The Mexico City Pact is Officially Presented at COP16

-by Moisés Flores Baca

On November 21 of this year the the World Mayors Summit on Climate took place in Mexico City, there, mayors from 142 cities around the world signed the “Mexico City Pact”, by which the signatories commit themselves to take meaningful action to reduce the emissions produced by their cities. Yesterday such pact, which contains the point of view on climate change and climate action of cities such as LA and Seoul, was officially presented to the members of the COP16.

The meeting was opened by the chair of the COP16, Patricia Espinosa, who emphasized the importance of the role of local governments and parliaments in the decision making process to address climate change. She said that it is well known that ‘politics is always local’, and that local politics is the one that has the deepest and most resounding effects on people, hence, the voice of local governments cannot go unheard in the climate negotiations since those governments are the ones closest to the people.

After the opening remarks by Patricia Espinosa it was Cristiana Figueres’ turn to speak. She added to what Ms Espinosa said that local governments are also at the front line when it comes to concrete climate action. She then brought up Calderon’s point -given during his speech the day before- that the only way to close both the wealth and the environmental gaps is to effectively combat the problem of climate change. Development and climate stability do not have to be mutually exclusive. However, for effective climate action to take place, she continued, it is imperative that national governments have confidence that they can reach agreements, confidence that can only be gained if we, the general public, give them our full support. Figueres continued by echoing what she said during her meeting with the youth representatives last week: that we are here now in Cancun to fertilize the ground upon which a legally binding agreement must bloom in the future -that is, in Durban 2011. Figueres also highlighted the importance there is in the fact that 142 mayors have come up with an agreement for climate action -the one signed in Mexico City- that demonstrates not only a common understanding of the climate problematic, but also a commitment to take the first steps toward a more sustainable way of doing things. She called on negotiators to look at what happened in Mexico City in November as an example of what should be happening here at Cancun, and must happen in future negotiations. She concluded by saying that at the climate negotiations there are four sectors that is imperative to take into account if we are to achieve our climate goals: the national governments level, the city and local governments level, the civil society, and the private sector. Only with these four working together we will attain a truly sustainable future.

Then it was the turn to listen to Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico City’s Mayor and the winer of the 2010 World Mayor Prize. Ebrard started by emphasizing the fact that yesterday was a historical day since it was the first time that a declaration signed by local governments is presented to the COP. In this way the importance that local governments play in the fight against climate change is recognized. After mentioning the fact that 142 cities including cities from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas are signatories of the declaration presented, Ebrad explained that the effort made by the cities is not only to criticize the process of negotiations carried out by the UNFCCC, but rather, it is to support that effort. It is to remind them that the time they are spending is not only theirs, but it belongs to every single person on earth because it is the future of everyone that is at stake. Thus negotiators do not have the right to lose time, however, he continued, if cities such as LA or Seoul have been able to agree on drastically reducing their emissions, why do we have to wait for the international actors to reach an agreement?: local governments should take the first step and there is in fact a lot that they can do. Ebrad concluded by announcing that next year the results of the emission reduction plans of the cities signatories of the Mexico City Agreement will be made public for the whole world, keeping the spirit of transparency that he considers is essential to achieve the goals set.

For the second half of the event there were three speakers, the mayor of Brussels, a representative of Namibia, and Vancouver’s council, who respectively emphasized the fact that cities are the most efficient kind of human settlement arrangement that exists, the responsibility bore by parliamentarians to their people, and the irony of being willing to bail out bankers but not to commit to investing $100 billion a year to fight the effects of climate change.

I think that the most important take out point from the presentation of the Mexico City Agreement to the COP is that, perhaps, if the national governments around the world are incapable of reaching emissions reduction agreements, we should reach out to city or other levels of government. We do not have to solely rely on national governments.

Ocean acidification, a problem that requires more attention than it has received

-by Moisés Flores Baca

Yesterday I attended a side event about ocean acidification titled “Taking action on Ocean Acidification: Opportunities under UNFCCC” organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It focused on the ways ocean acidification can be included within international policy against climate change, something that really has to be put on the table since there is no direct mention of ocean acidification in any of the documents under the UNFCCC. The importance of ocean acidification has, nonetheless, been highlighted by some countries such as Chile and Australia that do include the topic on their national plans against climate change.

