COP15, Outcome Fluctuates to the Extremes- Like Climate Change” ©
By Suzanne Maxx
“All Just Spin? “A Quantum Leap for Climate Change?”– Maybe both.
COP15, like Climate Change itself, seemed to bounce from one extreme to the other; perceived by some as total failure and by others a success, yet the reality is both were present in different moments with time to give the verdict, judged on the long term outcome. I know it was personally significant.
The art of negotiating our future may lie not in agreement but may depend on, as Carl Jung said, “How long man has the ability to live with the tension of the opposites”. As the surface issue of not reaching a binding global accord in Copenhagen is merely the symptom, the disease may be more complicated to diagnose.
There was the question of if the Kyoto Protocol should remain intact and if it made sense to forge forward with the goal of two track documents, one sustaining the Kyoto Protocol and the other, this possibility of the new Copenhagen Accord.
Amidst the chaos of registration and the logistics of the Bella Center venue, yes it was extreme with not just weather, but with actions. Not just because of the regions lack of day light either, with the sunset close to 3:30pm. Yes, there were many NGO’s thrown out, and many journalist never able to make it in. There were walk outs, demonstrations, protests, civil society actions, many people wearing polar bear suits, chicken suits, and those all in red protesting nuclear energy’s “green washing” and many versions and ways of communicating the possibility of humanity’s extinction through song, films, art and protests inside and outside the Bella Center and around Copenhagen. One article I wrote that was published in ENS was on Our Future, titled “Youth Commands Action at Climate Summit”
United in Copenhagen, Denmark perhaps it was impossible not to be impress with their country’s “green” lifestyle and policies, a country that led through examples of energy policy but may have fell short in regards to personal liberty and freedom—but in fairness, the buildings’ capacity was said to be 15,000 and they had more than 50,000 registered to attend, so it may be unfair to judge the liberties, they seemed to do their best to manage the logistics..
As President Obama said when he arrived in Copenhagen on Friday morning;
“We come here together in Copenhagen because Climate change poses a grave and growing danger to our people. You would not be here unless you-like me-were convinced that this danger is real. This is not fiction, this is science. Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet. So the question before us is no longer the nature of the challenge—the question is our capacity to meet it”.
So what happened that allowed this opportunity which for a moment felt like Obama (with his campaign promises) would step into the Martin Luther King/Gandhi role we have dreamt of, and use the recent EPA health ruling to exert his executive power with targets that would inspire, and lead the rest of the world into a solid accountable commitment to transform? For the many of us that believed in this possibility and who were in Rio in 1992, or been in the environmental movement prior, or even just became clear about humanity’s collective path now– the outcome of Copenhagen was painful and a huge disappointment. Especially since he declared, “I believe we can act boldly and decisively in the face of a common threat. And that is why I’ve come here today.” So why didn’t the US commit to targets of 1.5 degree temperature rise maximum, and 350ppm of CO2, and the 100billion that Secretary of State offered to mobilize a climate fund by the year 2020-all unconditionally? Why was the best offer from President Obama, “cutting emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by 2050—in line with final legislation”. To translate; these targets may be meaningless without approved legislation.
Ironically the words Obama said early in the day were words we are left to face. Obama arrived, and spelled out the three conditions for the Accord and requested accountability, mitigation, transparency and financing. He further explained, “For without such accountability any agreement would be words on an empty page”. That is what we ended up with, The Copenhagen Accord that the U.N. has simply taken note of, and is not a legally binding Accord, but it is also the opportunity to appreciate how far we have come, and as president Obama said, “We can embrace this accord take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build on its foundation”.
The positive look at COP15 is that all the leaders of the world, in their opening declarations at least, have now agreed that Climate Change threatens the extinction of humanity, and most all declared this boldly at the U.N. conference. They spoke about transformation and ways they plan to cut emissions. Most all came forward with actions they were willing to make on behalf of their countries for our world. This united consciousness is a significant step, as awareness is the beginning of change.
It is just that the people of the world seem to be well aware of this already, whether or not there is a global constituency strong enough to effect the governments, is the question. For this reason, this non-binding accord may forge together, provoke or draw out a call for affirmative action and to awaken what may lie within all of humanity, an innate responsibility for our home and our future. With social networking and media the power is surely moving to the people of the world, with the ability to hold leaders accountable by their constituencies. Advocacy on behalf of just the US alone was significant with actions from Tck, Tck, Tck, 350.org, 1Sky, Greenpeace, World Team Now, WWF, and many from around the world, culminating in the demonstration being over 100,000 people deep in Copenhagen alone, in addition to vigils held around the world.
