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Entries tagged "climate change"

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Durban Diary: #Occupy the COP

December 2, 2011 ·

With the Occupy movement spreading faster than wildfire, it's hard not to ask how every issue relates to it. Climate change is no exception. The question is particularly compelling right now because representatives of 194 countries are gathered in Durban, South Africa, to negotiate next steps for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Former Costa Rica President Jose Maria Figueres wants vulnerable countries to Occupy the UN negotiations. Photo by Pixel y Dixel.The connection is easy to make, actually. Like the economic crisis that sparked the Occupy movement, climate change is about inequality.

A few countries are responsible for releasing the vast majority of the global warming pollution that’s in the atmosphere. And they got rich pumping the subsidized oil and burning the cheap coal that produced those emissions. Their wealth did come at a cost — but to poor communities, especially in the global South. And, ironically, the countries and communities that are least responsible for today’s climate crisis are some of the most vulnerable to its impacts and have the fewest resources to respond.

A cacophony of global voices comes together at the annual UN climate summit. Policymakers, indigenous nations, labor unions, youth activists, environmentalists — you name it, they’re probably here, trying to stop global warming.

But powerful corporations whose bottom line depends on access to cheap energy, land, water, and other natural resources are here as well. Not surprisingly, their mission is to defend the status quo, and they wield the political weight of some of the richest nations and the most influential financial institutions (like the World Bank).

Frustrated with the seemingly boundless clout of corporate interests and those heralding the benefits of market-based solutions, like carbon trading, critics have taken to referring to this 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the climate convention as the Conference of Polluters. They're putting out a call to #OccupyCOP17.

José María Figueres, a former Costa Rican president, echoed the sentiment. Calling on all vulnerable countries to occupy the meeting and refuse to leave until progress is made, he said, “We need an expression of solidarity by the delegations of those countries that are most affected by climate change, who go from one meeting to the next without getting responses on the issues that need to be dealt with."

Figueres was referring to two key goals. First, developed countries must renew their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol — the only internationally binding treaty on climate pollution. Second, they must commit to providing developing countries with the money they need to support their adaptation to a warmer world and the transition to low-carbon economies. The United States and other rich countries are sidelining both of these broadly shared objectives.

Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, is observing the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa. www.ips-dc.org

Join the global call for climate justice by participating in 1,000 Durbans in conjunction with the December 3rd Day of Action on Climate Justice.

Durban Diary: Repaying Climate Debt

November 29, 2011 ·

A major flashpoint at the UN Climate summit in Durban is how nations in the global north should deliver the money that they're supposed to give countries in the global south to support efforts to deal with climate change.

Delegates at COP17 have presented different visions of how the Global Climate Change fund will work. Photo by UNClimateChange. It's not chump change. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs says it will cost developing countries upwards of $1 trillion every year to address climate change in the coming years.

Many negotiators want the UN to open the doors of the Green Climate Fund created at last year's summit in Cancun. They're also debating the scale and sources of long-term finance. The U.S. government is blocking both conversations.

Instead, Washington wants the private sector to take a leading role, and for tricks like carbon trading to leverage public money by raising big bucks in the financial market. This might sound good, but it would just add another roulette wheel to the casino economy that plunged the world into the worst recession since the 1930s.

Therefore, civil society groups and developing–country governments have demanded that the Green Climate Fund not serve as yet another game room for financial speculators to gamble with public dollars. A growing movement for innovative sources of climate finance — including a tiny tax on financial transactions — has shown that money is available for global public goods like climate change programs.

Now we just have to mobilize the political will of rich countries to share the wealth. With European countries adopting austerity measures, and a U.S. Congress that barely believes that the climate is changing, that'll be an uphill, but necessary, struggle.

Will the next two weeks of climate negotiations unleash a violent storm that makes our planet uninhabitable? Or can governments come together to keep our future safe?

As the second day of climate talks are winding down, storm clouds are building again.

Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, is observing the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa. www.ips-dc.org
Join the global call for climate justice by participating in 1,000 Durbans in conjunction with the December 3rd Day of Action on Climate Justice.

Durban Diary: What's on the Table?

November 29, 2011 ·

There are hundreds of issues and interests at stake at the 2011 UN climate summit, as well as representatives of the 192 countries who signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. But just two questions are on everyone's mind.