Ocean acidification is taking place due to the ever higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. As a first step in the process of ocean acidification surface water absorbs CO2 producing carbonic acid, which is a mild acid, however, through a series of chemical and bio-chemical reactions, this carbonic acid hydrolyzes producing a more acidic compound every time. The lower pH of the ocean as a result of these processes hinders the calcification that allows corals to produce reefs and shelled animals to produce their shells. The saturation of aragonite -which is an essential compound for  corals and shelled animals-  is decreasing at alarming rates due to acidification, which is predicted to get so bad that in ten year there will be many  zones in the ocean where not only there will be low saturation of aragonite, but also, that will be in fact corrosive.

The most vulnerable parts of the ocean to suffer the negative effects of acidification are upwellings, estuaries, polar waters, and tropical and cold water corals which are all important fisheries areas. Further, 10% of the Arctic Ocean is predicted to become corrosive to aragonite in the next decade, this, not only due to higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, but also because the fresh water entering the ocean as a result of the melting of ice-caps further increases acidity as fresh water has a lower pH than salt water.

Even though there will be certain marine species that will be benefited by the higher acidity of the oceans the overall biological effects will be negative. Part of this negative effect will be felt by food producing organisms, hence harming fisheries around the world, and as a result of this, compromising food security for hundreds of thousands around the world whose main source of protein is the ocean. In short, the negative effects of ocean acidification do not stop at the mere loss of marine biological diversity, it does have a direct effect on our species.

One of the main issues while addressing the problem of ocean acidification is that it requires the reduction of CO2 specifically, as opposed to CO2 equivalent green house gasses (CO2e). Combining the goals of preventing dangerous ocean acidification and preventing climate change thus becomes a problem because even though you might be able to reduce the rate of climate change substantially by reducing emissions of green house gasses that might not translate into a meaningful reduction of ocean acidification since it might be the case that most of those reductions are not of CO2 but of other CO2 equivalent green house gases. The bottom line is that if we solve the problem of ocean acidification we solve the problem of climate change, just as if we  save the small island nation states then we save everyone.

There are still some points to refine, for example, which indicator should be used to evaluate the progress of ocean acidification (is pH good enough or do we have to use other indicator such as aragonite saturation?), or what level of emissions is a safe stabilization goal against ocean acidification (450 ppm -parts per million- will not do the job, but do we have to go all the way down to 350 ppm or is there a point in between that will work?) however, it is undeniable that ocean acidification is a problem that has to be higher up on the agenda of the negotiator for COP17. For this to occur, however, it would be useful to make people more aware of the problematic, and this cannot happen if all we talk about is pH or aragonite saturation, measurements that most people would have a hard time relating to. If you tell them the ocean is becoming more acidic they might ask you “does that mean I won’t be able to swim in it anymore?”. We need to find a message that is more digestible by the general public.

The need for radicalism to make meaningful change

-by Moisés Flores Baca

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a side event organized by the Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust (COAST trust) titled “Rights for climate induced forced migrants: Responsibility of international community”. Even though it was not among the best side events I have attended here at COP16 thus far -especially due to incompetent facilitation- there were many interesting ideas brought up that I feel the need to share with you. One of the panelists -a representative from Greenpeace- talked about the fact that the impacts of climate change are being felt right now in many parts of the globe. He agreed with the CIA’s statement that the biggest threat to national security and the rule of law is going to be scarcity of resources that can lead to conflict. To support this argument he brought the Darfur conflict onto the table, explaining that at the bottom of the genocide ongoing there, more than ideologies or political perspectives, there is a fight over scarce land and water.

