COP17—Durban Climate Conference
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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
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.
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:
An additional concern that Media Lens also raises is what they described as
capitalism trampling on journalism:
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 shows, 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:
Despite media’s lack of interest, emissions continue to rise
And while it seems unimportant to the mainstream media, nature continues its course:
And these are rises of carbon emissions even during the tough economic conditions.
Media Lens and USA Today are referring to the global carbon project report.
That report 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 decades).
Reuters summarized the above report and also added 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).
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 target, 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?
Common but Differentiated Responsibility Principle Sidelined Again
As Inter Press Service (IPS) summarized:
This site’s section on climate justice has long gone into some detail about
- How the
Common but Differentiated Responsibilityacknowledges 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. This is why the
common but differentiated responsibilities principle was recognized.
(Chart updated in January 2012 to add data up to 2008 and preliminary estimates for 2009 and 2010)
No doubt, developing nations should be aware of their recent rise and also do more to curb their emissions. But given their later entry to industrialization and that their per capita emissions are even less than rich nations, more emission reduction could also be achieved per person in rich nations.
The US and others have characterized the campaign for climate justice and equality to the atmosphere as a way to claim climate
That seems reasonable. However, one of the implications is that any agreement that is subsequently drawn up will, in effect, put disproportionately more burden on the poorer countries to tackle a problem they did not largely cause. The poor are less likely to have the resources to do so, which also means that tackling climate change is less likely to be successful.
This is why rich nations are being asked to seriously think about the type and way they use energy in addition to helping the poorer nations (not necessarily
reparations but through meaningful technology and adaptation assistance — which would be far less costly than the bailouts readily handed to people that did cause a major problem).
In addition, there is little fairness in asking China, India and others to be subject to emission targets when many rich countries didn’t achieve the watered down Kyoto targets themselves.
Some emerging nations are in a grey area — India, China, Brazil, etc are rapidly developing and although they have enormous social and development problems outstanding, some of their wealthy are as wealthy (some more so) as those in industrialized nations. As such, wealthier developing nations aren’t necessarily the target (nor asking) for such adaptation funds.
It is certainly more complex than a few sentences on this page can provide, but the simplification offered by rich country leaders and their media hides this complexity year after year. (See climate justice from this web site for more details on this.)
Durban meeting outcome
The meeting in Durban seemed quite intense; some such as the US and EU were keen on getting China, India and other large emerging nations to sign on to binding emission reduction agreements. These countries were understandably reluctant and even if they may be gaining a stronger voice in the wake of the global/Western financial crisis, this meeting also showed that they haven’t eclipsed the West (at least not yet) on the diplomatic front.
Stephen Leahy, writing for IPS, provides a useful summary of the Durban meeting:
Interestingly, the level of reduction promised by the industrialized world is small compared to its portion of emissions. And it looks as though developing countries have lost out in many ways:
But it is not just developing countries that have lost out; the majority of the first world will have lost out too. Because, as Stephen Leahy rightly notes, trillions are easily and quickly made available to bail out the elite in a financial crises. But when it comes to an even bigger crisis that is further away (and admittedly harder, perhaps, to internalize), funds suddenly seem hard to find; governments are suddenly cash-strapped.
See also George Monbiot’s note on this, comparing the $7 trillion in US bailout for their own banks, while an estimate for capping climate change globally would require less than a 10th of that: $650 billion. And contrast how quickly the trillions were made available versus how challenging it is for a climate fund to come about.
The other important issue for developing countries is that any climate fund be independent of Western control, somehow, because of the bad experience most poor countries have had in the past.
There was quite a lot of outcry at the stance of the US. Democracy Now! for example reported on the
Startling Level of Obstructionism and Defeatism by the Obama Administration on a U.N. Climate Deal, opting for non-legally binding agreements.
Others, such as the EU, wanted a new legally binding agreement, but as the Third World Network, based in Malaysia, asked, What is the point of a new treaty? In Bali, 2007, the mechanisms were already agreed:
This double-standard (in many areas, not just environment) is a major reason many protests have erupted throughout the industrialized world. The elite seem so far removed from the effects of climate change that perhaps there is no incentive for them to do things about it, effectively, unlike during the recent financial crisis. Instead, resigning to a high level of warming is perhaps acceptable to the elite as they will be better equipped to deal with it.
For more about the issues from other organizations, here are some starting points:
- Climate Change coverage from Inter Press Service (IPS). (This web site carries an IPS feed.)
