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 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:
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 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).
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?
Common but Differentiated Responsibility Principle Sidelined Again
As Inter Press Service (IPS) summarized:
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. 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 reparations24; that it is unfair to make the industrialized nations pay for climate emissions into the past century or more at a time when they didn’t know it would cause more harm.
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 problem25).
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 justice26 from this web site for more details on this.)
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 that30: $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 control31, 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 Deal32, 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.
The climate is changing. The earth is warming up, and there is now overwhelming scientific consensus that it is happening, and human-induced. With global warming on the increase and species and their habitats on the decrease, chances for ecosystems to adapt naturally are diminishing. Many are agreed that climate change may be one of the greatest threats facing the planet. Recent years show increasing temperatures in various regions, and/or increasing extremities in weather patterns.
This section explores some of the effects of climate change. It also attempts to provide insights into what governments, companies, international institutions, and other organizations are attempting to do about this issue, as well as the challenges they face. Some of the major conferences in recent years are also discussed.
Environmental issues are also a major global issue. Humans depend on a sustainable and healthy environment, and yet we have damaged the environment in numerous ways. This section introduces other issues including biodiversity, climate change, animal and nature conservation, population, genetically modified food, sustainable development, and more.