Month: December 2011

Global Warming, Climate Change, COP17— it is the UNFCCC


In Durban, South Africa, it is more than a metaphor that any kind of agreement at the annual United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in year 17, (COP17) is realized .  After the conference officially ended— it went two days into overtime. This was not the first time, overtime has become the norm in the past— it’s a pattern that may be a warning about our future.  COP17 came dangerously close to no deal at all, but ended with the bare minimum as the controversial and the only international binding climate policy, the Kyoto Protocol, will continue.

The Kyoto Protocol which originated in Japan in 1997 still has flaws, loopholes, weak rules, bad definitions, and it still lacks key countries commitments, but its 2012 expiration was extended for another five years (until the end of 2017) with a  mandate for a future treaty.  There is a work plan to begin next year with deliberately blurred targets.  The AdHoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action will negotiate new global agreement by  2015 to be ratified by all countries, that would come in force by 2020.  The who, what, where, and legally binding details need to still be worked out.

The issue is 2020 may be too late, but there is now at least a mapped out path to a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions—  will they be enough, in time? The Durban negotiations did not manage to extend the emissions cut pledges made in both Copenhagen in 2009 and 2010 in Cancun, but the agreement  intends to have a more transparent process. The Kyoto scheme rewards governments or companies with carbon credits when they invest in clean energy projects in developing countries, which they can trade and sell for profit.

The Green Climate Fund was created, which is great, but it has yet to have any funds from governments. However  its shell is a start. Also included are measures involving the preservation of tropical forests and international cooperation in clean-energy technology transfer.

Many small island states and developing nations are at risk of rising sea levels and extreme weather—  this deal marked the lowest common denominator possible.

After Durban, we are still headed for over 3°C warming, so more ambitious actions from each country are needed. The proposed reductions of greenhouse gasses on the table are not sufficient to limit temperature increase to 2°C. A warming over 3°C might bring the world close to several potential global-scale tipping points such as:

  • The Amazon rainforest could die back—  instead we want the lungs of our planet to be protected and to thrive.
  • Corals reefs could be permanently replaced by algae and sea grass—  we want to see our coral reefs grow, thrive, and be restored to their beautiful colors, encouraging a more vibrant ecosystem.
  • Greenland ice sheets melted, lost for many centuries to thousands of years—  we want to see them sustained without further melting.
  • Risk of release of methane hydrates in ocean floor sediments further adding to the warming—  we want our oceans go back to their extraordinary sustainable state.
  • Permafrost thawing due to fast rising arctic temperatures—  we want that to slow down and ideally stop!

A depiction of the types of impacts from 1.5°C -2°C and 3-4°C has been posted on the Climate Action Tracker website. As a result, carbon emissions are now setting the world on course for possibly four degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit), twice the 2° C (3.6 °F) goal declared by UNFCCC parties last year as a safe maximum.

The Maldives takes the lead with powerful action. Countries like Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand followed the US’s embarrassing lead by stalling at COP17. China and India showed flexibility and both have in recent years installed powerful environmental policy.  Click here to see how the each country is taking action in relation to specific measurable results based on science.

As the world leaders continued to talk, it’s was not just the climate’s temperature that kept rising. People around the world that were frustrated started to protest.


“Occupy the COP” was one of the many chants . “I’m for Climate Justice,” they exclaimed by human microphone, “We are here today for the people who can’t be here. We are here today for the people who will suffer the weight of climate change. We are here today for Africa. We are here today for the island nations. We are here today for the world to say ‘listen to the people, not the polluters.’ We are here today to support those that are inside who are still fighting for a real climate deal. ” Listen to the people.  Abigail Borah, a New Jersey resident was able to interrupt the US concluding remarks by calling for action during the Plenary, which caused her to be “ejected” from the event, and that generated global media attention.  Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace, was removed in plastic handcuffs.  Canadian youth  stood up and turned their backs on their country’s representative when he spoke— actions of protest continued. Check out this slide show.

Another form of protest was the many signatures sent directly to the White House to President Obama—  all going viral through the same multi-media tactic Obama had used to build his constituency of supporters in the US during the election.  During the climax, as well as all during COP17, powerful petitions gathered signatures of people and circulated by AVAZ,  and that showed that people care about “eco”—  it’s not just the economy, but also our ecology.

Our World Team Now participates in the Tcktcktck campaign, representing almost 300 of the most active environmental NGOs. Leading up to COP17 and during the negotiations, Tcktcktck gave daily reports with briefings, summaries, and updates that kept us all informed.