Many countries and industry sectors alike had come to Copenhagen taking new measures upon themselves to declare and enforce their own plan of action to be responsible for change, regardless of what others did, to bear witness to the effect of Climate Change was enough motivation. SAS airlines is a good example in the aviation sector, they voluntarily began many environmental programs including Biofuel. They have imposed targets of 20% lower emissions by 2020, with traffic growth included, 50% lower emissions per passenger mile by 2020, and they have an emissions calculator too. They were the first to practice a” green approach” and they lead in their industry with the declared goal to get to zero emissions by 2050. India, and the EU took on powerful targets on their own too, and Japan made a powerful announcement at Cop15. H.E> Dr. Yukio Hatoyama, Prime Minister of Japan said, “I announced Japan’s aim to reduce it’s emissions by 25% by 2020 if compared to the 1990 levels, despite concerns of industry. Japan announced that it would provide assistance to developing countries in the amount of about 15 billion US dollars in total up to 2012.” India adopted and started to implement a major National Action Plan on Climate Change, relying on their own resources, with a commitment to install 20,000MV of Solar energy by 2022, improve energy efficiency by 20% by 2020, add 6 million hectares of forests, and voluntarily target emissions reductions by 20% of GDP by 2020 . K H Florenz and J. Leinen, of the European Parliament shared they have committed 20% cuts, and if compelled can go to 30% with strong efforts by other developed Nations by 2013.
Negotiating anything while mastering the art of peace may be a challenge for our leaders representing China and the United States, and representing the values these power countries place on economic development— both of who ended up occurring like two children fighting over a Christmas present– to the rest of the world, who painstakingly worked through documents prior and came into Copenhagen with a basic consensus for an agreement and worked to forge one, at the cost of many things- including sleep. Uniting 194 Nations is no easy task, but opening statements by President Obama on the last day that begin sentences on the world stage’s with, “As the world’s largest economy and the world’s second largest emitter…” might have occurred as provocative to others, even if true. Unfortunately humility has yet to be a virtue of the USA, and it is especially frowned upon now when the world has tolerated years of poor behavior on the political world stage, where redemptive action is what is needed from the USA. These and other subtleties might have contributed to the already contentious negotiations.
It would be one thing if the USA demanded transparency and stood in Copenhagen with solid energy legislative targets passed with a bill from Congress to regulate CO2. It didn’t help the situation when James Inhofe, Oklahoma Senator took it upon himself to create a media frenzy when he enter the press center and declared,
“I came because I want to make sure the 191 countries around the world didn’t have a false impression of what we in the USA were going to do, I want to educate the world press about the U.S. ’s position on committing to any kind of energy legislature what so ever, either national or otherwise, there will be no energy bill passing through Congress, at any time in the near future, or any commitment of the U.S. to participate in any kind of global deal..”
This was prior to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s presence in the global Climate Change conversation at COP15 which at the moment brought in new light and optimism with the announcement of the contrary, proposing, “The US will commit 10 million per year until 2012” and continued with the other tenants of what would be in the Accord. This dynamic of contrasting US stand between Clinton (D) and Inhofe (R) made our bi-partisan US look all the more extreme. The reality is the US energy bill is still stuck in the US Senate, although one is approved by the House, we, unlike China, do not have any legislature now. So when we ask for China to be accountable and transparent in regards to controlling their emissions, when that country already has passed energy legislature it could be perceived as an extreme challenge.
H.E. Wen Jiaboa, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China’s shared his point of view saying,
“China was the first developing country to adopt and implement a National Climate Change Program. We have formulated or revised the Energy Conservation Law, Renewable Energy Law, Circular Economy Promotion Law, Clean Production Promotion Law, Forest Law, Grassland Law and Regulations on Civil Buildings Efficiency. Laws and Regulations have been an important means to address climate change”. He further explained; “By the end of the first half of this year, China’s energy consumption per unit of GDP had dropped by 13% form 2005 level, equivalent to reducing 800 million tons of Carbon Dioxide emissions”.
He further shared, “Between 2005 and 2008 renewable energy increased by 51%, representing an annual growth rate of 14.7%. In 2008, the use of renewable energy reached an equivalent of 250 million tons of standard coal. China’s CO2 emissions per unit of GDP were reduced by 49%. Building on that, we have set the new target of cutting carbon dioxide to emissions per unit by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Another interesting point he made is, “Developed countries which are already leading an affluent life, still maintain a level of per capita emissions that is far higher than that of developing countries, and most of their emissions are attributed to consumption. In comparison, emissions from developing countries are primarily survival emissions and international transfer emissions.”
Then another challenge came when President Obama made the USA’s offer conditional, he reminded us, “And yesterday, Secretary Clinton made it clear that we will engage in a global effort to mobilize 100billion in financing by 2020, if and only if-it is part of the broader accord I have described”.
This was in the face of China’s H.E. Wen Jiaboa’s declaration; “The Chinese Government has set the target for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. This is a voluntary action China has taken in the light of its national circumstances. We have not attached any condition to the target, nor have we linked it to the target of any other country. We will honor our word with real action. Whatever outcome this conference may produce, we will be fully committed to achieving and even exceeding the target”.
