USA v China

by nathan thanki

The USA wants to be treated the same as China when it comes to responsibility for tackling climate change. Many environmental NGOs, in the increasingly panicked calls for climate action now, are also prone to saying things like "well of course the emerged economies of Brazil, India and China must also be obliged to reduce emissions." This plays quite well into the rich country strategy of stalling their own ambition (both in terms of reducing their emissions and in terms of financing adaptation and mitigation in developing countries) and worsening the climate crisis, while at the same time setting up an international treaty to lock in China et al to reduce emissions. This ignores the fact that there is already a process for developed countries to reduce–the Kyoto protocol–and for developing countries (plus the USA which is still "developing" in terms of being globally responsible for anything other than blowing stuff up, planning coups and stealing oil) –the track for "long-term cooperative action" or AWG-LCA. This ignores too the hundreds of millions of people living in poverty in these countries for whom emissions reductions are laughable, as they emit next to nothing in the first place. But more than anything, it ignores the past. The graph below illustrates better than I can what that history shows us. 


USA scores own goal by moving the goal posts

by nathan thanki

There was quite a stink created this week when US Special Envoy for Climate Change (the big-shot who shows up late to the UN climate talks and gets interrupted by his constituents for not truly speaking for them) made a "remark" to his old College, Dartmouth. There was widespread condemnation of the apparent u-turn on US climate policy, which had previously agreed (in 2009, 2010, 2011) to a target of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees celsius. After all, more than 100 countries and large swathes of civil society actually call for 1.5 degrees celsius as a limit to the amount of warming. But today Mr. Stern has downplayed those concerns, saying that the US is not renaging on anything and that the "flexibility" he called for is about breaking stalemates rather than undermining this principle.

At the risk of boring everyone, including myself, let's take a look at Mr Stern's speech, available here, and read for ourselves. Comments in blue italics are mine.

Read more…

The Game of the G77

By Lara Shirley

The negotiating strategies employed by the G77+China are very interesting. They are a political entity, and thus have to be highly conscious of the image they project not only to their fellow negotiators but to the wider global community of civil society and media.

The G77 negotiators tend to use precise and sophisticated language, often being the only ones to explicitly demonstrate depth of knowledge on various issues. Their negotiators are highly articulate and educated, and make more of an effort to appear so than their US and EU counterparts. They have more of a need to appear intelligent: Their colleagues from the global North have much more economic and political power outside of the negotiating rooms, so less effort is needed within them.

At the same time, the G77 negotiators will also criticize this language and the process as a whole. They openly say that this dancing around language and meaning is silly, that negotiators should say what they really mean. They call upon fellow delegates to give the true reasons why they want to remove certain text, or even to give any reason at all (which countries don’t always do). They seem to expose the farcical nature of the whole negotiating charade.

They will also often remind their audience that they come from the developing world. For example, at the ’92 Earth Summit, in response to the Northern desire to have a short and “inspirational” Earth Charter that every child could hang above their beds, the G77 pointed out that many children did not even have beds. They pose themselves as a direct opposite to the global North that wants to abuse people and the environment – as advocates for justice and equity.

All of these traits are very appealing to onlookers. Appearing intelligent makes the G77 more respectable, more trustable. Denouncing the process strikes a very strong chord with all the frustrated observers watching people in suits bat semicolons between each other. Harking the unjustly exploited, ditto. They seem to be decent folks.

It’s depressing to realise that these tactics, which ring so close to my heart, are in fact nothing more than that: Tactics. They are tactics because these people are negotiators, they are not simply good people fighting an unjust system, they are people who work within the realm of politics, people whose job it is to negotiate. Tactics are used to push points forward, and those points are not always as morally upright as we would like to think they are.

Apart from the somewhat inevitable contradiction of speaking on behalf of a poverty they have probably never lived through, the G77 negotiators also criticize diplomacy and negotiating strategies only to turn around and work in the exact same way. They avoid mentions of human rights, of civil society, and of environmental conservation. They claim to be talking for their people and environment – but negotiators work for the interests of the governments that pay them, and not necessarily for the masses of hungry people or polluted ecosystems.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable contributions to make. They definitely do, and I find myself supporting their contributions far more often than those of the US or the EU – but it is essential to keep in mind that the G77 position doesn’t necessarily want the best for everyone.

Over-rolled by Giants

~ Jane Nurse

The first week of the Intersessionals in Bonn has seen a ferocious fight over the agenda of the ADP and an even more hotheaded haggling over the chair and vice-chair positions of the ADP. India on behalf of the Asia-Pacific group has laid claim to the chair long after the deadline for nominee submissions and after WEOG as well as GruLAC submitted their candidates.

In this battle for power over shaping the process that will lead to another legal instrument by 2015, China and India have assumed the role of advocates for upholding the interest of developing countries. However, in reality we should not be fooled to believe that the big players comprised of developed and developing countries alike represent anything else but their own interests at the expense of the most vulnerable ones.

GruLAC banked on the support of the EU in attaining the chair of the ADP. Now it looks though as if the EU’s feeble support is waning in favor of countries that are perceived as more politically and strategically powerful, not only in the climate change negotiations but also in other UN realms as for instance the UN Security Council. What is happening is not the pressure of just requests taking hold but of the big players striking deals among themselves at the expense of the small developing countries.

China and India – the hope of the developing countries – seem to be treating their small and vulnerable developing country compatriots from the SIDS and LDCs with the same abrasive condescendence as the developed world would. While China wages a strategic battle against the adoption of the ADP agenda, India takes on the campaign on winning the chair of the ADP. Meanwhile, the EU flexes its financial muscle to beat everyone into submission on these ADP issues by threatening withdrawal of financial support. It is clear that this move, while not explicitly aimed at GruLAC, will affect most notably those countries with the smallest financial capacity. The current ADP struggle serves as another reminder that alliances are fickle bonds only alive as long as mutual interests are being served. In Durban the Alliance of small Island States (AOSIS) was useful to the EU but Bonn is no longer Durban. Thus while the developing world fractures over questions of regional representation it is the developed world that benefits. This once more cements the status quo of the wealthy and powerful countries triumphing in pitting developing countries against each other in the haggling over influence and power.

One might also wonder whether we should be fighting over which country chairs the ADP or actually fight for getting the best candidate possible. Ultimately the chair should not serve any particular country or region but facilitate the work in the most equitable, efficient, and transparent way possible. Yet nobody seems to care whether we are selecting the best-suited individual, who will mediate between the interest of developed and developing countries alike and ultimately serve the interest of all people in the world. We have the science and potentially even the economics to deal with the issues ahead, but the political will to use these tools is caught up in the process of politicking.