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The Tragedy of Errors: Why Have Climate Talks Come Full Circle?

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By Astha Agrawal:

Dear Decision Makers,

A wise someone once said, ‘Climate change is as much human nature as mother nature’. After the high profile environment talks in Warsaw, Poland, I found out that it couldn’t be truer. You established that these talks are business as usual. But can you, for once, ‘talk’ to glean out a solution to a problem we all created, and are imperiled by? The dangers of the living environmental nightmare are not limited to disasters and ensuing loss of human lives (and now in the language you understand better), but propel security (yes, national security too!), energy, and governance challenges. Yes I know you don’t disagree on the reality of climate change. You also agree that it cannot be dealt individually because environment doesn’t respect sovereignty and territory. You have brainstormed to conclude that a mix of mitigation (cut on emissions) and adaptation (green energy) is the need of the hour. But this is all you have been able to achieve in last 41 years since the Stockholm conference in 1972!

COP 19th

Keeping global warming below 2°C is a herculean challenge in itself but the feet dragging exercise you (mis)performed during COP 19th would arm the planet at 3.7 by 2100. In 2012, CO2 in the atmosphere reigned at 393 parts per million, the highest ever in 800,000 years. Since the data sounds impersonal and doesn’t ring or blow any bells or trumpets, let’s talk of the (in) human consequences. Scientists warn that even at 2°C, the planet is going to witness deaths of corals, inundation, extreme weather events like wildfires, floods and droughts, water stress, food insecurity, and so on. At 4°C, the hottest days will get hotter by 6°C to 12°C! It will unleash irreversible damage. And yet, there is a clear and ever-widening gap between the unanimous pledge to control global warming, the sincerity of the state and the ability of the policies to achieve that goal.

I had my fingers crossed when I came to know that corporate houses were sponsoring the event. I wanted to believe it was ‘corporate social responsibility’. At the very outset, the leader of Philippines delegation declared fast-unto-solution. The world stands testimony to the devastation Philippines has undergone due to the typhoon Haiyyan. Then it was revealed that the Polish hosts couldn’t wait to hold the ‘coal summit’ which demonstrated the priority accorded to the cause. The hosts appeared to be in a real hurry to start ‘shale gas operations’ and hence sacked the environment minister, the president of COP19th, who was perceived as a hindrance. Each one of you were ready to outdo the other.

The UNFCCC Executive Secretary courteously delivered the keynote address at the coal summit. Japan, Canada and Australia reneged on their earlier commitments. Instead of keeping up the promise of cutting emissions by 25%, in the wake of Fukushima-induced nuclear shut-down, it informed of an increase by 3%! The US and the EU never behave differently. The north-south divide was as evident as ever. The ‘loss and damage’ (the only outcome of the talks) branch to help poorer countries deal with ill effects of climate change was agreed to but bitterness grew on the status of the mechanism as being ‘new’ or ‘under’ the existing framework.

In a dramatic turn of events, 132 delegations (Including China and G-77) walked out. In another coordinated action, environmentalist groups walked out. You also couldn’t agree to who would fill the climate fund. Some of you from the developed world believe in ‘bygones are bygones’. The 200 years of coal burning activity as a result of which you enjoy the current level of development doesn’t shake your conscience enough to accept the historical responsibility. I should also remind you that you are better equipped in both mitigation (limiting the emissions) and adaptations. Also, the impact that your reductions will reap will be of a greater consequence than by the developing countries. The developed countries had pledged to generate $100bn by 2020 to help poorer countries but the projected fund as of now is only $7.6bn! Economics triumphed over environment. Have I not seen it before?

I saw most of you congratulating each other for having laid an agenda for Paris COP21 where a new agreement to replace Kyoto Protocol (another sad story!) would be signed. The buzz is that this time even the developing countries will undertake commitments, the EU and the USA had made this clear in Copenhagen, 2009. Of course China and India called their share ‘contributions’ rather than ‘commitments’. I think you celebrated out of compulsion. For you, the talks have become a ritual to continuously create the sycophant bubble of convenience that allows you to believe that you are doing something. I don’t think either Lima (Peru) or Paris would be any different. You know why? Because you still do not want to question our models of growth. Because you have held yourself hostage to narrow political gains, and are obsessed with ‘narrow national identities’ which make you believe that you can protect ‘your’ people while others may go to hell. I can only hope that you draw lessons in coordination and courage. I wanted to ask if you would ever walk the talk. But it seems you haven’t finished talking. It is also a lesson for me because I never voted for my leaders on the basis of their commitment to the cause of environment, never sought it on their agendas and manifestoes. Perhaps this time.

“People often know what they do. They also know why they do what they do. What they don’t know is what they do, does.” ~Michel Foucault

Yours Sincerely
Worried Denizen of Earth

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  1. Renuka

    Great work Astha. Your article makes us think how we take our climate and environment as least important issue to deal with. It is very important that young people across the world must unite and raise their voice on such issues as well. Hopefully our leaders listen to voices of people over voices of corporations.

    1. Astha

      Thank you! I do hope that the logic of profit will someday triumph over the logic of life.

    2. Astha

      *I mean the logic of life will triumph over the logic of profit.

    3. Rituparna Patgiri

      Amazing article! Very informed and clear.

  2. Sonali

    A brilliant comment on those who are too arrogant to acknowledge that nature does not check the boundaries created by them. If it is disturbed beyond a limit then the destruction unleashed would be indiscriminate. Very well expressed Astha. Here you have successfully assigned to the issue the sense of urgency that it so badly demands.

    1. Astha

      Thank you! If we do not wake up in time, we may never wake up.

  3. nishtha

    People often know what they do. They also know why they do what they do. What they don’t know is what they do, does.
    The way you quoted this in the end, the way you wrote the entire thing. Blown away.

  4. Ankita K Singh

    Very informative and well written article Astha. You really brought fore the reasons why climate talks are not yielding results. It goes without saying that climate change is our new reality (typhoon Haiyan, Hurricane Sandy- are all manifestations of our new climate reality). At a time when environmental conversation is the most pressing issue, its disheartening and devastating how climate talks are producing no concrete results. The lack of political will to understand, recognise and accept scientific evidence and the worlwide daily havoc that climate change can cause (and is causing) is central to why climate talks are failing. Everyone seems to be saying it’s all because of someone else and not us. The need is to bring environmental policy from the margins of policy agenda to the center and realize that this is one challenge that affects each one of us.

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