The Clash of Paradigms and Durban [Disaster]

by Samuli Sinisalo

In the UNFCCC, and especially in Durban, there are two major forces in play. The obvious surface is of course that of saving the planet and the climate system from disastrous anthropogenic interference. That is why these meetings are organized in the first place, and it is even inscribed in article two of the convention.

The other force in play is how is this to be done? Who should cut emissions and how much, how are countries to adapt to the climate change? This is where it gets more complicated, confusing and where the blame-game starts.

The developed countries have enjoyed unlimited access to the atmospheric space for well over a century now. Environmental concerns were hardly an issue as the global north climbed the ladder of development and brought their economies to the current standards. For the time being the amount of economic activity is closely linked to the GHG-emissions, especially if countries are to pursue the most cost-effective development strategies.

For many developing countries, the negotiations are not just questions of tackling the climate change, but also about ensuring the right to develope their economies. This has been recognized in the convention by the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR and RC). Up to now, the Annex 1 countries have had the responsibility to cut their emissions and provide financial assistance to the developing countries to deviate from their business-as-usual developmental baseline, and to adapt to climate change.

Durban was a failure because it failed to provide the next legally binding emissions reduction targets. The world has to be satisfied with the EU and a few other countries turning their domestic climate legislation into internationally recognizable form – with very low ambition. Obviously not enough.

The other promise from Durban is to negotiate a new global legal instrument, which has legal force on all countries. This is very concerning for many developing countries, and the most vocal about it in Durban was India. They reminded the world that India a major emitter due only to its size, the emissions historically, as well as per capita, are very low. They do want to preserve their right to lift people out of poverty and develope. The ladder cannot be kicked away, even as the threat of climate change becomes more dire by the day.

As time drags on, and climate change becomes more pressing, the most vulnerable countries have to accept any deal, or there will be no future for the planet. Hopefully they don’t have to sell out their own future by committing to reducing their climate footprint.

Personally I am still hopeful that the Durban Mandate might lead to something, but there is a great chance it is too little and too late. As well as it might be the wrong thing all together. It is a shame they countries failed to deliver a new outcome based on the Bali Action Plan. In the BAP, the CBDR and equity were safeguarded. But this was not enough, especially for the United States.

I put the disaster in brackets for the time being, as I hope a reason to delete it from the text would arise when negotiations get on the way again, but it might be too much to ask.

Media Messaging: The silent, subtle art of loudmouthing the innocent

by Anjali Appadurai

If there’s one lesson we learned loud and clear at this COP, it was how important a role the media plays in determining the world’s perception of the dangerous game being played out in the negotiating rooms.

Throughout the COP, misguided messaging was a huge obstacle to a united civil society front. We saw a multitude of messaging angles on each major issue within the conference. Civil society was totally fragmented throughout, even within the same constituency. The youth were running on several different tracks throughout with regards to messaging.

It started long before Durban. Headlines whizzed around the world: “The Kyoto Accords are Expiring” (TIME Magazine), “What to do in a post-Kyoto world”, “What next after Kyoto”? The seed was sown, the idea proliferated – the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. Developing countries will come together in Durban to negotiate new obligations to renew the KP in a show of their long-standing commitment to the environment and to people’s lives and livelihoods around the world.

Very subtle. This sort of messaging was helpful to shape people’s thinking from the start into the idea that any commitment on the part of developed countries would be new and additional, not simply a reinstating of previously made commitments. The Kyoto Protocol does not “expire” in 2012. Its first commitment period simply comes to an end, signifying that by then countries should already have mobilized themselves for a second commitment period. Implicit within the signing of the treaty was the agreement to go forward with successive commitment periods. Developed countries weren’t doing anyone a big favour by coming together to discuss a second commitment period. Once again, they were tooting their own horns for doing only what they had originally agreed to do. A small detail, but a crucial one.

Once the idea had been planted into the public mind that the Kyoto was about to expire for good, the next message to get across (from the A1 perspective) was that the purpose of Durban would be to create a new climate treaty. The EU rolled out the EU roadmap, saying they would commit to a KP-2 if it included what they called the Durban Mandate. Suddenly everyone was talking about the new Mandate as if it was the holy grail. The EU spun it as a wonderful thing – they were agreeing to a KP-2! They were going to continue with their commitments under the KP in spite of the cold wind blowing from Canada, Russia and Japan. In the media buzz around the EU’s great plan, the devil in the details was lost. The KP-2 would happen only if all “major emitters” would be involved. The loopholes would remain. The carbon markets would continue. The plan pushed for an 8-year commitment period. This was picked up on by some select media sources, but for the most part, the Great Escape was in the works, its trapdoor built and opened wide by mainstream media messaging that the EU was the ‘bigger man’ and ‘saviour’ of the small island states.

But then came the most dangerous twist to the political current of the conference. The blame game began – first against China, then India, then all of the BASIC countries. With bated breath the media (and the rest of the world, fed by the media) waited – would China step up and agree to the new Mandate in order to secure further commitments from the developed countries? Would China and India own their responsibility as ‘major emitters’ and rise to the occasion? Would the BASIC countries sell out the rest of the developing world by refusing to sign this golden Mandate that was in the works? Would China and India sign Africa’s death sentence?

