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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "climate justice"

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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.

Bonn Climate Talks

June 7, 2011 ·

The Institute for Policy Studies has joined with Friends of the Earth International, Jubilee South Asia, Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance, Third World Network, and other movements and organizations fighting for climate justice in the international policy arena at the UNFCCC intercessional talks in Bonn.

We will provide regular updates on key policy areas and issues being debated here at the climate talks — such as emissions reductions, climate finance, halting deforestation, and carbon markets, among other issues.  We invite our allies to use these updates to help inform regional and national activities, provide information for media outreach, and enhance national and regional advocacy plans. Please feel free to circulate.

Update No. 1: Bonn Climate Negotiations

The Big Picture

United Nations climate negotiations resumed in Bonn, Germany, on June 6. This session follows the slow progress made at earlier talks in Bangkok in April, and are essential for building momentum toward the Durban climate conference in November.

The Bangkok talks were focused on setting the agenda for the negotiations for the rest of the year and were setback by divisions between countries over the scope of international climate talks. In Bangkok, some rich developed countries insisted on limiting the negotiations to implementing the narrow range of issues agreed at Cancun; in contrast most countries supported continuing under an agreed workplan from 2007 (the Bali Action Plan).[1]

The Bonn talks are to be based on the broad agenda advocated by most countries in Bangkok, but the clash in the "paradigm" for the negotiations will underline further disagreements in Bonn. These fault-lines include:

  • Setting binding emissions reduction targets through the Kyoto Protocol
  • Insufficient emissions reduction targets currently on the table
  • The Green Climate Fund

1. Setting new binding emission reduction targets in 2011?

The Kyoto Protocol represents the current model of international climate law – it requires developed countries to set binding emission reduction targets and to meet them over a 5 year period. The first five-year period ends in 2012 and time is running out to agree on targets for the next ‘commitment period’ (2013-2017/2020) in accordance with the mandated negotiations, which have been running since 2005.

Developing countries, particularly the Africa Group, have made clear that a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol is essential, as it provides a paradigm of legally binding emission reduction targets. Some developed countries, including Russia and Japan, have indicated they will walk away from their international legal obligations to agree commitments for the period after 2012. The United States is similarly opposed to binding emissions reduction targets. Instead of negotiating science-based targets reflecting their fair share of the global effort, they are now proposing a “pledge-based” system in which each country does whatever it determines domestically.

Bonn represents a pivotal moment for the future of the Kyoto Protocol. The Bonn climate talks need to pave the way for agreement in Durban on the next phase of legally binding emission reduction targets. Durban is the last chance to agree, as the first phase of commitments ends in 2012. If there is no agreement in Durban, the world may be faced with climate anarchy, without an international regime in place.

2. Will those new pledges be enough?

The latest science shows that negotiators at Bonn will be out of touch with what the latest science clearly requires if the world is to avert dangerous climate change. The current pledges risk warming of 2.5 to 5 degrees according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The problems with developed countries’ proposed targets are manifold: they are too low to meet what the science requires but they are also accompanied by ‘creative accounting’ proposals which result in emissions reductions only on paper. Furthermore the extensive use of offsets will see rich countries shift the burden for reducing emissions to developing countries – while doing almost nothing at home.

Analysis revealed in Bangkok showed that when emission reductions were converted into gross amounts – rather than percentages – it was clear that developing countries’ pledges for emission reductions were even higher than those from developed countries (3.6 Gigatonnes to occur in developing countries with only 1.9 Gigatonnes to occur in developed countries).[2] Together, these pledges fell well short of the 14+ Gigatonnes the UN says is necessary to be on path to remain below 2 or 1.5 degrees C.

In addition, the emissions reduction targets proposed by developed countries are ridden with loopholes. The rules currently being considered do not take into account emissions from shipping and aviation, overestimate emissions reductions by forests and land use in developed countries and allow the carry-over of unused pollution permits and offset credits . This means that the total emission of developed countries could actually increase even if their ‘official’ targets say they are making reductions.[3]

The debate over these rules, how they shift the burden of reducing emissions to developing countries and whether they are in line with the science will be of central importance in Bonn – particularly as the agenda sets particular time for addressing this issue.[4]

3. Creating a "Green Climate Fund"

In Cancun, one of the few areas of agreement was the establishment of a "Green Climate Fund" (GCF) to oversee the collection and disbursement of "climate finance." Currently the details of the GCF are being negotiated by a ‘Transitional Committee’ (TC) which has already met in Mexico in April and again in Bonn from May 30.

