Negotiators face a steep climb to rescue climate agreement

Posted by John Sauven — 29 November 2010 at 1:22pm - Comments

It isn't making the big headlines we saw last year, but the need for a global climate agreement is more obvious than ever as climate impacts accelerate. Government negotiators and ministers are in Cancun over the next two weeks for the next round of international negotiations on climate change and they face a painful conundrum. Domestic politics in the United States have made it almost impossible for countries to sign a legally binding global agreement.

In place of a global deal with common rules and a sense of purpose, we're now faced with a bottom up, ad hoc and chaotic response to a planetary emergency. It's as if we were trying to deal with a deadly pandemic, by brewing home-made vaccines in our bathroom.

And with the recent ominous news of a rise in atmospheric methane levels, possibly linked to rapid Arctic warming, the dislocation between the scale of the risk posed by climate change and the laughably inadequate response of the international community is clear.

But whilst the problem is stark and growing, many campaigners feel as if they are running out of options. If the international process is broken, and we can't fix the problem of climate change without it - what comes next?

For some, the answer is to continue throwing energy at the UN led process as if there might be some alchemic substance in the water in Cancun that will transform political conditions on the ground in Beijing or Washington DC.

While others who are sceptical of an agreement ignore the UN process and focus on energy security and green jobs. This is an equally inadequate, if rather more sophisticated, response.

Of course, there are synergies between domestic energy security concerns, and the need to reduce emissions. But they cannot alone get us to where we need to be, or in a way that is equitable. Only international collaboration can do that job.

Which leaves us with only one choice. We must continue to work for an international deal on climate change - but to do so in a way which systematically builds the political conditions necessary for such a deal, in the places where it matters - in key capitals and boardrooms.

First, we must defend the case that action on climate change is absolutely necessary; and explain the science underpinning this. Because no other logic will prevent the world's economies burning up all the world's fossil fuels until they are gone.

Second, we need to identify the specific failures of global cooperation that threaten to sour the atmosphere in Cancun and beyond - and dismantle them.

Governments must be forced to deliver on the emissions reductions and financial promises they made in Copenhagen - including the $30 billion dollars pledged by rich countries for action on adaptation, forest protection and clean energy.

By insisting on delivery, we can help politicians make the limited, but nonetheless vital progress that is possible in Cancun. That could include formal recognition of the positive elements of the Copenhagen Accord - including a global goal to limit temperature rises to below 2 degrees, and to mobilise $100 billion of climate finance annually, by 2020. It could also include meaningful agreements on forests, adaptation and technology. And it might even include a provisional agreement to retain the Kyoto Protocol, as part of a plan for a more comprehensive legally binding deal in future.

But ultimately, to get the real deal - the one which sets the world on a rapid path towards a low-carbon economy - we'll have to tackle the stranglehold high carbon businesses have over decision making in the world's richest countries. This means challenging them when they go after new tar sands underneath Canadian forests or new oil in the seas of the Arctic; or where they plan to lock our economies into a whole new, lethal generation of coal-fired power stations. It means challenging them in the board rooms. And it means demanding an end to fossil fuel subsidies that keep our global economy in the grip of big carbon business.

Eventually, the world will shake off big carbon and walk free. But for now, climate campaigners have a simple job - to bring that moment forward, minute by minute, and day by day - using every peaceful means in their power.

We must get on board to get every organisation that we deal with to see the truth of the world's predicament. I have been talking to my social housing landlord. They agree that they will do all that they can to reduce omissions across everything they do. They are in fact dedicated to this, but I am lucky.

They have agreed to do even more. The will is there. I will make sure that this is made public, to spread the word and to defeat the deniers. But there is more to be done. With a reactionary local council I will have a real battle on my hands, but with the back up of my local group we can do it.

Don't just sit and worry, get out and do it. There may not be much time left.

I think the bar really needs to be raised with the next climate change summit, especially given the disappointing results of the Copenhagen one last year. The official UNFCC website cited an estimate of 40,500 tonnes of CO2 as a direct result of the Copenhagen summit.

Obviously, this is almost impossible to measure exactly so the true figure could be much higher. We should take a step back and ask if there is a valid reason there has to be a physical location for the summit in this day and age. Even if some delegates from the very small countries might not have snazzy tele-conferencing facilities etc, I can't imagine any rep who could not use a phone if all else fails.

Can GreenPeace please start a campaign to encourage this, as I think it's important to lead from the front and show that we don't need to fly to places for this sort of thing. It might even be a good example to business who insist they always need face to face meetings for conferences. After all, how can we (proponents of carbon emission reduction) tell them to give up on them if we don't do so ourselves.

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