- Further coverage from Inter Press Service on their own site, including videos and other content not available via the feed on this web site
- Democracy Now! coverage
- Official COP 17 site
News stories from IPS
Below is a list of stories from Inter Press Service related to the Durban climate conference and its aftermath.
NEW YORK, Oct 14 (IPS) - As we prepare to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it is time to recognise the role of working animals in livelihood systems, addressing climate change and in human health, which has been overlooked for too long. The Working Animal Alliance seeks to change this.
KOLKATA, India, Jul 09 (IPS) - In India the impacts of climate change induced extreme weather events on the lives and livelihood of people, particularly belonging to the poor and vulnerable sections of the society, are increasing alarmingly with each passing year.
ROME/SANTIAGO, Jun 24 (IPS) - The lack of a coordinated international response had led to varying results worldwide in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Two countries that have long coordinated their response to global goals like promotion on democracy, human rights and environmental issues, Sweden and Costa Rica highlight how public policy matters. While with their similar approaches to climate change the two walk together, their different approaches to COVID-19 have reaped disparate results, and death tolls.
LONDON, Jan 31 (IPS) - There was only one topic on everyone's lips at Davos this year – climate change. The headlines focused on the cold war between Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump, but there was much greater consensus among those gathered for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
AMSTERDAM, Jan 22 (IPS) - Eco Matser is Hivos global Climate Change / Energy and Development CoordinatorFor the first time, the world's elites meeting this year at Davos have listed environmental issues as their top concerns about the next decade.
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 16 (IPS) - Climate change is already a reality. Ever-more-ferocious cyclones and extended droughts lead to the destruction of infrastructure and the disruption of livelihoods and contribute to mass migration.
MADRID, Dec 13 (IPS) - Haiti's Environment Minister Joseph Jouthe has compared the climate emergency to a violent act and appealed to the international community for help to fight climate change.
MAUDUGURI, Borno State, Nigeria, Dec 13 (IPS) - In this edition of Voices from the Global South, Sam Olukoya goes to Maiduguri, Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria, and reports on how climate change is fuelling Boko Haram's insurgency.
Experts say climate change is a key factor fuelling the insurgency of the armed group Boko Haram. The insurgency, which is aimed at creating an Islamic State in North East Nigeria, is responsible for one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
MADRID, Dec 06 (IPS) - African legislators have been challenged to come up with legal frameworks for climate change to enable countries avoid catastrophes and reactionary emergencies that eat up their budgets.
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 29 (IPS) - Climate change is happening—the world is already 1.1°C warmer than it was at the onset of the industrial revolution, and it is already having a significant impact on the world, and on people's lives. And if current trends persist, then global temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.4 to 3.9°C this century, which would bring wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts.
Governments, Donors and Investors Must Put Their Money Where Their Mouths are on Gender and Climate Change
NAIROBI, Oct 17 (IPS) - Climate change has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. This is clear when it comes to water, for instance. The Global Commission on Adaptation Report launched at the United Nations General Assembly last week states that the number of people who may lack sufficient water, at least one month per year, will soar from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion by 2050.
Q&A: How Vietnam went from Zero to Hero in Developing Solar Projects and What Other Countries Can Do for Climate Change
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 (IPS) - A week ago, downtown New York witnessed one of the most historic moments in the climate action moment — hundreds of thousands of people attended the Climate Strike, where teen activists delivered powerful speeches and blows to world leaders for not taking climate change seriously.
ILLINOIS, United States, Sep 25 (IPS) - Around the world, citizens took to the streets to demand their governments address climate change. In the U.S., this widespread activism illustrates the findings of a newly released report by the Chicago Council on Global affairs which found for the first time that the majority of Americans consider climate change a threat and the most critical foreign policy issue facing the country.
Sep 20 (IPS) - Food may be a universal language – but in these record-breaking hot days, so too is climate change. With July clocking in as the hottest month on Earth in recorded history and extreme weather ramping up globally, farmers are facing the brunt of climate change in croplands and pastures around the world.
Rural Bangladesh Families Spend 2.0 Billion Dollars on Climate Change ― Dwarfing Government & International Finance
LONDON, Sep 20 (IPS) - In an alarming imbalance struggling families in rural Bangladesh spend almost US$2 billion a year on preventing climate-related disasters or repairing damage caused by climate change ― far more than either the Bangladesh government or international bodies.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Aug 28 (IPS) - African leaders have been asked to walk the talk, and lead from the front, in order to build resilience and adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change on the continent.