The first is whether the Kyoto Protocol will survive. The second is whether the world can agree on a climate finance system. Climate finance is the term we're all using for the money promised by developed countries to support developing countries as they adapt to a warmer world and shift to low-carbon development pathways.

Activists warn that the wealthiest countries are not negotiating in good faith at Durban. Photo by adoptanegotiator.

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and enacted in 2005, is the only international, legally binding treaty regulating climate-warming pollution.

We're still in the pact's first "commitment period." For this phase, most developed countries (the recalcitrant United States didn't join) promised to reduce their emissions by 5 percent by the end of 2012.

That deadline is rapidly approaching. If countries don't agree to the second commitment period, which is slated to begin in 2013, there'll be nothing to keep global emissions from shooting through the roof.

But instead of getting behind a second commitment period, countries — especially the wealthiest ones — are dragging their feet.

Canada, Russia, and Japan say they won't sign up unless emerging economies like China take binding regulations. China says it shouldn't have to take mandatory cuts until the biggest polluter — the United States — shows any evidence of that it's reducing emissions or taking steps in that direction. And Washington flat out admits that it will never sign the Kyoto Protocol.


U.S. climate negotiators say the world needs a new mandate. The Obama administration is proposing that the world move to a "pledge and review" model. It would allow countries to volunteer goals for cutting emissions. A couple of years later, world leaders would convene to see if anything's happened. There'd be no overall target that lines up with what scientists say is necessary, no repercussions if countries don't meet their goals, and no distinction between countries that are most responsible for creating the climate crisis and those that are primarily its victims.

This flies in the face of the "polluter pays" principle that we all learn in kindergarten - if you made the mess, you have to clean it up. It's also simply suicidal.

Social movements, environmental groups, trade unions, development organizations, human rights advocates, and youth activists — all the folks that will be most impacted by global warming — have made clear that inaction is not an option. "Governments are playing games with us while people are dying," said Desmond D'Sa, chair of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, which helped organize an alternative summit called the People's Space being convened at Durban's University of KwaZulu Natal.

Developed countries made a commitment to reduce their emissions when they signed the UN climate convention. The mandate is there. It's clear. Now it's time for those countries, which grew wealthy exploiting cheap but dirty fossil fuels, to fulfill their promise.

Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, is observing the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa. www.ips-dc.org

Join the global call for climate justice by participating in 1,000 Durbans in conjunction with the December 3rd Day of Action on Climate Justice.

Durban Diary: UN Summit's Stormy Backdrop

November 29, 2011 ·

On Sunday night, as I met with colleagues from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America to prepare for the UN climate summit, the unseasonably blustery evening went from windy to rainy to a huge downpour.

It was a perfect illustration of why we were in Durban, South Africa. Scientists are finding increasing evidence that climate change is behind the recent surge in extreme weather. By the time we ran (literally) down the block for dinner the rain was hard enough to soak us in spite of raincoats and umbrellas.

There's a stormy backdrop as delegates from around the world prepare to discuss the future of the world. Photo by UNClimateChange.We woke Monday morning to news that the violent storm had killed eight people in Durban and neighboring Pietermaritzburg, and destroyed scores of houses. The security guards that checked our badges at the door reported that local farmers' crops were ruined. It was the second deadly deluge in the KwaZulu-Natal province in less than two weeks.

UN climate scientists recently predicted that extreme weather — heavier rainfall, more floods, stronger cyclones, more landslides and, ironically, more frequent serious droughts — will increase as we continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise.

This is a big part of why I've made the carbon-spewing trip from Washington DC to South Africa.

Over the course of this yearly summit, I'll advocate for rapid and deep cuts in climate pollution from the world's wealthy industrialized countries. I'll also call for financial support for poorer countries to move from dirty development pathways to low-emission strategies for lifting people out of poverty (like access to clean, renewable energy), and to build resilience to the impacts of climate change, like extreme weather-related disasters.

Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, is observing the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa. www.ips-dc.org
Join the global call for climate justice by participating in 1,000 Durbans in conjunction with the December 3rd Day of Action on Climate Justice.

