Decision time in Durban, outcome as yet unclear

The 9th of December will be remembered as an historical date for the fight against climate change–either for the better or for the worse. The choice lies fully in the hands of ministers and heads of state involved today, and probably tonight, in the final plenary of the COP 17 in Durban and in the decision whether to save the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and the rest of the UN multilateral process or to simply let the KP expire.

Less than 24 hours before the end of the Durban Conference, it would appear that a large majority of countries is in favour of the II Commitment period of the KP and of a further legally binding commitment meant to involve a larger number of countries and emissions controls than the KP. But it is as yet unclear if this can be turned into a consensus-based decision valid for all.
Annie Petsonk, the representative of the NGO Environmental Defence Fund, identifies three possible options for the legal form a new commitment might take.
– The first one, very similar to the EU proposal, is a new Protocol with negotiations starting next year and to be adopted by COP 20 (2014) or by COP 21 (2015).
– The second one is a legally binding instrument, less stringent than the Protocol, without any timetable to conclude the work: this proposal is close to the US position.
– The last one, and the weakest, would involve simply a decision about the next steps: this option appears as the least likely, as it would signify the failure of the multilateral process.

Negotiations continued during the night of 8 December and from the delegates there is positive feedback for an agreement and even rumours of new margins for Russia and Japan to be part of the II Commitment period of the KP.
Karl Hodd, Grenada’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chair of AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States), reminded everyone of the reason for this meeting during his Thursday speech in the High Level section. “We must lift our sights and not let national interest overtake global interests. I want to challenge you today to demonstrate to the world over the next few days that we have that political will.” He also warned participants to behave in an honourable way: “Let us not speak one thing outside the negotiating room and another inside the room.” Another AOSIS country, Fiji, asked all parties to support a stronger commitment. Samuela Saumatua, Minister for local government, urban development, housing and environment of the island, remarked that “Durban presents a unique chance to renew faith in the multilateral process.”
Hodd used less diplomatic language during the AOSIS press conference, underlining that “there is not enough seriousness in this negotiation,” adding: “if we believe there is a problem on the planet, why don’t we address it?”
This is a feeling shared by many participants. During the same press conference, Saumatua said that in Fiji “we have to relocate people due to costal erosion. It is not a fairy tale, it is reality.” References to the very real consequences of climate change come from several other countries, including the Maldives, Tuvalu, Iceland, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea and Iraq. Most of the speeches in the High Level section sent a clear message: stop the talking and start acting. Soon.
Hood pointed out that scientists are asking for decisive action before 2017 and that there is no point in postponing pledges until after 2020: “We totally reject the hypothesis of 2020. Waiting is a disaster.”
Venezuela used its time to link global warming to capitalist economies. “The market is the problem, not the solution,” said Claudia Salerno Caldera, the special envoy for Climate Change. She repeated what Hugo Chavez said in Copenhagen two years ago. “If climate change had been a bank it would already have been saved…; it is not possible to have money to save the banks and pay for wars but not for climate change and for life”, she said, receiving a loud round of applause.
The urgent plight of some countries was summarized thus by Amberoti Nikora, the Minister of the Environment of Kiribati, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean: “I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit my country and to see our children before it is too late.”

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EU praised for its effort to save Kyoto

Planetnext“I have to congratulate the EU for the leadership shown here.” It is rare to hear such praise during speeches in the High Level segment of a COP. But the words uttered yesterday by Mohamed Aslam, the Maldives’ Minister of Housing and Environment, are something more than a simple recognition of the effort made by the EU for a II commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP). For all developing countries it is fundamental to save the only legally binding climate instrument, the KP, in order to preserve the hope for a further international deal against climate change. But for Small Island States the EU represents the only real life-vest for their future, considering that water levels in the oceans are already increasing by circa 1 cm every 3 years.

