COP17—Durban Climate Conference

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Created Wednesday, January 04, 2012

On this page:

  1. Introduction
  2. Media coverage
  3. Despite media’s lack of interest, emissions continue to rise
  4. Common but Differentiated Responsibility Principle Sidelined Again
  5. Durban meeting outcome
  6. More information
    1. News stories from IPS

Introduction

November 28 – December 9, 2011, Durban, South Africa was the venue for the 17th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the 17th Conference of the Parties — or COP 17.

Predictably and sadly, the same issues complained about at previous annual meetings for the past decade continue to recycle themselves:

  • Lack of quality (if any) media coverage
  • West stalling on doing anything trying to blame India and China instead
  • Lack of funding
  • Disagreement on how to address it
  • etc.

As the past two decades have shown trying to get global agreement on tackling climate change seems to be futile. By comparison, more focused and limited interest of elites, however, are easier to push through, such as wars based on geopolitical threats (real and imaginary), or economic crises (where banks and other elites most responsible for the crises are bailed out by ordinary citizens).

Furthermore, as the West has generally shown in the past decade or more (even when their economies were doing good) paying now for something that seems to be a problem in the future is hard to accept. It is easier, therefore, to stall and keep blaming China, India and other emerging nations despite the historical inequality of those emissions. But ignoring that makes it easier to hope these emerging nations will pick up the burden of addressing emissions rises.

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Media coverage

Generally speaking, media coverage of climate change issues and these conferences has been a mixed bag over the past decade. More recent years has seen increased interest and coverage (though many important issues are glossed over in mainstream media sound-byte style reporting).

However, by comparison, this year’s mainstream media coverage of this crucial conference was close to pathetic, to put it politely. In reality money speaks and so short term and elite/establishment views tend to prevail, which is why governments can so quickly get the 99% to bail out the banks and the top 1% with many trillions of dollars, while finding billions for fighting even more devastating climate change has taken almost 2 decades so far without any convincing results.

Personally observing mainstream TV news in UK during the week of the Durban talks revealed almost no major headlines until the very last day and even then just a few moments of summarizing an entire two weeks, which of course is not enough. But my own observations were not systemmatic. However, media watchdog Media Lens confirmed my fears of poor coverage, not just in the UK but elsewhere such as the US:

Media interest in the subject has crashed. Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University describes1 a collapse of any significant coverage of climate change in the [US] media. We know that 2010 was a record low year, and 2011 will probably look much the same. If the media doesn't draw attention to the issue, public opinion will decline.

Equally disturbing is the variation in media performance across the globe. A wide-ranging Reuters study2 on the prevalence of climate skepticism in the world's media — Poles Apart — The international reporting of climate skepticism - focused on newspapers in Brazil, China, France, India, the UK and the USA. The periods studied were February to April 2007 and mid-November 2009 to mid-February 2010 (a period that included the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen and Climategate). Remarkably, the study concluded that climate skepticism is predominantly an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon, found most frequently in US and British newspapers.

And so we find that Britain and the US — the two countries responding most aggressively to alleged threats to human security in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — are also the two countries least interested in responding to the very real threat of climate change.

Climate Crisis – The Collapse In Corporate Media Coverage 3, Media Lens, December 1, 2011

An additional concern that Media Lens also raises is what they described as capitalism trampling on journalism:

A prime example of this trampling was supplied by the high-profile BBC series Frozen Planet4, narrated by David Attenborough, focusing on life and the environment in the Arctic and Antarctic. British viewers will see a total of seven episodes, the last of which, On thin ice, deals with the threat of climate change.

However, viewers in some other countries will only watch six episodes. This is because the BBC packaged the series in such a way that the climate change episode was an optional extra that foreign networks could choose to reject. And reject it they did — of 30 networks across the world that have bought the series, 10 have opted not to buy the episode on climate change. Most notable among them is the United States, the world’s leading contributor both to climate crisis and disinformation about the problem.

Climate Crisis – The Collapse In Corporate Media Coverage 5, Media Lens, December 1, 2011

In the United States, the annual Tyndall Report, which monitors the daily nightly newscasts of the three main TV outlets (ABC, CBS, and NBC) found just 4 stories on climate change for the entire 2011 on the 3 prime time news shows6, two of them being just over 2 minutes each (the other two I cannot access from abroad).

The specific shows monitored are of course not the only news shown in the evenings, and other outlets like CNN are not included, and nor is the Internet, but 2/3rds of people get their news from TV in the US, as Jim Lobe noted in a news story covering this year’s Tyndall report. In that story, Andrew Tyndall, was interviewed by Jim Lobe who also added:

It is safe to say that the network news is complicit in this country’s [the USA] global warming denialism, reinforcing the problem, as opposed to reporting on it.

