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Waning Interest, Ambiguous Future: “Another” UN Climate Change Conference at Durban

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By Siddhartha Roy:

Photo courtesy: Nic Bothma/EPA

Two years ago, when the world leaders assembled in Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) meet, the media was in a tizzy. Every inch of celluloid and newsprint zoomed in on the ‘battle’ between the Developing Countries (primarily the BASIC countries, led by India) v/s the Developed ones (with Big Bad United States at the helm). The Copenhagen Meet had a simple agenda: Charter and adopt an effective treaty to carry forward Kyoto Protocol’s legacy when its legal obligations ended in 2012.

Copenhagen was a failure. A huge one. The negotiations were disarrayed and the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ drafted by BASIC was “taken note of” but not “passed”. The document recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present day and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2°C. One part of the agreement pledges US$ 30 billion to the developing world over the next three years, rising to US$100 billion per year by 2020, to help poor countries adapt to climate change. Accord also favors developed countries’ paying developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, known as “REDD”. Though more than 130 countries have signed it later; in the absence of any legal bindings, it is just a piece of paper.

I wrote a piece for YKA on the Copenhagen Summit prior to the Cancun Meet scheduled in Nov-Dec 2010. I ended it with “The media, the NGOs and the youth should gear up. November isn’t far away”. Well, analysis by experts worldwide put the blame on various factors: the Recession, Domestic pressure within countries like US and China, Developing Countries for trying to protect their growth by not accepting emission cut commitments; and Developed countries — primarily US – too for the same reason! What a paradox!

The one thing Copenhagen did garner was widespread dialogue and awareness. Citizens came out on the streets in large numbers. People religiously followed ‘Earth Hour’. But the 2010 Meet at Cancun was a blip on the radar. And except one or two snippets, I definitely don’t see much on the Durban Meet which started on 28th November and will go on till 9th December — at least not in India. Most of my acquaintances (even the intellectual ones) aren’t even aware of Durban. People have bigger worries obviously — The rising dollar, the Lokpal tussle, the FDI War and, now, Kapil Sibal vs Facebook.

So, what is the Durban Meet aiming for? To secure a global climate agreement as the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period (2008—2012) is about to end. But isn’t this what we aimed for in Copenhagen as well? Just a year before Kyoto expires, it is essential that this year we get a Kyoto-II or something close.

Now, for some facts: Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by half in the last 20 years according to new data. Last year, emissions from burning fossil fuels rose by 5.9%, bringing the total rise since 1990, the baseline year for calculating emissions under the Kyoto protocol, to 49%, an average rate of increase of about 3.1% a year.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, and an author of the research, said the data showed that little had been achieved in the past two decades in reducing the risks from climate change.

“There have been efforts to use more renewable energy and improve energy efficiency but what this shows is that so far, the effects have been marginal,” she said. “We need to do something about the 80% of energy that still comes from burning fossil fuels.” She said the problem was urgent, as the chances of holding global temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels (which scientists regard as the limit of safety) beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible, were dependent on emissions peaking by 2020 at the latest.

Even the recession hasn’t produced a dent in the greenhouse gas emissions as they are projected to continue rising at around 3% per year. The situation is precarious: carbon emissions rocketing to unprecedented levels, alongside increases in joblessness, energy costs and income disparities. Julia Steinberger of the University of Leeds says, “Surely the transition to a green economy has never seemed more appealing.”

IPCC warned in November 2011 that extreme weather will strike as climate change takes hold. Heavier rainfall, storms and droughts can cost billions and destroy lives. Estimates suggest that every dollar invested in adaptation to climate change could save $60 in damages.

The prime focus in Durban also includes focusing on “finalizing at least some of the Cancun Agreements”, reached at the 2010 Conference, such as “co-operation on clean technology”, as well as “forest protection, adaptation to climate impacts, and finance – the promised transfer of funds from rich countries to poor in order to help them protect forests, adapt to climate impacts, and “green” their economies”.

I did not write this post to discuss the intricacies of the Meet or the legal/strategic misalignments between the foreign policies of developed or developing countries. I could write a separate article for that.

I wrote this so that people would know. And people would read. Think. Maybe even participate in a dialogue. Walk a protest. Light a candle. Something. Something?

Excerpts and sources:
COP17 Official Website:
Harvey, Fiona: Carbon dioxide emissions show record jump. The Guardian’s online edition at
Roy, Siddhartha: Post-Copenhagen: The Battle is now in Mexico. Youth Ki Awaaz’s online edition at
Wikipedia page: 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Available at

You must be to comment.
  1. Milind Alokjee

    Political dialouge has been going on for the last many years and will continue. Will they reap any actual results? Will they prompt the government to really work for the environment? I seriously doubt. If we look around ourselves, the governments attempt to actually do something for the environment is restricted to small gimmicks to please the people; nothing serious is ever done, neither any bold step ever taken. The fight for long has been led by individuals and organisations and I feel that only they can spread the required awareness and instill the concern in the people, hence making them act.

  2. Deshnee Naidoo

    Cop17/CMP7 was billed as the biggest event of the year and was hyped up to be even bigger than the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

    Sadly, it is not so.

    Do not feel disappointed about the lack of coverage and enthusiasm about the event in India.
    I am living in Durban and I have received many blank stares from my neighbours when I start talking about COP17. Most times, I’ll get a response but not the one I’d like. “What’s COP17?”

    Yes, there’s coverage in the media of the event but there really isn’t any interaction or education happening amongst the people.

    There can be a conference held even twice a year and it will still not do any good if the people are not being educated about the decisions which ‘leaders’ are making.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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