Canada rhymes with Rona?

-by Virginie

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the conference center slightly disheartened: little or no progress has been made on the issue I have been closely following, namely post-2012 or the Beyond Kyoto “bubble”. Nonetheless, we had a big day ahead with opportunities to listen to Kofi Annan, Sir Nicholas Stern (lead UK economist and author of the Stern report) and the ministerial statements.

Ministers. Oh Ministers. Oh Canada. Oh oh…the Canadian Environment Minister. Mrs. Rona Ambrose.

It has been fascinating to immerse myself in the Canadian/Kyoto politics. It would have been hard to do otherwise, considering that Canada is somewhat at the center of these negotiations. Unfortunately, this is due to Ambrose’s unacceptable distortion of reality and display of behavior un-conducive to the Kyoto process upon the international scene.

When lead economist Nicholas Stern reiterates, as he did here yesterday, that climate-change-induced damages will be severe, that mitigation is consistent with economic growth and that mitigation costs will be modest only if we move quickly, one reluctantly imagines the Harper government (Canada’s recently elected minority and conservative government), or any government in fact, not getting the picture.

How unpleasantly surprised one can be. The Harper government is turning Canada into a laughable ostrich—if you have a dark sense of humor, that is.

Worse than refusing to recognize the urgency of the problem has been the deliberately misleading nature of certain elements incorporated in Ambrose’s high-level plenary statement on behalf of Canada. Indeed, Mrs. Ambrose mentioned that Canada will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 65% by 2050. However, she failed to mention that the cited figure is in relation to a 2003 baseline, and not the commonly used/standard 1990 baseline—according to ECO there is a 27% difference between the two reference points. Earlier last week, Canada won a Fossil of the Day for presenting the exact same figure during an AWG meeting. Embarrassingly, Canada won another fossil today—for similar reasons.

Mrs. Ambrose was also severely criticized for mentioning that “certain people” were trying to use Kyoto to divide Canada—another Fossil of the Day was won here, as it is uncommon and inappropriate to wash one’s domestic dirty laundry on the international scene. Interestingly, when she awkwardly brought up this controversial issue, she chose to suddenly switch to French. Some of us interpreted this as a sneaky move (not subtle at all mind you) aimed at sliding this comment by without journalists picking up on it. This impression is re-enforced by the fact that Mrs. Ambrose is not comfortable expressing herself in French, which she had demonstrated earlier that day.

Before the high-level plenary, the Canadian Youths were granted the opportunity to meet with her—which we were very thankful for, being the only non-governmental constituency she agreed to meet with. We had no high hopes of hearing other than the usual rhetoric, but I nonetheless had the occasion to conclude our meeting and ask her my first and final question in French. Obviously understanding my questions, she nevertheless chose to answer in English, as she usually does when interacting with francophone media. The truth is, Mrs. Ambrose has been pleasant with us and we appreciate the time she dedicated to answering our questions. We simply wish that we could break away, Mrs. Ambrose included, from the Harper rhetoric: it is time the Canadian government ceases to turn its back on the world and future generations.
Ironically, Canada has been boasting about its transparency, endlessly calling for an “open and honest assessment”. Well, Mrs. Ambrose was being realistic and honest when she admitted that Canada’s emissions are currently 35% above its Kyoto target. Still, it is a shame that she failed to mention Quebec’s adequate and replicable Climate Change Plan of Action, but it is also understandable: after all, had she done so, it would have been obvious that Canada actually can meet its Kyoto target—not the type of messaging the Harper government is going for lately.

The good news
Fortunately, the Canadian media is picking up on the dishonesty, and they are doing so in a merciless—yet deserved—way. This valuable media coverage is partly due to the Canadian opposition parties. Indeed, the NDP, Liberals and the Bloc Québecois have formed a unique pro-Kyoto “coalition”. This type of “front” is unprecedented and quite impressive: Throughout the week, we have witnessed the arrival of and had the opportunity to interact with Mr. Claude Béchard (Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, Québec Liberal Party), Mr. Bernard Bigras (Bloc Québecois MP) and Mr. John Godfrey (Liberal Party MP and environment critique). During our meeting, Mr. Bigras stressed the uniqueness of this “partnership”. He also outlined that, although it is rare for opposition parties to truly agree on something, it remains clear that Mrs. Ambrose is not representing the opinion of the majority of Canadians. The presence of these high profile political Canadian figures in Tuesday’s press conference alongside Mr. Steven Guilbeault from Greenpeace Canada is yet another attempt to send an alternative message to the international community. I therefore thank the opposition parties for uniting and embodying the visionary type of leadership Canada desperately needs.

Where to from here?
Ministers delivered a range of speeches yesterday: Iran even requested that parties eventually consider the transfer of nuclear energy technology while France presented a powerful address on behalf of Jacques Chirac himself. Where does Canada fit in all this? Is our backtracking that big of a deal for the international community? The problem is that the Harper government is serious about idling on this issue, and the community has every right to openly denounce and condemn this. In fact, it might start sooner than expected: today, the Globe and Mail reported that French prime minister Chirac is urging the European Union to impose a punitive import tax on goods from countries (such as Canada) that refuse to sign on to a tougher post-Kyoto regime. It is of course premature to take such a threat too seriously, but perhaps it can help Harper realize that it is unlikely for him to get away with this.