Andrew Tyndall interviewed by Jim Lobe, Arab Spring Dominated TV Foreign News in 2011 7, Inter Press Service, January 2, 2012

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Despite media’s lack of interest, emissions continue to rise

And while it seems unimportant to the mainstream media, nature continues its course:

While public concern grows and media coverage collapses, the climate change problem is going through the roof. According to a recent study by the US Department of Energy, the global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record in 2010. The world pumped about 564 million more tons of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, an increase of 6 per cent. The latest figures mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago, USA Today reports8.

In the US alone, approximately $3.5 bn is invested annually in lobbying activities at the federal level. In recent years, Royal Dutch Shell, the US Chamber of Commerce, Edison Electric Institute, PG&E, Southern Company, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips all made the top 20 list of lobbyists. The climate campaign organisation 350.org9 estimates that 94 per cent of US Chamber of Commerce contributions went to climate denier candidates.

Climate Crisis – The Collapse In Corporate Media Coverage 10, Media Lens, December 1, 2011

And these are rises of carbon emissions even during the tough economic conditions.

Media Lens and USA Today are referring to the global carbon project11 report.

That report12 adds that although China, USA, India, and Russia accounted for the largest emissions growth in 2010, Per capita emissions of developed countries remain several times larger than those of developing countries.

In other words, significant — and fairer — gains can be obtained if rich nations would tackle their emissions (as has repeatedly been pointed out for some 2 decades13).

Reuters summarized the above report and also added14 that a separate study published recently concluded there was almost no chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius based on huge investments in polluting power stations.

The summary of that report from the journal, Nature Climate Change, worries: How nations intend to keep within a 2 °C threshold, let alone consider at [sic] 1.5 °C threshold, is unclear in light of current progress (or lack of).

Despite Europe being on target to meet its Kyoto commitments, global carbon dioxide emissions are still on the increase having spiked by 45% since 1990 to reach a record level of 33 billion tonnes last year.

… to stay below 2 °C throughout this century, annual emissions will have to come down by about 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the present day level to about 44 Gt of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020. Even then, there is just a 66% probability of staying within the 2 °C threshold by 2100. Out of the nearly 200 scenarios studied, only three give a 90% probability of staying below 2 °C this century, and all of those rely on commercially unproven technologies to capture and store carbon-based greenhouse gases. Even with the use of these technologies, there is at best a 50% probability of staying below 1.5 °C this century. Worryingly, if we wait until 2030 for emissions to peak, we're more likely to be looking to avoid 3 °C this century than 2 °C. In short, the 2 °C threshold is steadily slipping of reach, and 1.5 °C already seems unachievable.

Crossing the threshold15, Nature Climate Change, October 27, 2011, doi:10.1038/nclimate1288

Keeping the average temperature increase within 2 °C of pre-industrial levels implies a target of 450 parts per million (ppm) C02 in the atmosphere. But 450ppm is already feared as not a safe target16, but the only practical one to aim for now because of lack of progress amongst industrialized nations in the past 2 decades. And what if we get to 451 ppm?

How much will the world change if we increase CO2 levels to 451 ppm? Time will tell, but one way or the other we may be duplicating in strength in just 200 years what nature itself requires 10,000 years to do. We are applying that forcing beyond the point at which nature has always stopped.

We are duplicating within that short time period the greatest single force on this planet that nature alone has wielded for the past 2.5 million years. But nature does so slowly, carefully and predictably.

We are doing so rapidly, erratically, and without awareness or understanding of the consequences, or even taking long enough to recognize that what we are doing does indeed have an irreversible effect.

Sphaerica, (Fahrenheit) 451 ppm17, Skeptical Science, December 11, 2011

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Common but Differentiated Responsibility Principle Sidelined Again

As Inter Press Service (IPS) summarized:

What is abundantly clear is the enormous divide between the rich and poor countries. Poor countries want deep cuts in emissions by the industrialized world, and the latter continue to resist significant cuts and legally binding targets.

Stephen Leahy, Climate Change: History Was Not Made 18, Inter Press Service, December 19, 2009

This site’s section on climate justice19 has long gone into some detail about

  • How the Common but Differentiated Responsibility acknowledges that rich nations have emitted most of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, that developing countries’ emissions are likely to rise on their path to industrialization and trying to meet basic social and development needs; and that therefore while the goals are the same, the means to tackle climate change will be different.
  • Year after year at climate summits, it seems this principle is often ignored by some rich nations and their media.
  • It has therefore been easier in public to blame nations like China and India for reacting negatively and being uncooperative when faced with pressure to submit to emission reduction targets (before many rich nations demonstrate they can do the same).

Greenhouse gases tend to remain in the atmosphere for many decades so historical emissions are an important consideration.

The following shows that the rich nations (known as Annex I countries in UN climate change speak) have historically emitted more than the rest of the world combined, even though China, India and others have been growing recently