Obama: If You Can't Lead Then Get Out of the Way

November 4, 2011 ·

In December 2008, in the eleventh hour of two weeks of intense negotiations over the future of a global climate deal, negotiators sat exhausted and exasperated as the team from the United States moved to block a temporary agreement. Visibly frustrated, the lead negotiator for Papua New Guinea growled at the US, “If you can't lead then get out of the way.” The room exploded in applause, and the US backed down.

President Obama has a choice to make regarding the Robin Hood Tax.Flash forward three years and the United States, now under what was supposed to be a progressive administration, is standing in the way of other countries’ progress again. This time a coalition of the willing in Europe – led by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel – are laying plans to put a tiny tax on financial speculation by big banks and financiers who treat the global economy like their own personal casino.

A financial speculation tax (a.k.a. FST, Robin Hood tax or financial transaction tax) could raise serious money – on the order of $400 billion per year, and groups that are worried about the impacts of climate change think that this is one of the best proposals out there for generating some of the money developing countries desperately need to adapt to a warming world and to build low-carbon economies.

The Obama administration – and in particular Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – has staunchly opposed taxing the Wall Street casino at home. But in a serious overreach of power, they’ve threatened to stop any mention of France and Germany’s proposal for the tiny tax in the G-20 Summit underway in Cannes, France.

In response, major US organizations including Oxfam America, Greenpeace USA, 350.org, and Church World Service States sent President Obama and key members of his administration a letter urging the US to, once again, step out of the way of internatinal progress. 

Here's the full text of the letter, and the list of endorsing organizations:

Dear Mr. President,

We write to urge you to signal support for European countries’ proposal for the G20 summit in November 2011 to endorse countries’ use of a financial transaction tax.  It is dismaying that, according to recent reports, your administration has repeatedly objected to European efforts to put such a tax in place, even for themselves.  We believe this obstructionism is deeply misguided.   A negligible levy on the financial sector has shown great potential to address growing inequities in the financial system, and to help prevent financial crises in the future. 

A small tax on the trading of stocks, currencies, derivatives and other financial assets has the power to raise hundreds of billions of dollars a year while discouraging dangerous financial gambling and rapid, high-volume speculative trading.  Funds raised by the tax should be used to strengthen broad-based economic prosperity and human security by creating green jobs, improving livelihoods and global health, and following through on critical climate change finance commitments to developing countries.

The idea of a small fee on the sale of financial transactions is not new. Such taxes have a long track record in many of the world’s leading economies. The United States, for example, had a transfer tax from 1914 to 1966, which levied a 0.20 percent tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled the tax to help financial recovery and job creation during the Great Depression.

Today the idea is supported by many G20 leaders, including French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel, and innovative sources of finance remain high on President Sarkozy’s list of priorities for the G20 Summit. The European Commission recently published legislation for a European financial transactions tax. Bill Gates will formally present a report on development finance at the G20 in which he is expected to identify a financial transaction tax as one of the most credible and feasible sources of innovative finance. The IMF has also published papers noting the feasibility of such a tax.

But, Mr. President, while momentum builds in Europe your administration continues to block progress. We were deeply disappointed when reports from last month’s meeting of European Finance Ministers revealed that Secretary Geithner repeatedly discouraged European countries from moving forward with a financial transaction tax – even amongst a “coalition of the willing.”

Public anger is growing over Wall Street bailouts, record corporate executive excess and broken promises to build a clean economy. The “Occupy” movement is proof of that anger. You have an opportunity to stem this frustration by bringing a message of encouragement for a European financial transaction tax to the G20 Summit.

We, the undersigned organizations, call on your Administration to take a bold stand against Wall Street greed and negligence and stand for accountability and economic justice by supporting European leaders’ action on a financial transaction tax at the G20 in Cannes. 

Respectfully yours,


ActionAid USA

Affording Hope Project

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Community, Democracy and Ecology

Center for Participatory Research and Development

Center of Concern

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Church World Service



Foreign Policy in Focus

Friends of the Earth U.S.

Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Greenpeace USA

Holy Cross International Justice Office

International Forum on Globalization

International Rivers


Jubilee USA Network


Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Movement Generation: Justice & Ecology Project

Nord-Sud XXI

Oil Change International

Oxfam America

Pacific Environment

Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance

Stiftung Nord-Süd-Brücken

Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, Institute for Policy Studies

Tax Justice Network USA

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society


Women's Environment and Development Organization

cc: Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Department of the Treasury; Michael Froman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs

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