Climate Change Negotiations


The 13th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC or COP 13), which took place at the Bali International Convention Center in the elite Indonesian playground of Nusa Dua over December 3 to 14 ,was an intense affair. Some have praised the outcomes of the process, which resulted in consensus on a Bali Roadmap, an agreement to continue climate change negotiations with a deadline of 2009 for a new plan to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012. Others have condemned the conclusion as acquiescing to the United States with a process moving much too slowly to match the urgency of the situation. 

Those pleased with the Bali Roadmap feel that the fact that consensus was reached was a significant accomplishment and that talks were successful at forcing the U.S. to get on board or “get out of the way,” as a delegate from Papua New Guinea demanded. Indeed, it was after being loudly booed for continuing to block consensus that U.S. climate negotiator Paula Dobrianski finally agreed that the U.S. would join the Bali Roadmap. 

“This is a real breakthrough, a real opportunity for the international community to successfully fight climate change,” said the Indonesian environment minister and president of the conference, Rachmat Witoelar. He added, “Parties have recognized the urgency of action on climate change and have now provided the political response to what scientists have been telling us is needed.”  

Many organizations, indigenous peoples, and social movements in Bali, however, found the results deeply troubling and charged that they were actually a large step backward since they abandoned firm targets on emissions reductions while more firmly entrenching profit-driven market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading. 

Banner at December 8 Day of Action march

According to Walden Bello, senior analyst at Focus on the Global South, “Bali will probably be remembered as the conference where big business came to climate change in a big way…. Shell and other big-time polluters have been making the rounds touting the market as the prime solution to the climate crisis, a position that articulates well with the U.S. position against mandatory emission cuts set by government. UN officials justify the greater private sector presence by saying that 84 percent of the $50 billion needed to combat climate change in the next few years will need to come from the private sector and the latter needs to be ‘incentivized’.” 

The U.S. was widely criticized during the two weeks of talks for hijacking, obstructing, and impeding the negotiations—historically the role of the U.S. in climate talks—by advancing the interests of big business and opposing hard emissions reductions targets. “Governments must continue to stand up to this lame-duck U.S. president with his malicious agenda. Industrialized nations must now immediately set ambitious targets to cut emissions, forging ahead on a national and international level, confident that soon a new U.S. administration will be in place,” said Ailun Yang of Greenpeace China.  

While the argument that a Democratic victory in 2008 would mean real U.S. action on global warming has a fair number of adherents, the history of U.S. action to block progress on climate change dates back to Democratic Vice President Al Gore. When Gore was VP, and actually had the power to make a difference on the issue, he hijacked the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997, bullying the other delegates into dropping the emissions reductions targets to the paltry and insufficient 5.2 percent below 1990 levels that made it into the final language. His more destructive act, though, was to insist on the inclusion in the agreement of market-based approaches to climate change mitigation—most notably carbon emissions trading and carbon offsets. To add insult to injury, after coercing the world to go along with their controversial market-based approach, the U.S. refused to sign on. 

Halting False Solutions 

It was with an understanding of this abusive pattern of U.S. domination and global submission that non-governmental organizations and indigenous peoples organizations from around the world came to Bali. The goal of many NGOs at the UNFCC was to halt the forward motion of “false solutions” to climate change that had become the major foci of much of the negotiations. The one banner that stood out in contrast to the come-ons for carbon offsets, clean coal, nuclear power, and biofuels was a banner depicting a clearcut that read, “Carbon Markets: The Convenient Lie.” This banner, atop the booth of the Global Forest Coalition, raised a lot of eyebrows, but became the rallying cry of many organizations and indigenous groups. 

Demonstration outside UNFCCC conference

Foremost on the agenda of many of these groups was stopping the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (REDD) scheme. In line with the overall chaos of the conference was confusion about what the second “D” in REDD actually stood for. Some say it stood for “and Degradation,” others for “in Developing Countries.” Looking on the official UNFCCC website offered no clarity on this point. 