Now there are many stories about what actually happened behind the close doors where the super powers and wealthiest took the initiative to usurp the democratic process, and try to come to a deal without input of the voices of poorer counties, or the people. Some bear witness to China setting the US up, others say the US took the lead and control publicly, then China merely reminded the US who has the emergent power now. The two year democratic process, and two weeks in Copenhagen ended up being controlled by a handful of leaders who decided to take it upon themselves to draft the Copenhagen Accord for the rest of the counties of the world.
Extreme outrage came when President Obama held his own press conference, not open to the international press while the Accord was just given to the UN to review. The process of accepting the document hadn’t even begun, and yet people in the USA via broadcast were hearing about Obama’s victory when the UN had not voted or adapted this Accord, let alone read it.. This was before he departed, in fact the press were herded into a conference room several times for a supposed press conference with Obama– that would never take place.
In retrospect it is said it was during the time President Obama was leaving and set up to distract the media. But whatever the case, there was no opportunity for the global press to address leaders, or ask any questions regarding the process, or the new Accord. President Obama held an internal press conference with his traveling staff reporters and announced to the world he had come to deal, via a televison screen reporters gathered around. We searched the web and Whitehouse.gov’s website after, as they usually post these speeches, and this one is yet to be found.
Anger that was palatable came from the Bella Center. This action occurred disrespectful to the rest of the world, it was said there was only an hour to review this 3 page document drafted by the few powerful when many teams had worked long and hard to create very detailed documents. This action seemed to confront the UN and it’s process of Democracy and the US looked arrogant at best, even though Obama said he had to leave early due to bad weather in Washington—there were strong dramatic speeches from several countries lead by Tuvalu, (which based on climate science will be under water soon) and a dramatic show of bloodletting from Argentina, among others that were strong armed into accepting the Accord or nothing..
The person that emerged as the global leader that seemed to resonant to all, speaking a truth and fairness that garnished the respected attention of a global audience, was the President of Brazil, Luiz Ina’cio Lula da Silva, more commonly referred to as “Lulu”. One of my favorite remarks of his, “..It is necessary for us to play the game not thinking of who will be winners and who will be losers”. He continues;
I should say very bluntly to all of you that I am a little bit frustrated. Why so? Because for a long time we have been discussing the climate change issue, and more and more, we see the problem is even more severe then we could have imagined.”
He later elaborated about the situation, and spoke of Brazil’s choice to take a bold position and action;
“We have presented our targets for the year 2020, we have assumed a commitment, and have passed a bill in our national congress, stating that Brazil by 2020,will reduce green house gas emissions by a range from 36.1% up to 38.9 % based on some things we consider truly important: Changes in the Brazilian agriculture system; We will have to make changes in the Brazilian steel industry, we will have to make changes in our energy matrix that is already one of the cleanest energy matrices of the world; and we have also made the commitment to reduce the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest by 80% by the year 2020. We did that, building on an economic structure that would oblige a developing country like ours that faces many economic difficulties like ours to spend US $166 billion by 2020, which is the equivalent of 16billion a per year. It is not an easy task. But it was necessary to take these measures to show the rest of the world that just through words and bargaining, we would not find a solution at the Copenhagen Conference.
He shared further: “I had the pleasure to participate last night until 2:00 in the morning in a meeting where sincerely, I should say I did not expect to be participating in because many heads of states were there. Very prominent figures of the political world were meeting, but once again sincerely to submit heads of state to certain kinds of discussions as the one we had last night for a long time, I haven’t seen such a meeting”.
The humility and truth about the situation could be heard clearly. He asked, “Why did we face all these difficulties? Because we did not take care in advance to work within the responsibility that was required of us”.” He further spoke a core truth, “The issue is not only money. Some people think only money would solve the problem.” He clarifies that has never worked in the past, present nor will for the future.
The bigger issue than money itself is the way we perceive money, as the rich giving to the poor or the developed countries helping to support the developing or least developed poor countries, when this issue is really different. These countries that are most effected by Climate Change have not done anything to suffer the ramifications of Climate change, and the industrialized countries have bought this situation, have made the mess and it is time it is cleaned up and paid for by those responsible. This really sunk in when entering the Bella Center hearing thousands chant, “Pay up. Pay up, pay up your climate debt”. When something is bought, or used, one is responsible to pay for it or handle it appropriately. This goes for anything and especially our collective natural resources.
President Lulu elaborates, “Let’s not think that they are giving something to us that we are begging for. The money that will be put on the table is the payment of greenhouse gasses that were made over two centuries..” He continues with core issues. “It is true that those countries that will contribute funds have the right to demand transparency. They even have the right to demand compliance with the policy that was financed. But it is also true that we need to be very careful with this intervention into the developing and least developed countries”. He later elaborates, “Each country has to have the competence to do its own oversight”.