The speaker then said that Darfur is not receiving as much international attention as it should because the conflict is happening in Africa, too far from the developed world for it to truly care. He then asked what would the developed world be doing if Sudan was just across the border -of the developed world-, say, between Canada and the US? He also wondered if the developed world would be caring more if Bangladesh or the small island states were neighbors to them. From here he moved into talking about how there seems to be certain disregard for the citizens of the developing world by the developed world, as though those human lives had less value. He added then that it would be interesting, to get an idea of how much human life from different nations is valued around the world, to look at the number of countries that citizens in the developing world require visas for to enter. This would show how welcome or unwelcome those citizens are, and thus, how much their lives are valued.

The panelist then moved into explaining what we can do to start making a difference for those disadvantaged ones because of geographic location. He said that talking is important, since keeping an ongoing communication allows us to share ideas and feelings, helping us unite forces while fighting for common goals. However, he added, talking alone will not get us anywhere, hence we have to engage ourselves on meaningful actions . But actions that are too tame might risk going unheard: movements that for the government merely mean being able to tick the “civil participation” check-box without having to really change things are not good enough. Thus, we have to become more radical and participate of peaceful civil disobedience, not only because that is the only way our political leaders might actually make the needed changes, but because not doing it now and getting the things we so desperately need now might mean civil bursts of violence in the future that would just worsen things. To prevent future violent action we should undertake peaceful civil disobedience now.

The rest of the side event revolved around the proposal by the COAST trust of a protocol under the UNFCCC that stipulates that the rights of those migrants that will be forced to move due to flooding, droughts, and other extreme happenings produced by climate change have to be guaranteed. That they will be welcomed by the developed countries, bearers of the biggest part of the responsibility for climate change, and helped to integrate into the economy and society of the receiver countries so they do not become marginalized.

While addressing the climate change problematic it is essential to bear in mind that human life has to be our top priority.

Klimaforum on the Youth and Future Generations day: a disappointment.

-by Moisés Flores Baca

Note: I started writing this entry before Graham Reeder his about the Klimaforum, so I apologize if I repeat something he already mentioned.

I think I speak  not only of behalf of my fellow COA COP16 delegates, but also on behalf of many other delegates from other youth organizations when I say that yesterday the ‘alternative’ forum of the civil society called Klimaforum was rather disappointing. There was a lot of noise about what the Klimaforum would be like on the Youth and Future Generations day the day before yesterday: there were supposed to be many cool events and then a great NGOs party at night. The expectations were very high, and most of us were very much looking forward to engage in the activities of this alternative forum.

I got there at around twenty past three after a shuttle ride in which we listened to very loud reggae and the conversations of the driver with a pal of his in a Mexican slang-charged Spanish. Once there we met some members of our delegation that had been there for part of the day and were then looking to go to Puerto Morelos and do some shopping. After registering I made my way to a talk in Spanish titled “The imposition called Sustainable Development”. When I entered the tent were the talk was being held one of the speakers -a Mexican professor who was classmates with the Nobel laurel Mario Molina- was explaining his view about the term sustainable development. He started off by saying that the term is an oxymoron, since the word sustainable is completely incompatible with the word development: any sort of development is by definition unsustainable. From that point I knew I was about to hear a “f$&k -the-system” childish rant, the kind of discourse that some high-school kids would use when talking about the need ‘for radical change’. I could have left but I was really curious to see what people’s reactions to the talk would be.

My expectations were fulfilled. The speaker went into talking about the paradox that some renowned economists once described, in which a system feeds itself to assure its continuation without really improving its drawbacks. To actually improve such system has to perish. Then he applied such idea to the capitalist system and its relationship to the emergence of green technologies for a green development: for him, no matter how hard we try to improve the technologies on which capitalism is based, we will never fix it completely so the only really solution would be to get rid of the capitalist system once and for all. No matter how much energy our low consumption bulbs can save, or emissions our hybrid cars can help decrease, the system will alway be flawed, because we might, for example, reduce the emissions of each car but because of continued economic growth we will have more cars, maybe even increasing the overall emissions instead of reducing them. For the speaker, to make real change, we would have to do things like get rid of all our cars because for our cars to get us around faster than say, walking, many others are slowed down (because of the construction of highways for instance). The speaker concluded this topic by saying that the idea of sustainable development is political deception, a fraud, an imposition, because every time that something doubles (say, the number of electric cars on the road) its impact increases to the power of three. Further, he brought up the idea that mitigation is never going to work, that the negative effects of capitalism will never be mitigated, thus we have to get rid of capitalism itself.

