Also our business

-by Sarah

“Adaptation is also our business,” was the title of a side even this afternoon put on by members of the EU. The room was packed, and as we sat in rows and sweated, the presenters made some interesting and important points.

According to IPCC predictions, the Mediterranean is going to be one of the areas of the world most affected by climate change. Christina Narbona, Minister of Environment for Spain, pointed out that Spain is already experiencing massive dispalcement of population, severe droughts, a predicted 5-14% decrease in water resources in the 2030 horizon, and is also a developed nation which will be one of the first to receive migrants from Africa if and when the effects of more drastic climate change displaces them. Spain is also one of the only nations to have developed a NAPA (a National Adaptation Plan of Action). This includes trying to optimize water resources (currently Spain has very low water price and very high water consumption) and increase water resources. The plan also includes a lot of investment in research into future scenarios, which leaves me wondering about urgency and priority, two concepts which are difficult to concretize in this context because, in terms of the future, absolute certainty can never exist. The question and answer period brought an intelligent question to the minister: what about when adaptation plans undermine mitigation plans, such as the increased energy it would require to run desalinization plants to increase water supply? To this, the minister responded that there exists a program to produce renewable energy at the same rate as engergy conumption increases. (This, however, includes such things as hydro-electric dams, which wreak their own kind of environmental havoc, and on top of that, Spain has the second largest number of dams in the world.) The question of justice and equality also arises: Spain has the infrastructure to develop a NAPA, and compared to developing countries is very well off. However, like all nations, and perhaps (because of its location) moreso than other developed nations, it will be suffering from the predicted environmental changes as well. What is its responsibility to its own people and to those of other nations? What is everyone’s role in this world of changes? Big questions, and, like most big questions, probably unanswerable until we see what roles we take.

Francois Gemenne of the University of Liege pointed out the current and future problems of environmental refugees. Under the Geneva Convention, environmental refugees are not recognized. However, as Gemenne stated, recognition under Geneva probably wouldn’t meet the needs of environmental refugees (it is intended to protect those fleeing political turmoil), and anyway only applies to parties to the convention, which consists mostly of Northern states. According to the now-infamous Stern report, 200 million people could be permanently displaced by 2050, mostly due to rising sea levels (the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), those in the Arctic, and those living in coastal cities and floodplains). Village relocation, I found out, is already happening. For example, the US government apparently pays for trucks to come in to Arctic villages with cranes and physically move them.

The demographic, cultural, psychological, and resource burden of mass migrations is an overwhelming prospect. This is truly a human side to climate change. Although environmental factors have always and will always displace people, cause people suffering, as well as cause people times of great joy and prosperity (depending on how conducive the environment is to livlihood at the time), displacement- detachment from a place you feel is your home, disconnect from family and friends, loss of culture and language, increased potential for conflict between people who are different and feel they do not understand each other, increased strain on resources, the role of human emotions- will never be easy.

Gemenne proposed to extend the mandate of the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees)- which was absent at this conference- to cover environmental refugees temporarily displaced. For the permanently displaced, he said, a “copycat of Kyoto” which consists of regional burden-sharing schemes- based on the polluter pays principle and on where the resources are- could be part of a solution. It’s Europe’s business, he said, because the EU needs to acknowledge its share of responsibility and needs to make massive shifts in immigration policy. (This is also entirely true of the U.S.)

And so we come back to it: the complexities of the challenge, the responsibility we share.

This is not political gloss-over

-by Sarah

I feel pretty confident saying that some of the statements delivered in this morning’s high level segment by NGOs had the blood pumping through the veins of the room.

Prior to the youth speech- which was delivered by three of our wonderful, intelligent, and inspiring number and ended in all of us calling loudly to pull together (”Harambe!”)- two African women in particular had a point to make, and courageously made it. Get on the ball.

Ms. Grace Akumu, on behalf of African NGOs, expressed gratitude and gladness to have met people here, formed relationships and partnerships, and to have learned so much in the past two weeks. She also highlighted the let-down that these negotiations have been for those with the most to lose if the predicted destruction comes to fruition. “It is our honest obdervation that COP12 was not meant to achieve any meaningful and tangible decisions that would reassure Africa,” she said.

“Those responsible for causing the problems of climate change appear always to come to negotiations driven first and foremost by economic interests, then political hegemony and lastly by environmental concerns.” This is eloquently put, in my opinion. It expresses the disconnect that occurs when we personify nations and place all value in economics rather than realizing that we are all people, together, with responsibility to each other. What followed in her statement are perhaps some of the most important words of this conference:

“No tangible and meaningful decision was arrived concerning equitable distribution of CDM projects,” she continued. “Although we are being told that we should keep in mind that CDM is market driven, we also wish to remind all that markets have not worked for Africa and they are not just about to. If they had worked, Africa, considering our endowment with all resources known to man, would not be in this pathetic state we are found in today. We wish to state that markets are creations by human beings and experience has proven they also fail. Therefore, should the avenue of free market be pursued, it will be a sure way to fail CDM in Africa.” The truth of these words shakes my bones.