Flashpoint issues in the negotiations of the GCF have already included the role of the World Bank as its trustee, given concerns regarding its potential conflicts of interest due to its role in financing fossil-fuel based projects, and its practice of mixing roles as a banker, financial advisor and project implementer (known as the "Arthur Anderson syndrome" following the financial crisis). This conflict may be compounded by proposals relating to secondments and staffing of the new fund, which draw heavily on the World Bank as a source.

Similarly, many observers are concerned that the process of the GCF is off-track. It is currently heavily focused on technicalities and structure – without having agreed to what the priorities of the fund should be or the actual scale of public funding. In Cancun, countries agreed to a "goal" to "mobilize" $100 billion by 2020 from “a wide variety of sources”. However, developed countries are yet to commit to any specific level of public funding.

A further critical question here is what a "balanced" allocation of finance between adaptation and mitigation really means.[5] It is to be expected at Bonn that developing countries, who are the most vulnerable to climate impacts, will push the GCF to identify the needs and priorities of recipients before designing structures to best meet those needs.

Finally there is concern that the GCF is too focused on "private finance" options (through loan guarantees, publicly-provided insurance, or other risk sharing instruments) and thus risks putting too much power into the hands of profit-driven interests. Market failures and distortions by private interests are a significant structural cause of the climate crisis and many countries fear a continued focus on the private market could have the effect of financing projects that are ineffective at confronting climate change but are very effective at transferring public monies into private coffers. These countries and observers will be pushing for the GCF to be primarily funded through public sources (including innovative mechanisms such as Special Drawing Rights and the "Robin Hood Tax").


[1] See recent affirmation of the importance of the Bali Action Plan and the Kyoto Protocol at the India-Africa forum, 25 May 2011, (para 7), http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=72319

[2] Stockholm Environment Institute, “The Implications of International Greenhouse Gas Offsets on Global Climate Mitigation” (March 2011), www.sei-us.org/Publications_PDF/SEI-WorkingPaperUS-1106.pdf

[3] Stockholm Environment Institute, “Assessing the current level of pledges & scale of emission reductions by Annex I Parties in aggregate, AWG-KP In Session Workshop, Bonn, 2. August 2010; and, Kartha, S. “How Accounting Tricks, Loopholes, and Strategic Carbon Banking Could Negate Developed Countries’ Copenhagen Pledges”, Tellus Institute Brown Bag Lunch Series, 10 November 2010.

[4] On Thursday 9 June 2011 according to preliminary schedule.

[5] This is a reference to the objective of the fund from the Cancun outcome document – see Annex III of 1/CP.16, http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf#page=2.

World Bank Doesn't Belong at the Green Climate Fund's Drawing Table

April 5, 2011 ·

The UN climate talks held in Cancun late last year paved the way for a new Green Climate Fund to channel money for developing countries to build resiliency, protect forests, and bring low-carbon technologies and practices into mainstream use.

That marked a critical victory for developing countries, but the biggest fights have yet to come. In the coming year, a committee of 40 government representatives (25 from developing and 15 from developed countries) will be working furiously with the UN and other institutions, as well as finance, gender, community participation, and other experts, on making this fund a reality. They must do everything from creating a management structure to forging a global definition of "clean energy."

This ambitious task is meant to result in a Green Climate Fund that can handle the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars a year developing countries will need in the coming decades to combat climate change and at the same time continue their fight against poverty.

It's fundamentally disturbing, however, that the World Bank — the planet’s leading cheerleader for a growth-without-limits development paradigm — is elbowing its way to the front of the line to help design the new fund, almost guaranteeing itself a permanent role in its management.

More than 90 environment, development, human rights, and anti-debt organizations from around the world conveyed this concern in a letter to the Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the convener of the first fund design meeting.