With deforestation and forest degradation contributing around 20 percent of global carbon emissions, addressing deforestation is a key component of reducing carbon emissions. REDD, however, proposed to include forests in the carbon market by funding forest protection for the purpose of “offsetting” emissions being spewed by industries in the North. 

A letter opposing REDD, signed by 60 organizations, indigenous groups, and civil society organizations from around the world, describes the potential injustices that could occur: “The proposed REDD policies could trigger further displacement, conflict and violence, as forests themselves increase in value they are declared ‘off limits’ to communities that live in them or depend on them for their livelihoods. Women and indigenous peoples are the least likely to profit from the destruction of forests and therefore also the least likely to receive compensation. Carbon finance mechanisms result in forests being transferred or sold off to large companies who aim to acquire profitable ‘carbon credits’ at some point in the future.” 

Indigenous people likewise view REDD as a major threat to sovereignty. The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change expressed their profound concern in a statement on REDD: “REDD will not benefit Indigenous Peoples, but, in fact, will result” in more violations of indigenous peoples’ rights. It will increase the “violation of our Human Rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access, and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity, and culture diversity and cause social conflicts. Under REDD, States and Carbon Traders will take more control over our forests.” 

Parallel to the REDD scheme, the World Bank launched their Forest Carbon Partnership Facility during a press conference at the UNFCCC featuring World Bank president and former U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick, who is also one of the authors of the neo-con blueprint for empire—the Project for a New American Century. EU countries threw tens of millions of dollars (U.S.) at the Bank for this Facility. Even the Nature Conservancy tossed in some $5 million. Simone Lovera, managing coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition and a specialist in international environmental law, summed up the Facility, “Northern donors can give generous grants to an institution controlled by Northern donors while pretending they are green and helping developing countries. Northern consumers can continue to waste energy as it is very clear that the Facility is targeted towards promoting carbon offsets. And the World Bank can make millions of dollars [in commissions] out of channeling all this money.”

Because the Facility is directed at reducing deforestation, Lovera further points out that the funds will largely benefit those countries with the highest deforestation rates, while those that have been good at conserving their forests will be left out. She also cautions that this fund is likely to result in forest blackmail, with countries threatening to cut their forests unless they are handsomely compensated for their lost potential profits from logging. If this strategy of compensating a company for lost profits from prohibited bad behavior sounds familiar, that is because it reflects a model perfected by the North American Free Trade Agreement in which Robert Zoellick was instrumental. 

Both REDD and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility also came under sharp criticism for failing to address the underlying causes of deforestation. There are no provisions in either plan, for example, to address increasing consumption of wood products in industrialized countries. Quite the contrary, at the same time that so much emphasis was being placed on the need to reduce deforestation, countries and companies were jostling for position in the lucrative business of manufacturing ethanol from cellulose-based sources such as trees. “On the one hand, negotiations are under way to reduce emissions from deforestation while, at the same time, efforts are being undertaken to perfect the technology to make fuel out of trees. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that creating a massive new demand for wood to manufacture liquid fuel is not a great way to reduce deforestation,” stated Dr. Rachel Smolker, research biologist for the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP). Smolker was the lead author of a 70-page report on agrofuels entitled “The Real Cost of Agrofuels: Food Forests and the Climate,” co-produced by GJEP and the Global Forest Coalition. The report, which was officially launched at the climate convention, details the impacts of agrofuels on forests and forest-dependent peoples.