Nonetheless, speaking with the opposition representatives has helped me retrieve some of my optimism. I too want to believe that Kyoto does not divide but rather unites Canadians. Meanwhile, let us work at the provincial level, wherein lies the political will to address climate change for the time being.

Post-2012 & AWG Conclusion: Many words, little meaning

-by Virginie

Last Tuesday evening, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments (AWG) convened for the 3rd and last time of the Nairobi negotiations. Created under Article 3.9 of the Kyoto Protocol, the AWG was set up in order to discuss further commitments by Annex I parties (industrialized nations) for the post-2012 second commitment period—Since the Kyoto Protocol is to be effective from 2008-2012 (first commitment period), the AWG’s role at this point is to create a framework and timetable capable of guiding such discussion and ensuring that there is no gap year(s) between the first and second commitment period.

Any positive outcome? Well, parties reached a general agreement to move forward, which, being such a time sensitive issue, is a good thing. However, the decision agreed upon by parties unfortunately has little substance. Firstly, the adopted conclusion (decision FCCC/KP/AWG/2006/L.4, for you policy wonkees) fails to include any long-term vision capable of “beefing up” the post-2012 climate regime.

For some time, the EU (supported by other parties) had been pushing for the adoption of “global pathways” that were in line with the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings: these included ensuring that global atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations stayed below 450 ppm (parts per million) and that we do not allow for a temperature increase above 2 degrees. Unfortunately, the AWG decision merely recognizes the IPCC’s recommendation that :

“global emissions of carbon dioxide have to be reduced to very low levels, well below half of levels in 2000, in order to stabilize their concentrations in the atmosphere” Decision FCCC/KP/AWG/2006/L.4

The AWG conclusion does provide somewhat of a schedule for following meetings but it ultimately fails to provide an end date for the mandate that will formally initiate the crafting of the post-2012 regime. Furthermore, much remains to be discussed as far as what the work plan will look like and how will parties conduct and incorporate the Kyoto protocol review under Article 9 (which is another highly contentious issue. For more info on this, see blog “Going Canadian on Article 9”).

Kyoto the bride
To sum up: lots of words, little meaning, and this is not really getting us anywhere. However, we could say that the dynamic present within the last AWG working groups was indicative of an outcome of the type. Earlier Tuesday, India illustrated its frustration in a rather creative way, comparing the Kyoto process to a traditional wedding where the bride does not show her face until it is time to consume the wedding. India was alluding to Annex I Parties revealing what they are willing to accept and discuss (in terms of future commitments) on the eve of the coming into action of the Kyoto agreement, wishing they “could have known the bride earlier”.

Mixed feelings
Overall, there was a general sense of disappointment amongst the ENGO’s (Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations) while parties did express some contempt for having reached an agreement. Perhaps South Africa as the head of the G77 and China (the developing nations coalition), in congratulating AWG chair Michael Cutajar, best summarized the parties general feeling when noting that: “A good chair is one that makes everyone equally unhappy”.

For a naïve new comer to this process like myself, I can only see that we have missed a tremendous opportunity. Let us hope we catch up at COPMOP3.

Post-2012: What’s the hype?

This is an incomplete post salvaged from the internet archive.

-by Virginie

(Written on Sunday, 11/12/06)

I am writing from the Nairobi Natural Museum. We are waiting for the CAN (Climate Action Network) strategy meeting to begin. It is Sunday, we haven’t set foot in the Gigiri United Nations complex and I am taking this opportunity to step back for a day in order to reflect on my focus and experience thus far. Unlike my previous posts, this will be a one-pager blog, I promise. (If you are looking for an analytical policy oriented update, you are probably better off taking a look at other blogs as I hope to infuse a more personal and experiential tone to the following report.)

Looking beyond Kyoto: the post-2012 issue
Some of our readers might be wondering why many of us are particularly interested in answering the following questions: What happens in 2012—when the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol is over? What is next, and how do we prepare for it?

Personally, my attraction for the post-2012 issue stems from what I perceive as the potential for my generation to develop a sense of ownership towards a future climate change regime. After all, we are part of the first generation to have been raised with the notion, or rather the knowledge, that humans were allowing dangerous atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases in the name of limitless economic growth and prosperity.

Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement and Climate Change

This is an incomplete post salvaged from the internet archive.

-by Virginie

With these negotiations moving so excruciatingly slow, there are times when we feel discouraged by what we perceive as the lack of progress. Thankfully, hope may be revived by the simple presence of an inspiring figure such as Wangari Maathai, founder of the worldwide known Green Belt Movement.

Earlier today, Ms. Maathai held a book-signing held at the United Nations Library. Many of us purchased her most recent work and memoir entitled “ Unbowed: One Woman’s Story”. Now known around the world as an environmentalist, civil society figure, women’s rights activist and parliamentarian, Wangari Maathai’s life work, courage and innovative spirit has been recognized in 2004, when she was granted the Nobel Prize.