For several years the EU has been showing a strong commitment in the fight against climate change, but now in Durban it has the opportunity to strongly lead the process. And it appears unwilling to accept a secondary role, as had happened in Copenhagen where the main decisions were thrashed out mostly by the US and the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China).
As Connie Hedegard, the EU Commissioner for climate change, underlined in last Monday’s press conference, the EU has been working for the past 14 years within the framework of the KP. “All our legislation is based on the KP principle and you cannot find another country in the world where this happens.” There is thus no desire to go backwards, as many measures are in place and fully operational. The EU CO2 market connected with the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) will probably continue to be implemented in the future regardless of what the Durban Conference will decide for the KP, because it is something already fully integrated in the European market.
Theoretically the EU could adhere to the II commitment of KP without any further political and technical measures, simply by introducing the -20% target by 2020, which has been enshrined in European legislation since 2008. This strengthens significantly the EU position in the negotiations. For this reason a new “Durban Road Map” appears more likely every day and this time the new three-year negotiation process needs to have all major emitters onboard, including the USA and China.
It is possible that China’s new willingness to discuss changes in its approach is the result of internal shifts within the G77 + China group, faced with the need to address new scenarios for the future. Already in 2007, during the Barcelona climate talks, the African countries started to speak with a single voice in order to better defend the interests of a continent strongly affected by climate change and with an economy lightyears behind that of China. Later in Copenhagen and Cancun it was the turn of the Less Developed Countries to ask for more financial assistance than the rest of the emerging economies. Now in Durban the insistent request for change comes from the small oceanic islands.
Tuvalu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Tourism, Environment and Labour, Apisai Ielemia, remarked during his High Level speech that his islands are suffering not only for the rising sea levels, but also by the worst drought in memory. “We have to act now. Not in 2015 and definitely not in 2020. We have no time to wait!” But Ielemia spent a good part of his three minutes of time, normally dedicated to sound the alarm for the climate change affecting his islands, to ask for the participation of Taiwan in the UNFCCC.
This has to be interpreted as a clear message to China to begin acting as a major contributor to the reduction of the global CO2 emissions. Minister Mohamed Aslam was more blunt: “Not all developing countries are in the same basket. We are different in terms of emissions and we need to differentiate our commitments.
A possible signal of inside movement in the BASIC group comes from Tuesday’s press conference, where the Head of the Chinese Delegation, Minister Xie Zhenhua, decided to open his remarks by denying rumours of internal division within the BASIC countries.
Once more, Durban confirms that the real problem is, as always, that climate change progresses at a much faster pace than political decisions.
For Mohamed Aslam, “to postpone action until after 2020 is not acceptable for us” and probably for this reason he decided to thank the EU more than the G77 + China.

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Decisions needed as leaders arrive in Durban for COP’s second week


The Conference of the Parties (COP) 17 enters its the last week of negotiations with the High Level session starting tomorrow afternoon and might be  useful to identify which are the most important topics under discussion.


Some positive results are expected  regarding technology transfer, a crucial issue in facilitating a more sustainable development path for developing countries.


Copenhagen and Cancun had outlined a financing mechanism, the Green Climate Fund, capable of supporting adaptation and mitigation to help in particular the less developed countries. It foresaw a three-year period (2010-2012) of fast tracking  $10 billion per year, to be increased up to $100 billion by 2020.


Christiana Figueres,  the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, underlined last Friday during a press conference that  there has so far been no decision on how that figure will be reached. She also pointed out that already last year the High Level financing panel set up by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had highlighted the need for “a combination of traditional and innovative sources of finances.”


Financing is needed as well to support the REDD mechanism (Reduction Emission from Deforestation and Degradation). In this field some problems have been raised by Brazil, which does not appear willing to accept a regime of international reporting of how safeguards in REDD will be addressed and respected.


But mitigation remains the main point for which a political solution must be found by the 12 Chiefs of State and 130 Ministers starting to arrive in Durban already this afternoon..


It is no longer possible to postpone a decision about the future of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) because its first commitment period expires at the end of 2012. Linked with the destiny of the KP is the decision on how to forge a new broader international pact, to include the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of all major emitters actually under discussion in the Long Cooperative Action (LCA).


The most concrete proposal submitted up to  now is the one prepared by the EU. With the public refusal on the part of Japan, Russia and Canada to be part of the II commitment period, the EU becomes the main mover in favour of the KP survival.


