Monday, November 11, 2013

“What happens in this stadium is not a game”

"What happens in this stadium is not a game”
Those were the words of UNFCCC Executive Secretariat in her opening comments for COP19.  “There are not two sides.  All of humanity will either win or lose.”  Sobering words to start the day.

Despite the general sense that UNFCCC climate negotiations have more or less stalled over the past several years, COP meetings tend to open the two-week session with a sense of optimism, a renewed hope that maybe this time significant progress will be made.  In contrast, this year’s opening ceremony, my fifth, was the grimmest start that I have witnessed.  Perhaps it was the horrific news coming in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan and the emotional comments from the negotiator from the Philippines (see earlier post).  Maybe it is because Poland, the host country for the climate talks, is also hosting a coal-summit that coincides with the COP meeting.  UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres is speaking at that summit, and NGOs are questioning why.  The youth went so far as to un-invite her from speaking to their constituency.

Maybe it was the take-home messages from the latest report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – reiterated by Chairperson Rajendra Pachauri this morning:  the newest trends in rising global sea and land surface temperatures, the stats on the decrease in snow and ice cover, sea level rise occurring at rates greater than in the last two millennia, and the 40% increases in dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean, which, in turn, lowers the pH of the water even further.  Such sobering scientific details are not typically mentioned in this ceremony, despite calls by many in other sessions to remind negotiators to use science as they develop policy.  Christiana had us all take a deep breath of the air, reminding us as we did that, for the first time in human history, the air we inhale contains 400 ppm carbon dioxide.

In an afternoon session sponsored by the Third World Network (TWN) entitled What to expect from Warsaw anger and frustration with the lack of progress was clearly evident.  These countries are already suffering from the impact of climate change – caused by greenhouse gases emitted into the atmospheric commons largely from other (developed) countries.  The anger is fueled by concerns that developed countries are trying to profit off of their pollution (carbon markets and “clean development mechanisms”) and reneging on promises to fund technology transfer programs and pay for loss and damages – all while they continue to provide subsidies for fossil fuel companies.  The comment was made that reimbursements for climate-caused destruction is not simply “planes dropping blankets and medicine” when disasters strike.  Panelists questioned why wealthy nations find money "to bail out banks and to buy drones", but cry “economic recession when it comes to rescuing the planet.”  And I should note that the panelists included both civil society representatives and negotiators (official delegates from countries who are parties to the U.N. convention).

Outside of the COP19 venue, a crowd of violent Polish nationalist demonstrators disrupted the Independence Day march.  Inside, delegates were pondering the words spoken by the Polish COP19 president during the opening ceremony:

If it weren’t complex enough, we are all experiencing threatening climate change. Changing landscapes, forcing us from our normal ways. Killing.

Only two days ago, a powerful typhoon swept through the Philippines, claiming thousands of lives, leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes. A great human tragedy. Unforgettable, painful, awakening.

I say awakening because it is yet another proof that we are losing this unequal struggle between man and nature. It got the better of us yet again, and will continue to do so in the future if we do not close ranks and act together to strike back.

Climate is a global issue, global problem and global opportunity at the same time.

An opportunity? For whom?

Maybe these words might not seem so peculiar if the host country website for COP19 didn’t include an introductory piece pondering whether humans are in fact are contributing to climate change.  Perhaps that is why Dr. Pachauri reminded those in attendance at the opening ceremony that in the IPCC’s latest Assessment Report (published at the end of September) that panel concluded there is greater than 95% certainty that humans cause the climate change that we are now experiencing.

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