This nearly unbelievable cartoon by Avaaz, depicting Canada, India, the US and Japan as grim reapers looming over a forlorn-looking African child is the exemplification of the most harmful messaging proliferated at COP17. Leave the US, Canada, and Japan out of it – they are developed countries not doing anything under the KP, which  is surely something to bash them for – but India? A developing country itself, with smaller per capita emissions than Africa itself? You’ve heard the arguments against China and India being included in the major emitters category. From previous Earth in Brackets posts and if you’ve ever talked to us, our position should be clear: no new treaty should compromise the principles of common but differentiated and historical responsibility. Developed countries need to take the lead in assuming legally-binding obligations to mitigate carbon emissions, and they need to provide support to developing countries so that they may do the same as per their abilities. Developing countries are just that – developing – and they have priorities like poverty eradication and economic and human development to take care of. Continuing with the KP-2 with enhanced ambition, fewer loopholes and more stringent commitments is absolutely imperative and non-negotiable. We have treaties in place to cover both developed and developing country responsibilities: don’t forget the Bali Action Plan and the Kyoto Protocol. These together form our climate regime.

The blame game was dangerous on many levels; on the most immediate level it took the heat off the EU, and what’s more, it rolled with its own momentum and painted the EU in a positive light. This twist was more than slightly intentional and served as a powerful political tool in shaping the outcome, for it resounded on an even deeper level: it silently shook the foundations of the FCCC by calling into question what “equity” meant. Enrolling China, India and other developing countries into the same program of obligations as developed countries is a way of redefining common but differentiated responsibility. A US negotiator said that CBDR has “evolving applicability”. What next? Soon we’ll be saying that climate change is AOSIS’ problem and everyone else can wash their hands of the whole affair. Then maybe that carbon is actually good for plants so we should emit as much as possible between now and when the Maldives sinks.

The climate regime started to crumble. Maybe if people had been better informed, maybe if the world had received a more truthful message, maybe if public pressure had been stronger in the right ways, then developed countries wouldn’t have gotten away with the blame game and with the skirting around their responsibilities. Media messaging was key in many ways to the outcome itself.

So headlines shooting out from COP17′s epicenter in Durban to the rest of the waiting world were infused with accusations against China and India. No number of press briefings or position papers from the Chinese and Indian delegations could change the momentum of the tide. From meeting rooms to civil society constituencies to the media to the rest of the world, the messaging of the political realities of the conference was like a giant game of telephone. The EU’s explicit message of “we refuse to have ambition and we want developing countries to share our burden of responsibility” was somehow buried in the details, warped through the line somewhere and came out to the rest of the world as “the EU is trying to save the climate regime but China and India are blocking them from doing so”.

And then, in the final feverish days of high-level segments and urgent negotiations, the “new treaty now” messaging came out as the final blow to civil society’s united message (that never was). Earth in Brackets walked into a YOUNGO (youth constituency) meeting one morning to find the old “I Heart KP” tshirts being handed out. Fine, great, we love the KP. But wait – what is that sticker that is being firmly pasted onto each tshirt before it gets handed out? TREATY NOW, it reads. We ask someone – why are you putting on those stickers? “Well, because the messaging isn’t complete without them”. Oh dear, the youth have been duped as well. Treaty now? We have a treaty now. We have a treaty and a plan of action! If we put our energies and ambitions into properly implementing the KP and the BAP, we’d be on the right track! Don’t fall for their “new treaty” with its crippling conditions, loopholes and lack of ambition! The devil is always in the details! NO treaty now!

But alas, it was not meant to be. That day, and the next, and the next, hundreds of youth milled around the conference centers blaring “I Heart KP, TREATY NOW” on their bosoms. And there went any possibility of a united civil society front. And out went new headlines that said things like “Global climate change treaty in sight after Durban breakthrough” (the Guardian).

Once all this mixed messaging was out there for people to trip up on and get confused over, it was easy for the rest to happen. Bam, bam, the gavel went down quick as a flash on major decisions. Equity out, loopholes in, ambition gone, all done, all finished, new Platform, new Mandate, the blame still on BASIC and the EU still looking good for taking leadership. It was over long before civil society came to its senses. And we never did come to our senses, because in the end the whole convoluted nature of the conference messaging culminated in the final humiliation: the media headlines of the Durban outcome.

“Climate conference ends in agreement”, “Kyoto is saved”, “Hope at last at climate conference”, “Durban conference a success, “Durban outcomes significant milestone”. And on it goes. The earth, in the end, was not even afforded the dignity of having its betrayal blamed on the right people.

Messaging is of crucial importance in every word, publication and posting each organization puts out. Blindly repeating a message you heard on the street without reading the text itself could be disastrous. Every interview, every blog post, every article must represent the whole and complete views of your organization, and messaging must be carefully thought over before campaigns are launched. We at Earth in Brackets are most definitely culprits of incomplete messaging ourselves, but we now know enough to at least be aware of this in the time leading up to the next COP. We’ve seen the stakes, and they’re too high. Civil society really weakened itself  through misinformed messaging. The media wooed us and we accepted, not realizing that the media was already married to the UN and developed country governments.