This allows the EU to lay down its own conditions to save the only existing, legally binding accord, i.e., the KP, still crucial for all developing countries. Figueres is aware that the EU will accept to support the KP’s renewal “only under certain conditions,” spelled out last Friday by Thomasz Chrusczow, representing the Polish EU Presidency: “it is necessary that the new pact include 100% of the global emissions.”


He asked for a kind of “Durban Road map,” a three-year negotiating process in order to finalize a full and global agreement by 2015 which should then become operative before 2020. Chrusczow’s request to base this new process on the same principles as the Bali Road map and the Cancun agreement indirectly confirms the failure of the COP 15 in Copenhagen and the entirely unsuccessful Rasmussen COP 15 Presidency. The evidence is that it is now necessary to restart the process for a new legally binding agreement.


But the international situation has radically changed from that prevailing at the time of the 2007 Bali conference and even more with respect to 1992, when the UNFCCC was signed. For Artur Runge Metzer, of the EU Commission, it is therefore no longer possible to base a future agreement only on historical responsibility. “We are aware of our historical responsibility, but this is not enough. If we shut down the EU tomorrow or next Saturday as result of the COP 17, we don’t save the climate. Others have to come on board”.


The message is clearly directed at the USA, increasingly absent from the negotiation process, as shown by the vague answer of the Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change,


Jonathan Pershing, during last week’s press conference and by the US attempt to postpone the new negotiation process until after 2020. The indirect answer comes from Keya Chatterjee, representative of WWF US. She urged her national delegation to keep  in mind this year’s  climatic events in the U.S., where for the first time 47 States had to declare a state of emergency because of  weather-related disasters.


But the EU message is meant also for the emerging economies, considering their increasing contribution to total GHG emissions. Chrusczow did however specify that it is necessary to differentiate between various national conditions because China, the main global emitter, has a value per habitant of 6 tons of CO2, while India’s is well below 2.


Srinivas Krishnaswamy, of the NGO CAN South Asia, is asking for a more leading role of the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). They are already part of the G77+China group, but Krishnaswamy notes that they are increasingly behaving as an official negotiating group. This could be interpreted as a natural evolution of the developing countries’ block characterized by growing differences among them in terms of interest in the oil economy, level of development and direct hardship due to climate change-related consequences. To the group belong countries as different as Saudi Arabia, China, Tuvalu and Bangladesh.


There is finally another important point that may be on the discussion table in the days to come. It is the proposal presented by Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Mexico at the beginning of last week and already introduced in a less strong way by PNG at the Copenhagen conference. The proposal is to move the current consensus-based decision-making process towards a qualified majority approach. According to informal rumors, there is growing sympathy for this proposal, despite the opposition of some important parties. If nothing else this would force clarification of the meaning of “consensus,” often left to the interpretation of the COP Presidency, and speed up the decision process, considering that climate change will not wait for the conclusion of the long political debate.

L’accordo non c’è. Ma si “prende nota”


L’assemblea Onu non vota. E il documento finale del summit, nonostante le assicurazioni di Ban Ki-moon, non è vincolante se non per i paesi che lo vogliano.

Loro dicono di averlo realizzato, ma non è vero», dice Kim Christansen, leader mondiale del Wwf, replicando ai media che annunciano l’Accordo di Copenhagen.

Si parla del documento prodotto venerdì nell’incontro ristretto di capi di stato e di governo in una serie di incontri informali all’interno della Conferenza dell’Unfccc. Per recepirlo all’interno della Convenzione sul clima è necessaria l’approvazione all’unanimità in Plenaria.

Il documento calato dall’alto e privo di contenuti ambiziosi è stato ieri però bloccato per l’opposizione di Tuvalu e di alcuni paesi del sud America. Non bastano dieci ore tra trattative e sospensioni tecniche per superare il dissenso. Ci mette del suo anche Rasmussen, la cui presidenza è definita dal capo delegazione dell’Arabia Saudita la peggiore nella sua esperienza.

La settimana precedente Kevin Conrad, capo delegazione della Papua Nuova Guinea, aveva proposto di cambiare le regole di voto per evitare simili situazioni di impasse ma, ironia della sorte, era stato bloccato proprio da chi ora vorrebbe non tenere conto del dissenso di Tuvalu.