Sharon Looremeta, Masaai project manager for Practical Action, did not hide her anger: “Climate change tourists, that’s what I call you,” she said. “You come here and take pictures, and then go home and forget about us. I hope these pictures stay with you forever, when you are deciding how to act.” Masaai herds are dying, she said. Livelihoods are disappearing, and people are suffering. She went on: “We said, “the review of the Kyoto Protocol was important for Africa, because we need more funds for adaptation — more than what we have now”, and you said, ‘later’;We said, “we need deeper emissions cuts so that our children and grandchildren can have a better chance in life”, and you said, ‘later’;We said, “we need new mechanisms to help sustainable development in Africa” and you said, ‘later’.I am a mother. I have a daughter. When she asks me what came out of the meeting in Nairobi, I don’t want to have to tell her that you said, ‘ask me again next year’.”

It is not fair that people suffer. Why should we put economic interests ahead of human ones? It seems these conferences are not the venue for real change, for taking real responsibility, for showing care for each other and acting on justice. I am glad I saw these women speak, and I am glad they had the opportunity to do so. I hope I, and others, can continue to hear their voices and that our voices come together even more.

A not-so-small problem

-by Sarah

In a side event about deforestatrion this morning, researchers from the Woods Hole Research Institute talked about the science of emissions from tropical deforestation. I was disappointed that they did not go into specifics of monitoring procedures and how they got their numbers, but the message was clear: deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (mostly carbon dioxide, but also methane and black soot) and that it needs to be addressed in the Kyoto Protocol. The scientists highlighted Brazil’s proposal to include prevention of deforestation in the market for CERs (Certified Emissions Reduction credits). How to measure how much carbon is actually not realeased through preventing deforestation? That’s the problem.

The panelists stressed the positive feedbacks that deforestation causes in emissions: Deforestation releases CO2, which causes climate change, which causes moist tropical forests to dry out and burn more easily, which causes deforestation. According to the presentation, 70% of Brazil’s total emissions are a result of deforestation. Emissions could double in dry years, said Dan Nepstad, senior scientist at Woods Hole. “We’ve got to harness globalization,”he said, pointing out that as space runs out for agricultural expansion to meet a growing food demand (especially soy and meat, he said), South American, followed by Africa. will be the next continents to be used for agricultural production. Globalization, and the global market, have major effects on land use- for example, because the EU has banned GMO soy, they get their soy from Brazil rather than the US. Incresed demand for agricultural products means clearing more land. Nepstad highlighted the positive progress the Brazilian government has made in increasing protected forest areas, improving enforcement of environmental law, and working with communities to sustainably manage forests (he gave the example of a program in which small communities make furniture from sustainably harvested wood and then sell it to Europe). Nepstad also credited this to the growth of Brazil’s economy.

However, in this presentation, many questions were left unanswered (perhaps it is impossible to answer them). For example. the furniture that gets shipped to Europe still seems to feed the capitalist system which seems to have society stuck in a place that, it is generally agreed upon, is not really great for our well-being and survival (not the least of which because it contributes to the kind of climate change that might make us go extinct). Also, I am not sure what it means to “harness globalization;” it seems to imply a market-based approach to things. And what about some more science of deforestation- monitoring, feedbacks, causes? I guess it all comes back to the fact that the study of climate is a relatively new thing, and will be ongoing.

On two interesting asides, John P. Holdren, director of Woods Hole and one of the presenters, pulled up the statistic that in 2004, the emissions in the US from coal-electric power were more than the emissions from motor vehicles (an important point to consider when Bush touts coal as a renewable energy, falsely labelling it “green”simply because it is abundant). Secondly, the US released a compilation of articles refuting the gloabl warming theory, in which was included an article by Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus and a much-disliked Dane among environmentalists. The article may have been over-the-top (but, as I’ve learned, everything is spin and a matter of interpretation), but it made an interesting point to consider: perhaps one of the reasons we see environmental factors, such as extreme weather events, as causing more destruction than ever is because we have so much more to destroy- more people, more goods.

We may be small…

-by Sarah

Connie Hedegaard, Minister of Environment of Denmark, just made the most exciting speech I have heard here so far.

Perhaps it is my Danish pride surfacing, but this dynamic speaker not only hit the nail on the head by saying that, although we make progress at these meetings, COP is a frustrating process that is not enough, but enthusiastically announced DK’s bid to host COP15-COP/MOP5 in Copenhagen.

These conferences are not enough, Ms. Hedegaard said, and they are too slow. However, she expressed great hope in our ability to come together, and it seems Denmark is willing to take a leadership role. This is important, as the EU as a whole has been waffling in these negotiations and getting a lot of flack from environmentalists because of it.

But Ms. Hedegaard’s message is clear and exciting: “This is the window of opportunity, and we can seize it together.”

Yay Denmark!