EDITION: February - April 2010


Ana Digón

The UN's working group dedicated to developing and negotiating a “climate deal” (the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC), held a summit in Copenhagen last December which was meant to set the framework for the worlds' countries to: a) adapt to the climate chaos that is already being felt by most of us, and b) mitigate or lessen greenhouse gas emissions, which are recognised as one of the main driving forces behind accelerated climate change.

The UN follows the rule of “one country, one vote” and also requires reaching decisions by consensus. This means that, in theory, no group of countries can decide without the agreement of the rest, which is one of the good values of the UN process, but also one of its limitations. Although such a process is fairer than one where rich countries rule, it also leads to situations like the increasingly confused and tense Copenhagen talks, with some countries accused of blocking the process, while weaker countries were bullied and blackmailed by more powerful ones – and no deal was reached. It is generally accepted, however, that the UN is the political and diplomatic space where a world-wide climate deal must be agreed.

The visible result of the summit is the Copenhagen Accord, a document negotiated at the 11th hour primarily by the US and so-called BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). The Accord is not legally binding and no-one is satisfied with it anyway: some are angered because it does not lay out targets and tools to allow governments and corpo-rations to get on with the business of carving up the climate cake into a profitable exchange commodity; others are disappointed that neither the negotiations nor the Accord tackle the real reasons for the interconnected crises we are experiencing (climate chaos, financial meltdown, environmental degradation, social injustice, unemployment, global food shortages...). Increasingly, people feel that the climate talks process serves to perpetuate a capitalist/neoliberal model which, due to its emphasis on profit and growth within a finite planet, is in fact reponsible for the problems we face.

It is quite obvious that there are countries who have benefitted greatly from the existing economic model and become the “developed nations” of the global North (called Annex 1 countries by the UNFCCC), while those who have least benefitted are the “developing countries” of the global South. Unfortunately, the latter will be most affected by the direct effects of climate chaos, and so they hope for a climate deal that will set out realistic and fair technological and financial systems. They do not want Northern countries pushing their technologies onto them, but would rather get help in developing their own appropriate technologies. Some want to be compensated for their role in looking after the planet's main carbon sinks, and to be repaid the “ecological debt” that they feel is owed to them, while others refuse to limit their emissions since that would mean curbing their flourishing industrial and economic growth, now that at long last it is their turn to benefit.

Of course, developed nations of the North are themselves dealing with the effects of the present financial and employment crisis, and are reluctant to make further financial commitments for adaptation and mitigation as they see their investment capacity in their own countries dwindle.

From the contents of the Accord, it is obvious that developed countries are relying heavily on offsetting as their main strategy, which means buying the right to pollute from others who are polluting less (normally in developing countries), or planting trees to compensate for their emissions. However, many are warning that offsetting will not serve to reduce emissions but is in fact a dangerous and ineffective way of dealing with such a major problem that affects us all, and that it shifts attention from the fundamental task of rapidly phasing out fossil fuels.

Another concern which has not been addressed by the Accord, but which was very much discussed in Copenhagen, is the link between agriculture and climate. Recent calculations indicate that industrial agriculture and its related processes (from pesticides to transport) actually add up to 50% of the world's emissions – while it only provides 30% of the food the world consumes. It is hard to imagine for us in modern Ibiza, but the world's small peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists and hunter-gatherers are actually feeding 70% of the world's population. However, present trends seen in COP15 clearly promote an expansion of the industrial food chain model, a very real threat to all these small producers.

Out of the confusion and tension of the climate talks, one voice that came out loud and clear was that of the international civil society, at the People's Summit called Klimaforum09. A declaration was issued from this parallel summit which denounced as false the market-based solutions the UN process is debating, and presented a series of proposals. This, however, received little attention from the press and was ignored by the official UNFCCC process.

What has become clear out of this whole process, which is still ongoing, is that the citizens of the world cannot wait for politicians to solve the climate problem – it is down to each and every person, each family, each community, to make appropriate decisions in our everyday lives: choosing to buy or grow organic food, supporting local producers, eating less meat, driving less, using more public transport, creating less waste and recycling the waste we do churn out... are all ways that we can contribute to meet our own personal “targets” and be kinder to the environment... and to future generations.

Text: Ana Digón

In the next editions of Ibicasa we will be reporting
on various themes concerning the UN climate negotiations.