L’Unfccc mette in movimento i propri esperti legali per trovare una soluzione. Alla nuova apertura dei lavori, chi prende temporaneamente il posto di Rasmussen, in 30 secondi, con una sorta di blitz, recepisce il documento con la formula «prende nota».

Ban Ki-moon dichiara fatto l’accordo, aprendo teoricamente la strada all’interno dell’Unfccc per rendere operative le azioni previste nel documento. Di fatto si tratterebbe della prima volta di un testo che viene calato dall’alto e diventa operativo senza passare dal dibattito puntuale della plenaria e del gruppo di lavoro. Tra l’altro verrebbe meno la tanto sbandierata trasparenza della presidenza danese, visto che il processo non ha visto il coinvolgimento di tutti i paesi.

Immediata la levata di scudi contro l’interpretazione di Ban Ki-moon e di alcuni paesi. La rappresentante venezuelana sottolinea che «prendere nota» significa solo recepire l’esistenza di un documento a cui chiunque può decidere di aderire volontariamente, ma al di fuori dell’Unfccc.

Un documento sul clima che non fosse parte del tavolo Onu sui cambiamenti climatici si svuoterebbe però di ogni significato politico. I giganti della terra rischiano così di rimetterci la faccia, per il solito colpo di fionda di un Davide impertinente.

Il punto – Un accordo piccolo piccolo


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“Il nostro futuro non è in vendita!” Ancora una volta tocca a Ian Fry, rappresentante delle piccole Isole Tuvalu, guidare le sorti della conferenza del clima. Un gigante, rispetto ad un Manuel Barroso che, in evidente difficoltà, arriva a sostenere come “un cattivo accordo sia meglio di un mancato accordo”. Curioso modo per cercare di mascherare il palese fallimento di Copenhagen. Il documento finale concordato da USA, India, Cina e Sudafrica elimina tutti gli elementi qualificanti che la Ue aveva proposto nelle versioni precedenti, perdendo ogni significato politico.
Alla richiesta degli scienziati di raggiungere il picco delle emissioni entro il 2015-2020, l’ipotetico accordo propone la soluzione “prima possibile”. A quella di avere obiettivi di riduzione delle emissioni per i paesi sviluppati del 25-40% entro il 2020, risponde dando spazio alla libera iniziativa. C’è da tagliare le emissioni mondiali del 50% entro il 2050? Basta non parlarne.
L’unica cosa che va davvero in porto è il finanziamento rapido per il triennio 2010-2012, anche se non raggiunge i 10 miliardi all’anno richiesti da Yvo de Boer per l’insufficiente supporto da parte degli USA. Soldi che finiscono per assomigliare troppo al tentativo di comprare il consenso dei paesi più poveri. Che però non ci stanno.
Dopo quattro ore dall’annuncio in pompa magna da parte di Barack Obama, arriva la rivolta dei paesi in via di sviluppo. “Non accettiamo 30 denari per tradire il nostro popolo” riprende Ian Fry, denunciando la bozza costruita nelle stanze chiuse dai potenti del mondo e la negoziazione tramite i media, come irrispettosa dell’intero UNFCCC. Il Venezuela arriva addirittura ad intravedere in questo percorso un colpo di stato alla carta dell’ONU.
Alle 3 di notte crolla l’impalcatura di un possibile accordo costruito in modo troppo artificiale e fatto cadere dall’alto. Le 193 nazioni che hanno lavorato per due anni per questo appuntamento finiscono per assomigliare a dei soprammobili per la fotografia dei grandi, invece che ai soggetti che soffrono gli impatti del cambiamento climatico e debbono essere i protagonisti di ogni iniziativa a livello globale per contrastare il riscaldamento del pianeta.
Copenhagen va in archivio. Si gira pagina, ma si è  persa anche una grande occasione per dimostrare davvero che “è finito il tempo delle parole è che è arrivato quello delle azioni”, come ricordava Rasmussen all’avvio dei lavori, favorendo realmente il processo trasparente più volte sventolato, ma poco attuato a Copenhagen.