NAIROBI, Aug 14 (IPS) - For many people, climate change is about shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, longer and more intense heatwaves, and other extreme and unpredictable weather patterns. But for women pastoralists—livestock farmers in the semi-arid lands of Kenya—climate change has forced drastic changes to everyday life, including long and sometimes treacherous journeys to get water.
TURKANA COUNTY, Kenya, Aug 08 (IPS) - Extreme rainfall and heavy flooding, often amplified by climate change, causes devastation among communities. But new research published on Aug. 7 in the scientific journal Nature reveals that these dangerous events are extremely significant in recharging groundwater aquifers in drylands across sub-Saharan Africa, making them important for climate change adaptation.
AMSTERDAM, Jul 08 (IPS) - Eco Matser is Hivos global Climate Change / Energy and Development Coordinator.
Whoever still thinks climate change is purely an environmental issue, threatening only nature, needs to think again. Climate change is also essentially a human issue because of its devastating effect on human life – and rights. It exacerbates existing inequalities, undermines democracy and threatens development at large. Likewise, by far the greatest burden will fall on those already in poverty, while the rich will be able to buy their way out of rising heat and hunger.
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 (IPS) - The international community still has a long way to go to chart a new, sustainable course for humanity. But the upcoming climate change meetings provide a renewed opportunity to tackle climate change head on.
KASESE, Uganda, Jun 12 (IPS) - As climate change leads to increased temperatures in East Africa, a thicket of invasive thorny trees with the ability to withstand harsh climatic conditions have begun threatening Uganda's second-largest park, home to a rare breed of tree climbing lions and one of the highest concentrations of primates in the world.
QUITO, Ecuador, Jun 05 (IPS) - Matilde Mordt is UNDP Resident Representative in Ecuador
As the UN commemorates World Environment Day, UNDP would like to take this opportunity to commend Ecuador's efforts to address climate change and its commitment to raising its climate ambition.
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 15 (IPS) - Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.
There is barely a corner of human life that will not be affected by climate change, and some of its impacts are already being felt. Consider this, 821 million people are now hungry and over 150 million children stunted, putting the hunger eradication goal, SDG 2, at risk.
Today 15 May, is the United Nations International Day of Families and the theme for this year is, ‘Families and Climate Action'.
ISLAMABAD, Apr 17 (IPS) - Pakistan, which has been listed as the 7th most vulnerable country affected by climate change, is now seriously tackling the vagaries of weather, both at the official as well as non-official level.
Pursuant to an initiative launched by the Pakistan Parliament's Upper House, the Senate, which specially entrusted a sub-Committee of the Standing Committee on Climate Change to focus on "Green and Clean" Islamabad, media, civil society and students have taken up the cudgels on combating climate change.
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Mar 28 (IPS) - Fishers in Anguilla saw posted on Youtube this week a video they helped produce that depicts the impacts of climate change on their industry. Titled "Anguilla's Fishing Dilemma", the four-and-a-half minute video highlights some of the main challenges Anguilla's 92 licensed fishers face in earning a living.
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 (IPS) - The United Nations has vowed to eradicate extreme hunger and malnutrition on a self-imposed deadline of 2030.
But it is facing a harsh realty where human-induced climate change – including flash floods, droughts, heatwaves, typhoons and landslides-- is increasingly threatening agriculture, which also provides livelihoods for over 40 per cent of the global population.
CASTRIES, Mar 18 (IPS) - In 2015, the Caribbean was "the region that could" on the climate change scene. Countries rallied under the ‘1.5 to Stay Alive' banner, in the face of an existential threat. The now former Sustainable Development Minister of Saint Lucia Dr. James Fletcher emerged as a climate change champion at the time. But now, three years on, the scientist is giving regional climate action a C- in an assessment.
LONDON / DHAKA, Mar 15 (IPS) - Jonathan Farr is WaterAid's Senior Policy Analyst on water security & climate change, based in London & Samia Mallik is WaterAid Bangladesh's Communications Officer, based in Dhaka.
The stakes are high for women when faced with a warming world – their livelihoods jeopardised by labour markets that tend to put men first, their family responsibilities increasing rapidly in the face of droughts and flooding, and politicians who refuse to acknowledge the challenges they face. The story of those living on the frontline of a harsher climate is simply not being heard.
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 25 (IPS) - Climate change poses a global threat to food production, but for agriculture in Argentina it could also present new opportunities. In some areas of the country, farming conditions will improve, according to an analysis by experts of the latest climate projections.
The Caribbean nation of Suriname may be one of the most forested countries in the world, with some 93 percent of the country's surface area being covered in forests, but it is also the most threatened as it struggles with the impacts of climate change.
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