In the letter, civil society leaders called for strictly limiting the World Bank's role in the design on the Green Climate Fund for the following reasons:

First and foremost, the World Bank continues to finance dirty coal, oil and gas projects. According to a World Bank Group Energy Sector Financing Update prepared by the Bank Information Center, the global lender supported fossil fuel projects to the tune of $6.6 billion in 2010, a 116 percent increase from the year before. That included $4.4 billion for coal power projects, more than it spent on all new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects combined for the year ($3.4 billion). So while the World Bank is undeniably increasing it renewable energy financing, the volume is still dwarfed by its fossil fuel lending.

Bobby Peek, director of groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa, an environmental justice group in Durban, South Africa, that endorsed the NGO letter, noted, “Only a year ago the World Bank made its largest loan ever to dirty energy, signing $3.75 billion over to the Eskom energy company to build a 4,800MW coal-fired power station in South Africa.” He asked, “Is this the institution we want to put in charge funding the solutions to the climate crisis?”

Bank officials say that the Eskom power plant — and similar coal projects in other countries — are important for bringing access to electricity for energy-poor families. But environmentalists and local activists argue that the project will benefit large mines and smelters, not the local community.

In fact, in an independent review of the Bank’s 26 fossil fuel loans in 2009 and 2010, Oil Change International found that none of these clearly identify access for the poor as a direct target of the project. The Bank agreed that not a single coal or oil project could be classified as improving energy access.

To the World Bank’s credit, it may be about to change course to a degree. A leaked draft of its new 10-year energy strategy revealed plans to move away from supporting new coal projects in middle-income countries. But environment and development groups argue that the language used in that draft document is riddled with loopholes. The energy plan also includes a massive scale-up of hydropower mega-dams that threaten to displace communities, destroy fisheries, and release their own greenhouse gases.

The Green Climate Fund should remain fully independent from the World Bank. Its design committee should engage experts from UN agencies and all regions of the world. Experts on gender, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, renewable energy and efficiency technologies, indigenous peoples, human rights, and social and environmental safeguards should weigh in, too.

Cancun: More Exclusion of Civil Society, More Bad News from Governments

December 8, 2010 ·

I'm commuting to the Cancun climate talks on a bus packed with the Friends of the Earth International delegation and hanger-onners like myself. This morning, when our bus arrived at gigantic Cancun warehouse where climate civil society groups are convening — along with our personal police escort — we were stopped again. This time, the federal police said that the bus that we arrived on didn’t match the license plate of the bus we had arrived on yesterday. In fact, that bus had broken down, so this was a different bus.

But the fact was that we arrive with a police escort, so the fact that the police then didn’t let us into the venue was just over the fine line of what many of us could handle at 8 a.m. after two weeks of sleep deprivation.

Then, when we were finally allowed into the building complex, people who had been standing where an action had taken place yesterday and had had their pictures taken were barred from entering even the civil society space.

Meanwhile, the deteriorating state of negotiations inside the UN climate talks is pushing people further toward the edge.

Yesterday, the prime minister of Kenya’s announcement that they were fine with rich countries abandoning a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was met with gasps of horror from the developing countries assembled in a high level plenary.

He later retracted the statement saying that he had read an early draft — not the correct final intervention. As it turns out, a Japanese bureaucrat had written that draft — revealing Japan’s attempt to bring developing countries into their campaign to kill the Kyoto Protocol.

A second blow to climate justice was struck when Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi proclaimed that the Cancun talks must result in adoption of the Copenhagen Accord — a deal that would lead to a “pledge & review” process instead of a global greenhouse gas target with equitable effort in reducing emissions among developed countries. A recent UNEP report shows that the pledges under Copenhagen Accord would lead to a worldwide average temperature inccrease of 2.5-5 degrees Celsius — which scientists say would push us part the tipping point of climate chaos.

What's worse is that if the Copenhagen Accord is the model for a new deal here in Cancun, governments have locked the world into dangerously warm planet.

The ALBA countries — notably Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Paraguay — are still standing strong, but are coming under increasing fire for resisting a pledge and review process, and climate finance without first making concessions on being legally bound to mitigate their own emissions — even while the true climate criminals responsible for the vast majority of emissions remain free.

