Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6th - Week 2 at COP17

Well, I am back in the U.S. and having not only jet lag, but a bit of withdrawal from the COP meeting. Given the relative lack of coverage of the conference in U.S. media, one has to dig a bit deeper to find out what is happening.
First, some stories surrounding the issues being discussed:

  • A photo essay posted by 350.org of the floods in Durban from a week ago (you have to be on Facebook to see this)
  • After the report last week that there had been record greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, a report today indicates that we are heading toward a 3.5 degree Celsius increase in temperature, far surpassing the stated goal of 2 degrees -- a target that already likely dooms millions.  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/12/06-6
If you have never seen them, I recommend the series of videos from National Geographic that depict likely scenarios on the planet if the temperature increased 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 degrees C.  (You can do a Google search to find these.)
A short but telling video from the march in Durban this past Saturday:
On Monday, people wearing "I 'heart' K.P." (Kyoto Protocol) T-shirts were denied access by U.N. security to the convention center where COP17 is being held.  This led to a meeting between the U.N. Security Chief Officer and the UNFCCC Observer Organisations Liaison Office regarding NGO participation and a series of provisions were agreed to.  For example:
  1. As long as a formal negotiation meeting is on, the entire conference venue is deemed open. NGOs can stay inside the venue either in ICC or DEC (convention center and exhibition hall). However, once the negotiation meeting is over, they will be requested to vacate the venue.
  2. T-shirts are fine, either in a group or as an individual, even to a plenary hall, provided that the message does not contravene the code of conduct.
  3. UN Security Officers should use an appropriate tone and language when communicating. Gesture is totally unacceptable. They can be firm but should be polite.
  4. UN Security Officers will call in a UNFCCC Observer Organisation Liaison Officer (OOLO) when they need judgement as to whether it is unauthorized distribution of material or chat with known delegates.
  5. As long as it does not contravene the code of conduct (interfering with the movement of participants), people should be allowed to wait and approach negotiators they know in corridors.

There were also provisions regarding the heightened security during week 2 given that high ranking delegates have now arrived.  My son Corey was not granted access during the second week since he was under the age of 18 (we had to submit a special request to the secretariat for him to attend at all).  Not sure I understand why someone of this age constitutes a threat, but I wasn't going to argue with the security officials headquartered in Bonn a few weeks back given that they were hesitant to grant him credentials even for week 1.

A short but telling video from the march in Durban this past Saturday:
Any forms of protests (referred to as "actions") within the COP site were strongly regulated this year with rules that no more than 15 people could be involved at any one time.  At one point last week, members of WAGG (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) were doing a rather harmless chant about sustainability and the ability of girls to save the planet.  They were surrounded by armed security forces.  Interesting juxtaposition.  A far cry from the angry protests that were prevalent in Copenhagen two years ago.
The extremely threatening WAGG protesters!
An "action" by members of the Sierra Club
Putting coal to rest for good
Now to the COP meeting.

According to reports, 12 heads of state (compared to 120 in Copenhagen) and 130 ministers are in Durban to attend the high level segment of the conference.

A series of draft documents have been posted at the UNFCCC webpage (http://unfccc.int/2860.php).  I haven't had a chance to browse through these but these are the documents being reviewed and debated by the official negotiators.

On Monday, China reportedly indicated that it would (could?) commit to a legally binding agreement.  On Monday, China's chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, speaking through a translator, said: "It's time for us to see who is acting in a responsible way to deal with the common challenge of human beings."  (From http://mg.co.za/article/2011-12-06-heat-is-on-as-highlevel-stage-of-climate-talks-kick-off/)  This could be a significant change of position.

When the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to, China was not included in the Annex I nations that would have legally binding commitments for GHGcapita.  China still has a high percentage of extreme poverty, but its rate of growth in terms of industrialization and its economy (along with India and Brazil) put these countries in a category not clearly delineated in previous agreements.  Perhaps this move could lead to the U.S. budging on its position a bit.
From a December 5th press briefing with Todd Stern, Special U.S. Envoy for Climate Change

You can follow some of the civil society perspectives on the COP17 process through Climate Action Network International (CAN):  http://www.climatenetwork.org/eco-blog and their daily newsletters available at http://www.climatenetwork.org/eco-newsletters. This is the same organization that does the daily Fossil-of-the-Day Awards.  It appears that Canada is in the "lead" as of today but the U.S. continues to find itself on the podium fairly often as well.

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