“People Who Talk About Saving The Planet, Do Little Else. They Just Talk.”

Posted on February 16, 2015 in Environment

By Anjali Nambissan:

“People who talk about saving the planet, do little else. They just talk.” My brother-in-law and I were engaged in a heated ideological argument about ‘tree-huggers’ (his generalisation about people with an interest in sustainable development or climate change). The moment he said that, the United Nations-led climate talks jumped into my head. The over 20 year long annual exercise of trying to come to terms with who needs to do what, so that our Earth doesn’t become a super-heated ball of deserts and storms.

climate change talks

These superstars of give-and-take are tasked with coming up with a miraculous agreement that shall:

a. Put every country in this world into categories – developed, developing, least developed and so on. Based on their categories, countries have to provide money, come up with a number and promise to reduce carbon emissions by that much.

b. Decide how much of the money put together will go to which countries to be used for adaptation to climate change.

c. Go beyond adaptation to coping with the effects of climate change and distinguish between how much is loss, and what constitutes damage.

d. Be legally binding. So the negotiators also have to thrash out terms for violation and penalties.

And they have to work all of this out and put it to vote by December 2015 in Paris. How many of us have our money on, ‘What? Say the first thing again?’?

Go, Geneva, Gone

Over the last week, national representatives and delegates gathered at the Palais des Nations in scenic Geneva, Switzerland, to yet again, talk about the ‘outline of the draft text’ that was drawn up in Lima last year. It will take four meetings between now and Paris to change this ‘outline of a draft text (which is 87 pages long and basically [includes][Everything][Everyone][wanted]) to an actualnegotiating text (which will be put to vote as an agreement) and I hear the next one is in Bonn, Germany in June. Coming back to the negotiations at hand, the eighth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) concluded on Friday. But why should we care?

I’m not sure.

Though the draft text was put together in record time due to the enthusiasm and involvement of the negotiators, it isn’t very remarkable. Perhaps negotiators are trying to win back some goodwill for the UN climate process after the poor show put up during and after the COP 10, at Copenhagen in 2009. In the Geneva Text, as it is called, there is some consensus amongst Mexico, Uganda, Chile, Bolivia, Tuvalu, the EU and other countries to include ‘strong language on human rights’. So, different sections of the text mention the rights of indigenous people and gender equality.

But it isn’t anywhere near to being a coherent, standalone agreement. It is just a negotiating text that does not “indicate agreement as to the structure or organization of the agreement, or which provisions should appear in the agreement versus in decisions adopted in Paris or thereafter”.

Now, the scientific group has to go through it, the loss and damage guys will vet it in Warsaw, the adaptation plans of each country will be scrutinised in June, the finance guys have to put in some numbers and finally, it has to be okayed by the political bosses in Paris.

The World Wants to Know

Everyone from Barack Obama to Arnold Schwarzenegger has given India an earful about cutting fossil fuel dependence and doing something about climate change. And since the US and China signed a historic emissions reducing treaty, right before the Lima conference last year, the world is turning to next-in-line emitter- India, to deliver some spectacular emissions reduction targets.

But India is really in no position to take on ambitious emissions cuts and move away from fossil fuels, what with a large poor population to provide for. International pressure on India to take up ambitious emission cuts because of its growing economy, sheer size and population is not new.

India, along with other parties, maintains that countries historically responsible for the carbon already up in the air take on higher emissions cuts, and more responsibility, than those not-so-responsible for existing carbon emissions. So that countries take on cuts with ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ (CBDR).

More meetings

First, the Heads of States will gather in Addis Ababa in July to discuss Financing for Development. Then head to crowd the United Nations General Assembly in New York to talk about a post-2015 sustainable development process in September.

What I don’t understand is why we need three separate tangential meetings when without finance or sustainable development we cannot prepare for climate change or avert related disaster. If climate change kicks our butt, we will need ever increasing amounts of finance to even dream of sustainable development. And climate-proof development is essentially sustainable development. You get the picture, right? It is all an interconnected web of issues.

But we can always hope that the outcomes of all these meetings will have a productive bearing on the outcome of the crucial Paris meeting.

And Paris should be interesting, otherwise too. It is the first time that Prime Minister Modi will be looked upon to make some decisions regarding climate change on the international stage, with all his newfound friends watching closely.

P.S. Click here, if you might enjoy a cute account of a reporter following a Swiss delegate around at the Geneva climate change conference 2015.