Lulu went further out on a limb when he shared, “..If it is necessary for us to make more sacrifices, Brazil is willing to tap money to help other countries. We will do it. Now what we do not agree is that the most important figures on the planet earth sign any kind of document or paper just to say that we signed a document or paper”. And unfortunately that may end up being the result of what has happened.
The resources and the values of the super power countries are in question, and as it has been pointed out Brazil is in the shape of the heart. In this spirit President Lulu said;
“In Brazil we still have many poor people, in Africa there are still many poor people, in India and China there are many poor people, still. We also understand the role and responsibilities of the more wealthy countries, and that they cannot be the one to save us. What we want is only that we can work together, rich and poor, to establish a common ground that will allow us to leave this conference, and to preserve and conserve future generations of the planet earth without the sacrifice of its main species which are men, women and children that live in this world.”
Well it sounded great but unfortunately the exact opposite of his wish of working together was what happened. But many countries took it upon themselves to set targets and make concessions with or without a global legally binding agreement. And in that sense the conference was a success.
Especially when the prime Minister of Japan reflects what many others leaders have said, “We cannot pretend that we have a lot of time left. And that makes it all the more essential for world leaders to continue to be personally engaged in the process. I reiterate that I intend to spare no effort in this endeavor, and I sincerely call on all of you here today to join forces and work together to realize our shared goal.”
To take action not because others are taking action, but because of being responsible for your actions, and your resources –is a higher virtue. Many may continue on this path and who knows it may end up being a success if all countries decided to make the emissions cuts themselves and reach out to help other countries with funds, technology transfers, and building capacity.
There is also the question of if the United Nations is indeed the best forum to tackle issues like the Climate Challenge, but right now it is the primary game in town.
It brings yet another question about the value and significance of global legislation that holds a specific measurable result, in light of Civic Action. Yet in the mystery of life sometimes the ineffable, the unseen- holds more power. The power of being present to people from all over the world striving to work together for our future, all in a “energy model” country, Denmark that is small and very responsible with their resources is something (this article explains it well).
This action alone happened in Rio at the Earth Summit/Global Forum and for those of us there, many seem to share it was one of the most significant moments in our lives. But this time through the evolution of media and technology the world came, and how do we evaluate the interactive attention of the world?
Embraced are expressions of the diversity, artistic approaches to the very same issues we are striving to form policy around, that may best reach us in a deeper way through various modalities, like sculpture, art, music, the voice of the people through blogs, the images and shorts on Utube, the meetings, the demonstrations, the gatherings, an EV parade (check out my article here) and the meals all shared together.. and not the outcome, but the fact that this actually took place and that we, the world have chosen to either participate or watch, and finally make it important. For this reason what happened at COP15 now may have immeasurable significance. For example in the town hall square renamed “Hopenhagen”-Desmond Tutu handed over 500,000 signatures from the people to Yvo de Bour, and there was the Light and Art-Glowing Climate Festival, Rethink Contemporary Art and Climate Change, and Cool Globes in Copenhagen . As the creative ways a consciousness grows is not just through politics it is through the movement in the hearts and the minds and the expression of people. We each can take action, and find our own sense of responsibility.
Valuable questions were brought up by H.E. Arch Bishop Celestino Migliore, Head of Delegation of The Holy See;
“Is the political will slow in taking shape due to the complexity of the interlinking issues that we must tackle? Is it mainly the problem of conflicting national interests? Or is it the difficulty in translating into numbers the by-now acquired principle of common and differentiated responsibility? Or is it still the predominance of energy policies over care of the environment? Undoubtedly, there is a little of all of this.”
“It should be noted how many the considerations that are being developed during the process converge on a central aspect: the necessity of a new and deeper reflection on the meaning of the economy and its purposes, and a profound and far-reaching revision of the model for development, to correct the malfunctions and distortions. This in fact, is required by the good ecological health of the planet and especially as an urgent response to the cultural and moral crisis or man, whose symptoms have long been evident all over the world.
“With realism, trust and hope we must assume the new responsibilities which call us to the scene of a world in need of a deep cultural renewal and a rediscovery of fundamental values on which to build a better future. The moral crisis that humanity is currently experiencing, be of economic, nutritional, environmental, or social-all deeply interlinked-oblige us to redesign our way, to establish new guidelines and to find new forms of engagement. These crises become thus the occasion for discernment and new thinking. The degradation of nature is directly connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when the human ecology is respected within society, the environmental ecology will benefit. The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself.”
And the disease perhaps is the state of consciousness. The question remains: Will nations and all people of our world come together behind a common purpose for our future in time to effect a change? Hopefully the success possible from COP15 will be realized before COP16 in Mexico 2010 or COP17 in S.Africa 2011.