Molto peggio del previsto


Quanto lontana è l’Italia da Copenhagen! Da noi c’è ancora chi specula sul furto di mail dell’East Anglia per mettere in discussione la credibilità dell’Ipcc e nel frattempo nella capitale danese vengono presentati dati scientifici che descrivono una situazione ancora più grave di quella che gli scienziati avevano sintetizzato nel IV Rapporto del 2007.

Le stringenti procedure di revisione degli studi dell’Ipcc, elemento di garanzia dal punto di vista scientifico, introducono però necessariamente dei limite sull’aggiornamento dei dati. Quelli del IV rapporto arrivavano fino al 2005. Da allora la situazione non è solo peggiorata, ma lo sta facendo con una velocità sempre maggiore, ripercorrendo talvolta gli scenari più severi tra quelli ipotizzati. È quanto emerge da The Copenhagen Diagnosis, la raccolta aggiornata a solo qualche mese fa di studi scientifici sul clima e presentata ieri nella capitale danese.

Il trend di innalzamento del livello del mare ripercorre in modo impressionante la peggiore delle ipotesi di crescita previste nel III rapporto Ipcc, confermando l’affidabilità dei modelli climatici allora utilizzati, ma costringendo ad aggiornare la previsione di crescita del livello del mare da 0,4 m a circa 1 m entro la fine del secolo. Inevitabile tornare con il pensiero al pianto del delegato di Tuvalu per il subacqueo futuro a cui sem- brano destinate le sue isole. Ancora più grave la situazione dell’artico, dove la velocità di scioglimento dei ghiacci risulta peggiore di ogni previsione. L’elenco potrebbe continuare con i ghiacci della Groenlandia, l’innalzamento della temperatura o con il sempre maggiore rischio di rilascio dei gas intrappolati nel permafrost.

È il messaggio di urgenza che lanciano gli scienziati del clima. Nel frattempo i politici si riuniscono in stanze poco distanti e sembrano preoccuparsi d’altro.

Tutu: il paradiso senza CO2


Trecentocinquanta rintocchi di campana hanno risuonato ieri nelle chiese di tutto il mondo, dalle isole Fiji alla Groenlandia, per ricordare la concentrazione massima di CO2 dell’atmosfera in grado di evitare conseguenze disastrose alle aree più vulnerabili e povere della terra. L’evento centrale si è tenuto nella cattedrale di Copenhagen, dove i rappresentanti della chiesa luterana, metodista e cattolica hanno celebrato una cerimonia comune, tra musiche africane ed europee.
Coralli sbiancati per l’acidificazione degli oceani dal pacifico, mais secco per la mancanza di acqua dall’Africa e pietre affiorate al suolo per lo scioglimento dei ghiacci dalla Groenlandia hanno preceduto l’ingresso dei religiosi, quasi ad anticipare nel clima natalizio i doni che i Re magi del terzo millennio non vorrebbero offrire al pianeta.
Alla presenza della Regina Margrethe e del Primo ministro Rasmussen, il padrone di casa, reverendo Ole Birch, si augura che ciò possa aprire gli occhi di tutti sulla responsabilità umana verso il cambiamento climatico. L’omelia principale è di Rowan Williams, arcivescovo di Canterbury, che indirettamente lancia un messaggio al Bella Center, che da oggi accoglierà i politici di tutto il mondo, «Non è possibile aspettare che siano gli altri a fare la prima mossa, bisogna agire e subito».
Il religioso più atteso è però l’arcivescovo Desmond Tutu, premio Nobel per la pace e noto per la sua lotta contro l’apartheid in Sudafrica. «Dobbiamo ricordarci che siamo tutti legati gli uni agli altri. Se uno affonda, è un problema di tutti, perché poi affonderemo anche noi». Il reverendo Tofiga Falani delle isole Tuvalu parla invece agli Usa: «milioni di americani non sanno che c’è chi soffre per il cambiamento del clima. Bisogna creare questa consapevolezza».
C’è ancora qualche speranza? «Certo! I giovani, innanzitutto – conclude Tutu – se 100.000 persone vanno in piazza con questo freddo, c’è speranza. E per voi c’è posto in paradiso».