COP15: The end or a beginning?

December 24, 2009

In case you are wondering why the final bow comes a after a gap – its because it is time to reflect deeply.

COP-15 has ended in the sense that the delegates have departed; after issuing a three-page “Copenhagen Accord”.

But there are many questions left unanswered – for example, what are the limits to which emissions can rise without triggering a chain of devastating impacts? What will happen to efforts to get clean technology into developing countries? Will the money promised for adaptation ever materialise? You can follow these unfolding issues on our website, specifically on the pages above.

The dust is beginning to settle, after moments of drama on the last day – when the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez went full throttle against “Yankee imperialism” and described US president Barack Obama as “an emperor who comes in the middle of the night … cooks up a document” which he will not accept; when the head of Cuba’s delegation offered to slash her hand to express her opposition to the accord; when the head of Tuvalu’s delegation denounced the US$ 30 billion as quick start fund as “30 pieces of silver to betray our children. Our future is not for sale”.

The analysis and recriminations have begun: what are the gains and losses (see Climate accord offers some grounds for hope, say analysts); who are the villains and victims?  What is the gameplan of the US and the BASICs? And EU’s views on this grouping of US and BASICs? Cracks within G-77 plus China?

As I mentioned in the opening blog, it is not easy to make sense of the hall full of so many delegates, all with spoken and unspoken agendas.  And COP-15 has only carried forward the uncertainties to COP-16.

A special thanks to the blogging team members Laura, Mohammed and Ochieng. And the Danish Fellowship Centre, NORDECO and Danicom team for facilitating coverage by me and Ochieng Ogodo.

Weak Copenhagen accord angers developing countries

December 19, 2009

The Copenhagen summit has highlighted the continuing sharp differences between developing countries and developed countries on climate change issues. It has come up with an apology of a document, a weak, watered-down, three-page text  presented for adoption at a plenary session of COP-15 on Saturday night.

Several developing countries immediately rejected it and discussions continued as I left the Bella Center groggy eyed at 6.00 a.m. this morning.

Five hours later,  “the conference of the parties takes note of the Copenhagen Accord,” a final decision at the 193-nation talks said. It did not specifically say it endorsed the accord.

The rejection by developing countries follows two weeks of heightened dissent by many developing countries about attempts to drive a consensus among a select group of about 30 developed and major developing countries, Brazil, South Africa, China and India; and excluding  most developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The accord does not mention specific targets or deadlines for greenhouse gas emissions. It merely  it agrees to reduce global emissions to stop the rise in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius.

It agrees to provide US$ 30 billion from 2010-2012; and US$ 100 billion each year after 2020.

The accord also agrees to set up a Copenhagen Climate Fund to support projects on reducing emissions due to deforestation and degradation, adaptation, capacity building, and technology transfer.

It says it would set up a mechanism for development and transfer of mitigation and adaptation technologies.

The European Union last night tried explain that the glass is half full. That, for the for the first time, 192 countries have come together to work out a global deal. And that there is progress on the funds.  Though the EU, too, did say the accord fell short of expectations and was a disappointment.

So what is half empty?  Small island states like Tuvalu would like stronger commitments to keep  the rise in temperatures  below 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels. No mid-term and long-term specific mitigation targets for developed countries, no peaking years for emission reductions.   Many developing countries would like something more concrete on board, in terms of money for mitigation and adaptation, than vague promises to generate funds through all possible means for a slew of activities.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

“Less than perfect” deal

December 18, 2009

Its past 11 pm. And in case you wondered what happened meanwhile, between lunch when I wrote the last blog after the informal plenary ended and now, there were deadlocks, many drafts leaked and not leaked, rumours, and cancelled press conferences.

It finally boiled down to the United States and China in a stand-off – on the  issue of whether developing countries should allow verification of all national mitigation action plans, which China (and India) are against. India, for example, says it will allow international monitoring and verification only of mitigation actions supported by international finance or technology.

Finally we have US President Barack Obama issuing a statement in the White House that “meaningful accord” has been reached, though it is “less than perfect”.

Reuters quotes France’s president Nicholas Sarkozy also confirming that countries have agreed to a “less than perfect” agreement.

Which basically means countries have not resolved satisfactorily clear emission targets for 2020 and 2050, or long-term finance for developing countries;  and there is no deadline to have a legally binidng treaty at least by 2010.

And with the clock tocking towards midnight,  the final agreement/deal/accord whatever is still to emerge.

More to follow

COP mood on the last day: video interview with Wael Hmaidan

December 18, 2009


It is the final day of the negotiations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15). Over 120 world leaders gathered in Copenhagen to reach a final agreement after two weeks of back-and-forth political negotiations. Wael Hmaidan, director of the environmental NGO League of Independent Activists (IndyACT), talks about his views on the final hours before the conference’s end.