Vacant chairs at the end of UNFCCC “COP” is a disturbingly familiar frustration that comes from the lack of agreement.  Then those leaders left resort to private, closed doors conversations— which are where action happens.  Haunting memories of COP15’s ending where the people committed to change spoke up and many of the world leaders, if they came, had left.   It took many of us years to process and digest COP15 ‘s extended time where we didn’t sleep much. This time, the “Occupy” tactic took hold, pronounced at the end of the United Nations Climate Change Conference for the youth— NGO’s and the people who represented the 99% who stayed and  “Occupied” COP17.

Bianca Jagger, who I was with at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, explained the situation, “There is a clear disconnect between the science and the UNFCCC climate negotiations. Scientific fact is being ignored by politicians who are putting their short term agendas before the survival of humankind. I am not being alarmist. The situation is alarming”. Check out Bianca’s article in the Huffington Post  about the inevitability of COP17 being “Occupied”.

From the world perspective, the behavior of the United States is at best, difficult to understand.  Why did the US just send climate envoy Todd Stern to negotiate without any powerful leaders?  After all, at COP15 Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was there with President Obama, who declared, “We’re back,” which gave us all hope.  The US which is one of the largest polluters is causing other countries to suffer from the actions of our industrialization.  Climate change has most affected some of the poorest regions of the world.  The devastating consequences for human civilization and all life on Earth are already evident and getting worse, especially on the vulnerable African continent that hosted these talks.  So why is there no action with the US now?

One view is President Obama needs a constituency of support from the US, and he does not have a large enough one yet.  Instead we have a grid locked congress that has been unable to agree on energy policy.  The majority of the people of the US do not even know about these conferences, as the majority of the “1% media” does not cover this on a large scale.  Thankful for the NYTimes’ coverage).   Although with the EPA’s statement that greenhouse gasses are hazardous to our health gives Obama the authority to act on behalf of the people of the US, which we all hoped he would have the courage to do in Copenhagen at COP15, he had only a relatively small constituency of support from the people of the US.  We hope that this inaction is merely an act to prompt people to become aware—  as he is a “public servant” and needs a constituency.  Strategically, it would more likely be that the US will take action at Rio, during the Earth Summit where there will be more global attention for the twenty year reunion (Rio+20) and it will be closer to the November Presidential Election, and more would be involved, so a victory at Rio of this magnitude, on the global stage, will be fresher in people’s short attention spans, giving a win at the last minute, and capturing once again the drama of the game.

Another view is maybe the United Nations, like many other outmoded systems that are being reevaluated around the world, will need to collapse and be replaced? It’s not easy drafting a new U.N. treaty.  In this case, if the US continues to ignore the rest of the world, it could be the beginning of a greater down fall.  Maybe an ideal outcome would be a new system (structure) to be re-created to actually represent the people of the world, considering the world at large, as one.  Or it could be just growing the present structure as planned from Durban.

Mate Nkoana-Mashabane, the president of the conference and South Africa’s foreign minister said,“We have saved planet earth for the future of our children and our great grand children to come. We have made history”.

It may be wishful thinking that with the 2012  COP18 in Qatar, which will be turning 18 years of the annual meeting.  COP18 will not only be of legal age, but maybe it will also begin to produce strong legally binding global policy that the world will embrace in respect for our environment, and for our whole world.

Youth “Roars” with Courage for Climate Action, World Leaders Fumble Over Future


“Africa Roars” Aerial Art by John Quigley

Once again, in the shadows of COP15, it’s the young people from across the world, taking a stand, “roaring” for a binding global agreement and climate action.  Sometimes it is through the art and the voice of the people, especially the youth, where change can easily take root-as seen by the impact of art, especially aerial art, to communicate a “higher” vision.  The youth refuse to accept the prospect of a toothless treaty from leaders that claim to represent them at COP17. With their future under threat, young people are making their presence felt and their voices heard at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

As climate talks heat up in this second week, some nations are still uncertain about extending the Kyoto Protocol (KP), which is set to expire at the end of 2012 Young people are calling for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to be implemented immediately to provide a bridge to a new, more comprehensive climate treaty by 2015.

Tom Youngman, 18, from Bath, UK said: “A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is essential. The leaders of polluting nations have run out of excuses. We are running out of time. We need a legally binding agreement now to ensure a safe future for us and future generations. The Kyoto Protocol isn’t perfect, but it serves as an essential bridge to a new more holistic treaty. Under its watchful eye we’ve seen a transition in the way we live our lives – being ‘green’ is now thoroughly mainstream. It is essential leaders work together today to sign this treaty and protect our future. We stand with the leaders of vulnerable states that struggle to get their voice heard at these conferences when making this statement.”

This week, hundreds of young people have flooded the Durban conference centre playing host to COP17, the UN’s annual climate summit, donning t-shirts emblazoned ‘I ♥ KP’. Even leading negotiators have worn ‘I ♥ KP’ t-shirts and ties, showing that support for this treaty is widespread.