The game now is to support African countries in resisting Meles’ attempts to ram support for a bad deal through the Africa Group, call bullies like the United States and Japan out for attempting to tank a fair process, and hold up those countries like Bolivia who are willing to speak truth to power.

We’ll see what happens today as we race closer to the wrap up of the UN climate talks here in Mexico this Friday.

Shielding Climate Talks from Public Scrutiny

December 7, 2010 ·

It’s the beginning of the second week of the climate summit here in Cancun and everyone — from NGOs, to governments, to the policy wonks — is starting to get jumpy as it becomes clear that a battle is brewing between those who want a climate deal at any cost, and those who only want one that is just, equitable and effective.

It started yesterday before we even left the hotel zone.

I’ve been hitching a ride on the Friends of the Earth bus to the negotiating venue — an "all-inclusive" resort called the Moon Palace. Actually, it's quite exclusive. It’s located an hour from the hotel zone and only accessible after passing through multiple security screening points and additional bus trips.

Holding talks at the Moon Palace srategically discourages participation from all but the most dedicated climate wonks. The Mexican government and the UN climate convention secretariat have said they don’t want a repeat of last year’s talks in Copenhagen where people who weren't officials (oooohhh scary) participated in a creative diversity of actions to get government delegations’ attention on key issues.

Last year, the secretariat went so far as to kick Friends of the Earth out, claiming that flash mobs (spontaneous gatherings in the hallway usually accompanied by a stunning visual and catchy chant) put delegates at risk.


I guess that the secretariat was concerned that by being exposed to regular people’s ideas and demands government officials would be on the hook for having to respond. Being seen as uninterested in whether your negotiating positions doom small island states to inundation or African communities to drought and starvation can certainly be risky — especially if the press catches you.

So instead, this year, the secretariat worked with the Mexican government to assemble a temporary warehouse — which they’ve decorated with posters, potted plants and “ethnic” baskets to make a bit homier — as a civil society holding pen.

To get to the actual negotiations at the Moon Palace you have to get on a second bus. Last week, traffic flowed freely between these two spaces. But now, anyone going to the Moon Palace has to pass through an additional checkpoint before boarding the shuttle bus. And if last year is any indication, you can bet that civil society will be stopped from even getting on the bus.

Access to the actual negotiating hall is already restricted for Tuesday to a total of just 100 non-governmental observers from all of civil society around the world.

It’s astonishing to think that we — the members of the public here in Cancun — are allowing the secretariat t get away with this. But we are.

I think it’s mostly because of the threat of being locked out of climate negotiations forever if you make a fuss. And for many of the people who came here, attending these global conferences is their life’s work.

Climate justice activists, however, are a bit more averse to flying low under the radar. But before even getting anywhere near the venue our bus was pulled over by the federal police.

Most of us were busy reading the latest negotiating text or checking our BlackBerries and didn’t notice until an officer in full swat gear and touting an automatic rifle boarded the bus.

It turns out that as we passed the first check-point on the road to the Moon Palace the police noticed that our bus was registered in Chiapas. Not only is Chiapas home to the Zapatista movement — which has taken on the Mexican government with gusto in the past two decades — it’s also the state from where a caravan of peasant farmers had come from over the weekend.

So we sat in the bus for about an hour while the bus driver smoked a cigarette on the grass and the police tried to figure out if we were an uprising of militant campesinos.

We were finally allowed to move ahead, but under the condition that the federal police escort our bus to the negotiations. There was one black Hummer in back, and another one in front, each with four heavily armed soldiers training machine guns on our coach.

I have to admit that I think we all took the police harassment as a kind of a badge of honor. But it's becoming crystal clear and making me increasingly uncomfortable that the Mexican government, as the climate talks' host, and the countries and institutions that control the UN climate convention, don't want public scrutiny of the kind they received in Copenhagen. They have made careful arrangements to castrate any possibility of a potent climate movement impacting their conversations. And they’ve got a contingency plan that includes very heavily armed security forces if that should fail.

Given the lack of direct action in the halls, and a dearth of interventions to call attention to a general lack of climate justice, it seems — disappointingly — that the pacification plan at the climate talks has worked. I hope to be proven wrong in the next four days. In the meantime, I'm marching in the street with Via Campesina between plenary sessions.

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