Polar Bear action outside UNFCCC meeting

Indigenous peoples are increasingly on the front lines of the struggle to stop the rampant deforestation of their traditional lands for paper, agrofuel plantations, or timber monocultures. It is also their intact lands that are being looked at to provide the carbon “offsets” that will allow industries in the North to continue to pollute. Because of the close connection of indigenous communities to the land, they are also among those who are most at risk from the impacts of climate change. In September 2007 the UN ratified the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which enshrines the right to land, culture, and livelihoods. Indigenous peoples and their allies fought for two decades for this declaration, which was staunchly opposed by the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Throughout the conference indigenous people encountered a wall of resistance. They were barred from reading statements to the assembly and when UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer held a meeting with organizations and civil society groups, the indigenous delegation was given the wrong place and time. When they arrived late to the meeting, they were forcibly prevented from entering by UN Security. Indigenous groups charged that this treatment was representative of a systematic exclusion of indigenous peoples from UNFCCC. “There is no seat or name plate for indigenous peoples in the plenary; not even for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the highest level body in the United Nations that addresses indigenous peoples’ rights,” stated Hubertus Samangun, the focal point of the Indigenous Peoples delegation to the UNFCCC and focal point for English Speaking Indigenous Peoples of the Global Forest Coalition. 

After they were forcibly blocked from meeting with de Boer, indigenous delegates held a press conference to condemn the climate change negotiations as catering to industrialized countries at their expense. “This process has become nothing but developed countries avoiding their responsibilities to cut emissions and pushing the responsibility onto developing countries. Projects like REDD sound very nice but they are trashing our indigenous lands. People are being relocated and even killed; my own people will soon be under water. The money from these projects is blood money,” stated Fiu Mata’ese Elisara-Laula of the O Le Siosiomaga Society of Samoa. 

The feeling of being excluded from the official process was also shared by numerous NGOs and civil society groups who are not members of the Climate Action Network (CAN), the officially sanctioned NGO body that includes such huge conservative organizations as World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International. CAN has been criticized for supporting market-based approaches to climate change mitigation and for backing REDD. 

Die in during climate change convention

Groups outside of CAN and even some CAN members like SEEN and Friends of the Earth International have come together to oppose market-based false solutions. They are collaborating on a publication that provides a more critical analysis of the climate negotiations as an alternative to CAN’s official newsletter ECO. The new publication, named Alter-ECO, gives detailed critiques of the market-based mechanisms being promoted at the UNFCCC. 

The coalescence of alternative voices also included the formation of a Climate Justice Caucus, which met daily during the conference. Numerous protests were held as well, the most notable of these was a very vocal and militant demonstration during the World Bank’s launch of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. Demonstrators staged a die-in with individuals representing different peoples, ecosystems, and island nations that are threatened with extinction due to the official focus on market-based false solutions to climate change. The chants of hundreds of protesters included, “World Bank: Hands Off” and could easily be heard inside the official proceedings. 

On December 8, groups around the world participated in an international day of action on climate change. In Bali the Indonesian Friends of the Earth group WALHI organized a rally and march in the city of Denpasar. Thousands marched through the streets in a highly diverse assemblage of activists and movements united in the call for immediate and effective action on climate change. 

At the end of the two hard weeks of joint activities to demand effective and just climate change solutions, climate change organizations and anti-corporate globalization groups joined together with civil society groups and indigenous peoples organizations to formalize their collaboration under the name Climate Justice Now! as a vehicle through which to continue future joint efforts on climate change. 

The emergence of this new global climate alliance, which includes not just climate campaigners, but also indigenous groups and social movements as well as some of the global justice organizations that helped build a powerful worldwide movement against the WTO and other unjust trade agreements, is a major step toward the kind of widespread global protest that needs to be brought to the doorstep of the climate negotiators. If governments are incapable of taking real action to stop climate change on their own, perhaps a mass mobilization of the public can help persuade them. As the Guardian commented in 2000, “what has been singularly lacking [in the climate change debate] has been any widespread popular campaign. There have been no Seattle-style protests…. Politicians respond to pressure. When they have big, angry demonstrations outside their conference centers, it focuses their minds….” 

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Anne Petermann is co-director of the Vermont-based Global Justice Ecology Project (www.globaljusticeecology .org) and the North American Focal Point for the Global Forest Coalition (www.globalforestcoalition.org). Orin Langelle also contributed to this article and provided the photos. Langelle is co-director of GJEP and media coordinator for the Global Forest Coalition.