Monday, 25 October 2010

Cancun Calling

The latest round of climate talks, held in Tianjin in northern China at the beginning of October, ended in as much disarray as a group of diplomats and bureaucrats could realistically achieve. The same arguments that have previously plagued climate negotiations reared their heads again, with the US pointing the finger at China for not accepting binding emissions targets, while others claimed that slow US action on clean energy and emissions reductions is more to blame. Things went so badly that scheduled talks on deforestation didn't even begin, and some of the diplomats in attendance “openly wondered whether continuing the UNFCCC process was even politically worthwhile.

This is all part of the build up to the big event of the year – the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or, as it's more snappily known, COP16. COP15, held last year in Copenhagen, was widely reported on at the time due to the host of famous faces that made appearances during the negotiations – including Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao – and, of course, the huge demonstrations from climate activists that accompanied them. But by the end of the two weeks, little had been achieved beyond the huge emissions of all the delegates flying to Denmark, and those of us concerned with climate justice went home disappointed.

This year's event, taking place between 29th November and 10th December, has so far proved a lot more low-key, not least because of the difficulties of campaigners getting to, and demonstrating in, Mexico, where the event will be held in the glamorous seaside resort of Cancun. Nevertheless, campaigners around the world, including Birmingham Friends of the Earth will be continuing to make demands of their own governments and world leaders.

Our demands include, of course, serious reductions in domestic emissions. There is an increasing view that global temperature rises need to be kept below 1.5 degrees if we are to save the Pacific islands, and other low-lying nations, from catastrophic flooding. The EU is currently committed to just 20% emissions reductions – this needs to rise to at least 40%, and preferably more. Equally important, however, is that these reductions must be made domestically, rather than through 'outsourcing' our emissions reductions to poorer nations.

By paying for cuts in poorer nations and claiming them as our own we are replicating the pattern of power that our polluting, industrial societies are based on – that poor nations, peoples and lands exist primarily for the use of rich ones. This also puts the responsibility for solving climate change on the nations which have the least responsibility for causing it. We need to face up to the consequences of our huge historic emissions and make real cuts in our own country.

Big emissions reductions would not actually be too difficult for our energy-wasting society, and Friends of the Earth and the Stockholm Environment Institute have shown how 40% cuts in Europe's CO2 emissions could be made quickly and (relatively) easily. The only thing missing is the political will to put these ideas into practice.

A second issue is that governments in the rich world need to provide real help to poor countries to adapt to the effects of climate change and develop their own clean, green economies. Friends of the Earth is calling for a Global Climate Fund to be set up which will be under the control of the UNFCCC, while developed nations would like to see the fund run by the discredited World Bank. The World Bank has a long history of imposing damaging neoliberal 'shock doctrine' policies on developing nations as conditions for receiving loans, and to put it in charge of climate funds would not inspire any confidence in those who have been damaged by its past actions.

Finally, the developed nations need to help developing nations address the huge emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation, while also ensuring that the rights of local communities and indigenous people are respected. Existing forest policies have often ignored the ways in which indigenous people and small communities use forests sustainably, for food, medicine and fuel, and this needs to be addressed to ensure that these people are not locked out of using their own lands, which they have looked after for centuries, or even millennia.

In the past few months David Cameron has talked about how his new government will be 'the greenest ever'. It's time for him to live up to those words by making the UK negotiating team show real leadership in Cancun.

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