This support was echoed by a negotiator speaking on behalf of the Africa group, speaking in the plenary session, who stated: “We will not let African soil become the graveyard for the Kyoto Protocol.”

A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that we have five years to prevent irreversible changes in our climate and catastrophic impacts on humanity. Young people echo the report’s findings in stressing the urgency of the situation and the necessity of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in Durban.

“The Maldives are already experiencing adverse impacts of climate change in the form of issues of food security, water scarcity, and dengue epidemics. The economy is totally dependent on natural resources. Already, the beaches on which we depend are eroding and coral reefs being bleached due to rise in sea surface temperatures.” said Aisha Niyaz, age 29, who has travelled from the Maldives to stand up for her and her community’s survival as part of global youth at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa. “The Maldives was the first country to raise the issue of climate change in a UN general assembly. Without new legally binding commitments to act on climate change, our nation is doomed. Its future would be non-existent.”

The omnipresence of the “I ♥  KP” slogan is a symbolic call to negotiators to put politics aside and to remember what is at stake— lives and livelihoods of people and communities across the globe. By wearing the shirts throughout the negotiation halls, young people are reminding negotiators of the urgency in passing a fair, ambitious and binding climate treaty in Durban.

COP17 & Our World’s “Crazy Climate”


As 99% of the world cries out with various forms of the Occupy Movement, one thing seems to be clear to almost all— the systems we have created for humanity to live within need to be reconsidered, and ultimately transformed.  These are crazy times and to look at our systems globally is to wonder, with all of the magnificent brilliance of humanity, how did we end up here?  Why do our political, medical, legal, educational, financial systems seem ineffective in truly serving humanity at large?  How can we continue to make decisions about one country or state, when this is one world and the boundaries are shrinking with the realization like parts of the body— what is done to one part (or country) affects the whole body or (world).  Why can’t we take this to heart and take action about climate change and agree to significant environmental policy for our world and our future? If not at COP17, maybe Rio+20 will be the time— after all Brazil is shaped like a heart.

The United Nations conferences have been the global games for tackling environmental issues facing humanity and our planet.  COP17 is taking place in Durban, South Africa and how many in the world are even aware?  Yes, the daily agenda is dense and intense— making it easier for most of us to ignore as week two begins. This past week the US media had little coverage on COP17.  Was it primarily because much of the world perceived the United States’ leading monetary capitalism as the giant elephant in the room that prevented the rest of the world from taking steps forward?

Finally, the New York Times did a thorough article on the Kyoto Protocol, which is the closest we have come so far, to significant global environmental policy— although flawed it still may be better than not having anything. Here is a good article on the EU ‘s fight for climate policy.  Unfortunately, the US Congress attempts to pass energy or climate policy has stalled as the issue is gridlocked between Democrats and the Republicans.  Perhaps an African approach would be more successful?  S. Africa’s actions with renewable energy and approach to understand the link to economics deserves attention.

COP17 update:

Suzanne Maxx for World Team

On Friday there was talk that China would indeed consider signing a deal at COP17— if so the United States might no longer have an excuse.  Memories of COP15 and bearing witness to the frustrating way the United States and China were communicating with the rest of the world still haunt many of us.

The Weekend

C17  took an active role in organizing the march of about 5,000 people  through the streets of Durban this past weekend.  Tck,tck,tck, a campaign World Team Now is involved with, helped rally the civil action that  is an important part of all the U.N. conferences.   This  UNFCC conference  was no different— as marches bring more than talk, paper, and policy and into lives showing masses of humanity together in action.


As a GCCA partner, World Team Now celebrates Artist Project Earth (APE), holding a benefit concert for victims of East Africa’s famine on Sunday December 4th, during COP17 in Durban.

APE has a long history of raising funds to help those suffering from the effects of natural disasters. To date, three albums have been launched in collaboration with Cuban musicians and Western artists, including Amy Winehouse, Sting, Coldplay, U2, and Gorillaz. Global sales have topped the one and a half million mark allowing the organization to fund nearly 300 global projects which address natural disaster relief and climate change awareness. World Team Now stands in support of this work.

Hope, at the Last Minute

As usual the last two days of the conference, the 8th and the 9th, when the heads of state are all present, we can hope  action will happen.  As much as we would like to see progress here, unfortunately the end may be when the Kyoto Protocol expires— the last chance looks to be Rio in June, but hope still remains for the Kyoto Protocol at COP17. Remembering the legacy of President Lulu and seeing how amazing he was in Copenhagen at COP15, we ask Brazil to keep on the path of transformation at COP17 as in this AVAZ campaign. It would be great if we would awake to perceive these last 20 years of trying to come to an agreement as just a bad dream, and be present to a new reality for our world…

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