BASIC makes Room for an Elephant

by Joe Perullo

BASIC (the group of Brazil, South African, India, and China) gave a rather uncomfortable press conference the other day.  China, the leader of the group, started the talk on the defensive, denying the major “rumor” floating around that BASIC is splitting up. The other countries complied and also denied the allegations. An elephant walked into the room.

The EU and the US have successfully divided and conquered developing countries with their proposal on the table (see “A New Adaptation Framework: Don’t hold your breath for this empty shell” by Graham Reeder).  China is against the new treaty, but took a heroic leap of faith by saying they were willing to take on legally binding emissions reductions (unfortunately not until 2020); the EU recently exposed Brazil’s willingness to sign on to their proposal; India is vehemently against any new treaty that rejects the core principles of the convention, and will unlikely sign on to LCA pledges like China; and South Africa, while coming to the COP with some of the most strict and realistic demands, is willing to sign on to a new sell out deal that keeps Durban and South Africa from appearing as a failure to deliver “results.”

There’s no denying that BASIC is split over these issues, but the moment of truth is only getting closer.  The big question is where India will stand at the final hour. The country has been under severe heat for opposing the EU road map. If it courageously blocks the tabled mandate, it risks ruining its reputation in the international political economy. India’s colleagues have abandoned their partner, leaving the country with the weight of the world and the contempt of other parties on its shoulders. India’s negotiators have not been informed of the back room informal meetings, and thus lose their voice in the real negotiating arena.

Almost as depressing as the mandate itself is when heroes are seen as villains, and villains as heroes. Too much of civil society and too many NGOs have been tricked into believing that the only hope to keep the mandates from Kyoto and Bali alive is with some new treaty. This of course leads them to the conclusion that India is is the bad guy.  India will lose everything if this mandate passes. Having a country who has one of the smallest per capita emissions take on even more responsibility is NOT climate justice. India is not the enemy of progress. The EU is not delivering a just “solution.” The division of BASIC is a great loss for the climate justice movement. Without BASIC, India will fall, as will the rest of them in due time.

CDM Consultations are Running out of Time!

by Joe Perullo

Over the past two weeks, the informal consultations on issues relating to the clean development mechanism (CDM) have been bickering over the same few things.  Least developed countries (LDCs) want more programs available to them, as do countries most vulnerable to climate change and small island developing states (SIDS)—arguments parallel with those in the negotiations on the Adaptation Fund.  Developed countries, most audibly the EU, want text that allows more large-scale projects, which are more profitable for them but are usually done in China and India, not Tuvalu or Maldives.

Much of the time in these two weeks has been spent on philosophical arguing, not concrete negotiation of the text. The co-chair of the talks has had to schedule evening meetings several times, but it is just not enough.  Almost every other paragraph has bracketed text (meaning it does not have consensus) and multiple, contrary ideas. The last meeting  is tonight, and if countries don’t get their hands dirty then the text on the CDM, which does need some serious remodeling, will not be changed and negotiations will not reconvene until COP 18 next year.  That however may be better than a UN takeover, where nearly all CDM projects are allocated to wealthier developing countries.

Who Are These Guys Anyway?

by Joe Perullo

I decided to do some investigating on who exactly the country delegates were.  Who hires them? Who are they really representing? What do they do outside of the UNFCCC? When we say the US is stalling progress and shoving responsibility onto developing countries, who exactly do we mean?  A lot of fingers are pointed at the delegates, but they’re just people, right?

The US was my case study, but I’m sure the basic structure (not to be confused with political agenda) can be applied to most countries.

As we know, the countries’ positions are determined long before the negotiations take place by foreign ministers.  In the US, this responsibility is given to the State Department, a department under the Executive branch (so the president has the ultimate authority). The delegates we see negotiating at COP are usually workers of the state department or people hired by it. Within the State Department, policies pertaining to the COP are done by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).  This is where they lay out exactly what they want the text to look like coming out of a COP. Now, I’m sure they really do care about the environment, but keep in mind that any standpoints they want the delegates to make at COP need to get approval by the greater Department of State—who’s agenda isn’t confined to making international peace or saving the planet but to bettering the lives of Americans—and be signed by the Secretary of State, who is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The State Department’s official agenda is, as officially mentioned in the Foreign Policy Agenda, “to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” In reality consideration of the international community is far from the top of the list.  The “american exceptionalism” of the country and its governments will not allow members of the house, who also need to think about re-elections, pass a bill that would let the country fall behind China in the green economy. And lets not forget about corporate lobbyist. Even if the OES and the delegates want nothing more than for the US to reduce emissions, they are at the whims of the State Department.

This is exactly what happened with the Kyoto Protocol—the US signed on to it but it could not be ratified through congress.  That signing was a clear “mistake” on behalf of the US COP delegates who negotiated such a protocol out, since it did not accurately reflect the actual will of the US to have legally binding emission reduction targets.  With this system, the delegates in some way “weren’t” doing their job.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they were released or given undesirable positions as punishment.

This gives American political environmentalists a tough choice: do they focus their energy in the international realm, where they can more tangibly deal with policies that affect the world, or in their own country, in an attempt to influence the internal struggles that determine when the true gavel is smashed in international negotiations?

No One Can Play Poker Like The US

by Joe Perullo

There was a special Open-ended informal consultation on Wednesday organized by the president of the COP to discuss the possible Durban outcome.  There’s no definition on what the outcome is right now, but it will for sure address the concerns arising from the potential elimination of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.  The US was second or third on the initial speakers list, but strategically told the president that it was having “technical difficulties” and wouldn’t be ready to talk until later…

Indonesia took the floor, stressing the need for the conclusion of the Bali Action Plan (adaptation). Kenya and almost all others wanted a second commitment period to be part of the Durban package. Colombia and Cape Verde recognized the insufficiency of the KP (in both quantity of emission reductions required and implementation) and requested full operationalization of the Green Climate Fund, while The Bahamas mentioned how the amount of money in the Adaptation fund is insufficient.

Norway jumped on board with the developing countries stating its “faith in the facilitators.” This reveals the Scandinavian nation’s concerns over transparency in the process. Norway is a developed but non-essential player who wouldn’t be part of any side discussion by, say, the US, China, and India. With fears of being “left out of the room,” Norway called for the president and facilitators to keep the process opened for all the parties.

New Zealand stressed operationalization of the Cancun Agreements, which include the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Climate Technology Centre (CTC).

After all of these concerns of a Durban outcome were expressed, the US was finally ready to take the floor.  It played a wild card: instead of addressing the stated issues, the US ranted on how the AWG-LCA needed to be completed, meaning it should not be given any more time to address the five pillars of the Bali Road Map (shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, technology development and transfer, and finance). At the moment, LCA has barely finished developing policies for these, and has completely avoided mitigation.

Had the US said this in the beginning when it was supposed to, the other delegates would have focused their talks around keeping the LCA alive.  Soon after, the meeting was over and the US could slip out without having to defend itself from a torrent opposition.