(25 December 2007)The gap between the urgent threat of global warming and the collective will to do something about it has never been greater. The recently concluded Conference on Climate Change in
A Roadmap to Anywhere
The US was brought back to the fold, but at the cost of excising from the final document–the so-called Bali Roadmap–any reference to the need for a 25 to 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 to keep the mean global temperature increase to 2.0 to 2.4 degrees Celsius in the 21st century.
Reference to quantitative figures was reduced to a footnote referring readers to some pages in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Report which simply enumerate several climate stabilization scenarios. The alternative scenarios ranged from a 2.0 to 2.4 degree rise in temperature to a 4.9 to 6.1 degree increase. This prompted one civil society participant to remark that the “
A few days after the new agreement was forged, many are now having doubts whether on balance, it was positive. Would it have been better to have simply let the US walk out, allowing the rest of the world to forge a strong agreement containing deep mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on the part of the developed countries? With a new
One wonders what would have happened had Washington remained true to its ideological propensities and decided to stomp out of the room when the delegate from Papua New Guinea, releasing the conference’s pent up collective frustration, issued his now historic challenge: “We ask for your leadership and we seek your leadership. If you are not willing to lead, please get out of the way.” As everyone now knows, after last-minute consultations with Washington, the American negotiator backed down from the US’s hard-line position on an Indian amendment seeking the conference’s understanding for the different capacities of developing countries to deal with climate change and said Washington “will go forward and join the consensus.”
Weak Institutional Outcomes
The single-minded focus on getting Washington on board resulted in the dearth of hard obligations agreed upon at the meeting except for the deadline for the negotiating body, the “Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention,” to have its work ready for adoption at the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 (COP 15).
Many delegates also felt ambivalent about the institutional arrangements that were agreed upon after nearly two weeks of hard North-South negotiations.
- An Adaptation Fund was set up, but it was put under the administration of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the US-dominated World Bank. Moreover, the seed funds from the developed countries are expected to come to only between $18.6 million to US$37.2 million–sums which are deemed severely inadequate to support the emergency efforts to address the ongoing ravages of climate change in the small island states and others on the “frontlines” of climate change. Oxfam estimates that a minimum of US$50 billion a year will be needed to assist all developing countries adapt to climate change.
- A “strategic program” for technology development and transfer was also approved, again with troubling compromises. The developing countries had initially held out for the mechanism to be a designated a “facility” but finally had to agree to the watered-down characterization of the initiative as a “program” on account of US intransigence. Moreover, the program was also placed under the GEF with no firm levels of funding stated for an enterprise that is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
- The REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) initiative pushed by host Indonesia and several other developing countries with large forests that are being cut down rapidly was adopted. The idea is to get the developed world to channel money to these countries, via aid or market mechanisms, to maintain these forests as carbon sinks. However, many climate activists fear that indigenous communities will simply be victimized by predatory private interests that will position themselves to become the main recipients of the funds raised.
Big Business Roars in
In this connection,
Climate change activists have been appalled and stunned by the business takeover of the climate change discourse. According to them, the carbon market was originally a very minor part of the architecture of climate architecture, one that climate activists agreed to in order to get the
The Philippines, we learned at
A National Response to Climate Change
The many dimensions of the climate crisis in the
Radically scaling down our debt is, however, but one aspect of a broader response. Let me conclude by saying that climate change is fast emerging as the greatest challenge to our generation, for even as we prepare for it, we must also make sure that our country develops so we can eliminate poverty. Poverty can never be a solution to the climate crisis. The ultimate solution is a pattern of development that is both sustainable and equitable. A transition to a low-growth, low-carbon economy where people’s standards of living have also risen is possible. But it will only be possible if equity is at the center of development. Thus climate change is both a crisis and an opportunity—an opportunity to overcome the structural obstacles to social equality and genuine democracy.
Walden Bello, a fellow of the Transnational Iinstitute, is President of Freedom from Debt Coalition. He is also a Professor of Sociology at the University of the