The second speaker, an Italian biologist, talked -in Italian- about what sustainability means in nature. He gave a detailed explanation of resilience and self-containment in nature, emphasizing the fact that sustainability in nature had been a reality for millions of years until humans started over-exploiting the natural environment. He brought up the fact that out of all the solar energy that enters the atmosphere only one percent is used by nature, and added -to highlight how wrong our practices are- that burning of fuels to extract their energy is a very unatural practice, that it is so wrong to burn because it does not happen in nature. I think the speaker forgot that even before humans appeared there have always been wildfires. I guess I could forgive that small mistake, and that was probably why I forgot to point it out during the Q&A section, but what I still have not wrapped my mind around was the next thing he said. The speaker talked about the irrationality behind the assumption that there can be infinite economic growth within the finite natural environment, point that I completely subscribed to, but the remark that followed such insight made me feel very uncomfortable. The speaker added that this idea could have only occurred to either a crazy person or an economist, implying thus that economists are a homogenous mass with no individuality whatsoever, which thinks all in the same way and who does not care about the environment. I was pretty surprised that a speaker at an event like Klimaforum could speak with such disregard about a whole profession, as though economics is the same as neo-liberalism. When I brought this to everyone’s attention during the Q&A session one woman sitting next to me said “he wasn’t being condescending against economists, he was praising them”, clearly she missed the whole point.

The Mexican professor replied to my comment saying that he firmly believes that all economics professors should quit their jobs and all Economics schools should be shut down. He added that economists have engaged in their profession as though it is a science, whereas it is merely an invention. He failed to recognize that by and large economists acknowledge the “made-up” nature of economics and they do not consider it a science but a humanity, understanding that the simplifications they make in their models are not meant to reflect the reality as it is but can be a useful tool to understand how the economy works: if an economist tells something like “let us assume in this model that there are only ‘x’ and ‘y’” he does not mean that he believes that in reality there are only ‘x’ and ‘y’, but that such simplification has to be made for that model to work so it can illustrate an idea that can help us understand some aspect of the economy, period. The whole situation was such an epitome of a professional -a chemist- talking down other professions, situation that we observe more often than what I would like. My sleep deprivation and the listening of this speaker replying to my question made me felt kind of sick but fortunately I made it through the whole talk.

Other simplifications that annoy me during the talk included things like ‘any normal European/American/Japanese would tell you that the problem are the poor and that we have to get rid of them’ or ‘the true reason there is war is to ensure continued economic growth through <construction/destruction>’. What does it even mean to say ‘normal European’? what about wars that have been started by religion clashes or radical ideological differences?

The idea proposed at the end of the talk is that we all should turn to an ‘artisan lifestyle’ in which we do everything ourselves without relying on the market or in corrupted governments. So let us forget about helping the millions stuck in poverty and misery, and instead, lets grow organic avocados in our yard and weave our own blankets in the quite of our homes lit by candles made with our earwax as we listen to our brother drum on his stomach. When I asked the speakers how are we to combine practically the goal of lifting the poor and disadvantaged out of their misery with the goal of attaining an ‘artisan lifestyle’ they were not able of giving me a concrete answer but just repeated what they had already said. People around the room nodded enthusiastically to everything that was being said by the speakers with expressions that showed the bliss that those ‘words of wisdom’ were making them experience. It was quite apparent that they were not questioning anything that the speakers were saying and took it all as ‘the truth’, most likely because the speakers sounded so articulate and coherent: they sound so good, they cannot be wrong.

After the talk I went outside the tent and wrote my previous entry on this blog, hoping to kill some hours before the exciting party that was supposed to be on its way started. I waited, and waited, and as I kept on waiting I saw most of the attendees at their laptops being all but social -if we are not to count Facebooking as being social-. We escaped the worst event I have attended during this climate summit so far on the first free shuttle we could sometime around ten.