climate crisis. That is why we need both developed and developing countries to tell us where is this proces going to. Otherwise the public will lose confidence in this travelling circus that connot reach compromise.

I may not be word perfect but this is very close.

1:24pm GMT: Jonathan Pershing, head of the US delegation, is back in full swing at the first US press conference from the Durban talks.

He keeps using the phrase “post 2020 agreement” which has annoyed me sufficiently to switch off. I’ll revisit the tape of the full session later on.

This is exactly what Meena Raman was talking about at the Friends of the Earth press conference. It’s a standard negotiating ploy to frame everything you say as though what you want has been agreed, airbrushing even the slightest acknowledgement that a credible alternative exists.

Pershing is presenting the emission reduction pledges made after the 2009 Copenhagen talks as though the UN process never had any intention of hard-coding them into a legally-binding treaty, as though the Kyoto Protocol and the Framework Convention on Climate Change don’t exist.

He compounded the felony by expressing the view that none of the major economies will improve on their pledges in the meantime. So much for the recent barrage of scientific reports warning of the inadequacy of these pledges.

The US delegation is hitting the ground running, full tilt to put their heads in the Durban sands.

3:20pm GMT: More details are emerging of just how close the UN climate talks came to disruption by an extreme weather event of the type that may become more prevalent if the negotiations continue to falter.

The senior UN climate official, Christiana Figueres, began today’s press conference with an expression of condolence for the lives lost in last night’s deluge in Durban. She went on:

I would like to reassure participants that this building (the International Conference Centre) is safe. It was inspected after the storm. There has been some damage to the roof and some flooding in the basement but as you saw everything was back in place for the opening ceremony and and the rest of the reparation is under way. 

Ms Figueres continued with a stern message for the negotiators:

What we witnessed last night was unseasonable weather for Durban and it is the type of unseasonable weather we are seeing all over the world as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise. To make the world climate safe and avoid climate change from spinning out of control, this meeting needs to take the next decisive steps in a global response to climate change.

Everyone in the Conference Centre today must have been disturbed in the night. Those who live in temperate zones may never have experienced such ferocity in nature. Perhaps too they have never seen the poorer township districts of cities, such as Durban, which are defenceless against such extremes.

Let’s hope they tell their ministers arriving next week what it was like.

4:02pm GMT: South Africa’s minister for international relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, has just completed her first press conference as newly elected president of the UN climate change conference taking place in Durban.

Her prepared script may reassure those concerned that the negotiations may lose sight of the principles of the UN Convention that are supposed to frame all discussions. For example, there was repeated reference to the importance of a multilateral rules-based response to climate change.

But the question session was far more revealing. When asked about Africa, instead of flooding us with jargon about adaptation and climate resilience, Ms Mashabane went straight to the heart of the matter:

the biggest challenge for Africa is that efforts for the total eradication of poverty get rolled back by climate change

As much of my work focuses on exactly this problem, I’m on side with the new president.

Then there was a great moment when she misheard a Bloomberg question about the EU and launched into observations about the AU (African Union).

If you put Africa at the centre of things, you get different answers.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK