State of play.

COP14 is over, but what exactly does that mean?

It means we are way behind.

The most recent milestone of international climate negotiations was the development of the “Bali Action Plan” at COP13 last year. This document established a framework from which climate negotiations would proceed during the following 24 months leading up to Copenhagen.

Not much has happened since then.

We are no nearer a strong Copenhagen agreement than we were a year ago and are beginning to see the sweat on foreheads as negotiators begin to lower the level of ambition as they fight for any outcome in Copenhagen.

An overview of the current state of play by negotiating bloc:

(negotiating bloc = groups that work together pushing a common position)


European Union:

No longer the climate hero they once were. The European Union is still talking the talk to an extent, but is walking backwards. They seem more concerned about getting something, anything, out of Copenhagen, than they are about the details of the agreement. We need to get Copenhagen right. We won’t have another chance at this. We cannot compromise on the details. Sorry EU. To do so is to ask small islands states, youth, and other vulnerable peoples to agree to a suicide pact.

Group of 77 and China (essentially all the developing countries):

The G77 and China has historically pushed for a strong climate agreement – and still does to an extent. However, being roughly 150 countries, it is sometimes difficult for everybody to agree on the strongest position available. This has very much been the case recently, where we saw in Poznan the G77 and China shy away from embracing the positions of AOSIS and the LDCs due to internal opposition. They still have significant capacity and put strong proposals on the table at negotiations, but can no longer speak from a position of moral authority. The most important thing for this bloc is maintaining the foundational principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” as established in the UNFCCC convention text. This is where the debate about developing country mitigation action comes from. They don’t want to do anything without massive financial and technical support – and even then don’t want to be legally bound. This is understandable, considering developed countries have a historic responsibility and have shown frighteningly little  leadership as of yet.

Umbrella Group (specifically Australia, Canada, Japan, United States):

Sitting back, smiling, and doing everything they can to keep an agreement from being reached. At every turn, one of the four listed countries is doing something bad and keeping consensus from being reached. Money in the short-term is far more important than a habitable planet in the long-term for these countries. These countries seem to care little for the most vulnerable among us or for their own children. We need massive grassroots mobilizations in each of these countries demanding our governments step up and do everything necessary to ensure the survival of all countries and peoples. We can accept nothing less.

Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs):

This subset of the G77 and China recently found its voice in a very large and incredibly important way. In Poznan, AOSIS and the LDCs pushed hard, along with the youth present, for a dramatic reshaping of the debate. We need to go back and completely rethink what is necessary to ensure the survival of all countries and peoples. This means much lower emission targets than initially assumed as well as a sustained commitment to adaptation support. AOSIS and the LDCs are the moral compass at the negotiations. They are the litmus test of whether or not we are doing enough. It’s absurd to think that these countries have to fight tooth and nail for the rest of the world to simply recognize their right to survival. Negotiators (primarily from developed countries) are knowingly condemning them to death. Though we may be able to save lives with adaptation efforts, even that isn’t assured in the current negotiations. Regardless, if things don’t change soon, not only will we have blood on our hands, but we’ll have knowingly committed mass cultural genocide.

Business:

The business interests work almost entirely behind the scenes. Being very sensitive to their public image and perception, they don’t speak up much in public, but are definitely present and trying to move things in a specific direction. There are many positions within the business community, but those who show up and commit resources to influencing the process tend to be those trying to kill the negotiations. Lately they haven’t had to do as much, since industry interests are currently deeply embedded in US politics. The US government does the fighting for them. Hopefully that will soon change.

Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs):

At international climate negotiations, ENGOs organize themselves through the Climate Action Network (CAN). CAN is sort of like the G77 and China. It is a big group and they often push very progressive positions, but they also get bogged down and are forced to take weaker positions than necessary due to internal dissent. An example of this was in Poznan when AOSIS, LDCs, and youth began to push for 350ppm as a concentration target and 1.5 degrees C as a max temperature rise. CAN was unable to quickly respond, having spent years pushing 2 degrees C and having no official stance on concentration targets. They’ll likely get to these positions, but they missed an important opportunity when key negotiating blocs needed support.

Youth:

What can I say? I like youth. We attend these negotiations from a very important position. We are not an interest group. We are not bound by big, unwieldy organizations. We are simply there fighting for our collective future. In Poznan, youth were quick to jump behind and support AOSIS and the LDCs as it quickly became clear our goals are aligned – the survival of all countries and peoples. (Sorry if you’re tired of hearing that phrase… but it’s so so important considering negotiations currently don’t ensure the survival of all countries and peoples). We have a lot of growing to do, but there are some seriously motivated individuals involved who are going to push things in amazing ways. We just need to make sure we don’t accidentally become a hierarchical bureaucracy ourselves. Decentralized is the way to go. I’ve always hated the idea of “movement leaders” – we’re all leaders and we’re all equal stakeholders when it comes to defending our future. It will be interesting to see where things go in the next year as we try to mobilize and organize an increasingly large number of people around Copenhagen.

Overall:

We can’t think of Copenhagen as the end game. There is so much to do before and after Copenhagen. It’s just a significant benchmark, but one at which we can do little in the way of moving governments. That movement will take place before or after the event.

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