Where do we go from here? Who do we trust? Man cannot live on bread alone; similarly Earth in Brackets cannot live on Third World Network updates alone ( in order to be informed in the right ways – or can we?

Well, it seems to have worked so far…

The last night draws on

by Samuli Sinisalo

The texts just presented were not accepted by the Group of 77 and China. Later EU also denounced the documents.

Canada had called more ambition from China and India. This was done by name, which is not very politically correct – especially from a country like Canada, which has notoriously low ambition. They were just awarded the fossil of the year award from being the biggest obstructor in the negotiations in 2011.

So new text went into drafting, we’ve been waiting in the conference centre. Now the latest update just came out – the ministerial Indaba will convene again at midnight (in 1 hour). There will be a new text, and there are promises for improvements in the time-frames, ambition and the legal form in that text.

The COP will not reconvene before 10 tomorrow morning. Seems that if the COP is going to be decided in the wee hours of the night, those meetings are either closed to us, or they will happen tomorrow night.

I just hope that the first drafts that were circulated around the conference centre relatively widely, were not just laying down the groundwork for a compromised deal. Circulating bad drafts like that might prepare the crowd for a deal that is an improvement over the first round, but still far from ideal. But this might be just the skeptic in me speaking.

As of now, the security wants to empty the whole conference centre. We are trying to negotiate to have the right to stay. Might be that everyone is thrown out. Ministerial negotiations are just about to begin and civil society is pushed out on the streets. Does not look good in terms of transparency…

What’s health got to do with it?

by Graham Reeder

So how are climate change and health connected anyway? I don’t know about you, but the first thing that comes to mind when I used to think about climate change is arctic sea ice and major industry polluting. As I’ve developed a stronger interest in public health issues over the last couple of years, the human ecologist in me has driven me to make connections between climate change, social justice, and health. And guess what…I’m not alone. The wonderful thing about COPs is that if you’re passionate about an issue that relates to climate change in any way, you’ll probably find a group of people here who engage in it as well.

This year’s COP has actually been a big one for climate and health; Sunday saw a whole side conference on health and climate change and there have been many side-events and meetings about making that link. Unfortunately, my work following the adaptation negotiations has meant that I haven’t been able to go to most of those things, but I’ve had a number of great conversations with some of the people working on the issues.

Climate change has major impacts on health issues which vary from region to region. One helpful way to categorise our thinking about this is to think about extreme weather events and slow-onset events. Extreme weather events are things like hurricanes, floods, heat waves and drought, all of which are linked to climate change (See IPCC fourth assessment report working group II). What most of these events do is exacerbate existing health problems; when disaster strikes, it is consistently the least resilient who suffer most. This is because they have less access to preventative health care, emergency services, can be already suffering from some other under treated health issue, or are literally living in more dangerous locations (low-lying areas, along eroding coastlines, in urban hot-spots, etc…) All of these conditions make extreme weather events a serious concern for health. This is not to say that only the poorer countries of the world are affected, I don’t think I have to remind anyone that the heat-waves in Europe and Hurricane Katrina were a perfectly good reminder that inequality in resilience and access to services is ever-present in even the richest nations.

In terms of slow-onset events, media and international attention has a tougher time picking up the story. One might call it easy to gain wide readership of a front-page story about floods in Bangladesh that have killed thousands and cost up to 20 million USD over the last two years, but in a world where attention span is adjusted to twitter and everything is urgent, it can be much more difficult to expose the impacts of changing vectors on malaria patterns in sub-Saharan Africa or glacial melting causing water-access issues in Latin America, and of course the looming sea level rise issue that has low-level urban areas quivering in their boots. These long-term impacts will have catastrophic impacts on health unless serious work is undertaken pre-emptively to build resilience and strengthen communities’ ability to cope. I say cope because given what I’ve seen from the UN on adaptation policy progress, coping is the best we can hope for.  Some other climate related slow-onset events that are going to have major health impacts are ocean acidification, desertification, changes in salt-water/freshwater distribution, loss of traditional medicinal species, a major decrease in agricultural productivity, forest degradation, erosion due to changing rainfall, and mass migration due to environments becoming uninhabitable. I’ll touch on the migration piece in a future blog post, but all of these impacts have colossal health ramifications that most of the world’s infrastructures are completely unprepared to deal with. We have wasted so much time fighting about whether or not climate change is real and who should do something about it that it is coming around to knock us over from behind.

In short, the connection between climate change and health is a crucial one. Given the current ambition levels on the table and the likelihood of anything changing soon, it looks like we’re in for a whole lot of warming, and a proactive health/resilience centered approach is the only chance of dealing with this kind of catastrophe.

On a policy note, the most recent AWG-LCA (Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action) text has an addendum with, among other things, sections on building resilience; poverty and inequality; protecting and promoting human health; gender; territory, mobility, and urban development; and migrants. Most of the text in these sections involves looking into things and further investigating them rather than acting on the knowledge that is already there, but seeing this language in a text like this is a little bit refreshing. There is supposedly a new text coming out tonight or tomorrow, only time will tell if any of those sections remain.