Mohammed Yahia, Middle East and North Africa Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

Caged Media and Empty NGO booths

December 17, 2009

Suddenly the media was caged in and the NGO area empty this morning — thanks to the heads of state rolling in.

For a starter we could not  move freely in and out of the media centre as we previously did.  And there was an announcement that to attend press briefings in the main press conference room, journos needed to queue up for a shuttle; and escorted  by Danish cops , they would be transported in a shuttle for what was a one-minute walk or half-minute dash across the atrium and a corridor.  And to leave the media room to take the shuttle, they need to undergo a security check once again. “Crazy” muttered Carlos Gomez, from El Salvador and here is his snap:

media caged in the COP

Regardless of the twists and turns in the COP talks, walking through Hall H where all NGOs gathered daily pepped things up.


The once bustling NGO area


The NGO hall today

The area looks deserted today.

No more chants supporting the little drowning island of Tuvalu; or people dressed as pandas or frogs to highlight a range of climate issues, or holding forth on concerns over the way the discussions were going.

Our erstwhile SciDev.Net colleague Daniel Nelson observes wryly, that the heads of state would prefer not to be contaminated by any of us.

T V Padma and Mohammed Yahia

Clashes and chaos – is Denmark trying to ape us folks?

December 16, 2009

Clashes between police in riot gear and activists, tear gas shells, a metro station closed down temporarily …  Whatever else, I did not expect the Copenhagen climate summit to enact a typically noisy Indian agitation. Though instead of pot-bellied, baton-wielding Indian cops, we have hulky, pepper-spraying Danish ones.

Today, Bella Centre was the scene of clashes between activists seeking climate justice and police trying to prevent them from storming the conference.

A sharp rift continues between developed and developing countries on issues of long-term finance for mitigation and adaptation, and the amount of funds available to poor countries.

The acrimony is growing. The African group is angry, the association of small island states is aghast delegates are wrangling over money when lives are at stake, and the major developing economies (Brazil, China, India and South Africa) have upped their ante.

The BASICs are angry over what they describe as attempts by host country Denmark to impose yet another draft text that they had not been consulted about, and attempts to dump the Kyoto Protocol.

The optimists say the dust will settle before the final hour. Denmark’s climate and energy minister Connie Heddegaard says the countries are like children avoiding their homework, doing it only at the nth hour because they have run out of time and have to submit it.

But a climate crisis is no child’s game.

T V Padma, South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Climate change the problem, biodiversity one solution

December 16, 2009

Climate change is projected to wipe out 20 percent of the known species by 2020 – and it would be good idea for the UNFCCC to recognise the importance of plants and animals, known and unknown, being lost, say biodiversity experts attending COP-15.

Nick King, executive director of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF),  says it is crucial to include biodiversity monitoring, mapping, data collection and analysis in the UNFCC adaptation track to facilitate free access to biodiversity information.

Climate change to affect biodiversity -- for example, a coral reef

“If climate change is the problem, then biodiversity is the solution,” says Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Biodiversity (CBD), an international treaty signed in 1992.

Forests, wetlands, peatlands, oceans and ecosystems, all of which are affected by climate change, need to be addressed in parallel, and simultaneously, with climate change, he says.

Creating national monitoring networks to monitor plant and animal changes due to weather patterns could help local communities adapt to climate change, adds Tim Christophersesn, environmental affairs officer at CBD secretariat in Canada.

GBIF has hubs across west Africa and is creating a monitoring network in Tanzania for scientific evaluation of biodiversity changes.

Toby Hodgkin, director of global partnerships programme at Biodiversity International,  says financial backflows to communities conserving biodiversity would greatly help check deforestation.

“Investments in training those who monitor in communities and financial backflows to communities and countries conserving biodiversity is crucial,” he says.

Ochieng’ Ogodo, SciDev.Net freelance writer

The BASICs of negotiations

December 15, 2009

The four major developing countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASICS) – say developed countries’ offers are “well below the needs of developing countries”.

Environment ministers from BASICS said on Tuesday (15 Dec) that very few developed countries “have provided the political signals and leadership” indicating ambitious, legally binding emission reductions under second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, and their mitigation pledges so far are “inconsistent with science”.

South Africa's Buyelwa Sonjica read out joint concerns of BASICs

A second concern is what they see as attempts to dump the Kyoto Protocol.

“We cannot turn the clock back on more than a decade of progress and we cannot start a process of renegotiating the convention (UNFCCC),” they say.

They argue that despite their own vulnerability to climate change, and endemic problems of  poverty and food security, the four had agreed mitigation actions on the expectation that there would be financial and technical support, as well as capacity-building, from developed countries.

Recently, South Africa promised a 34 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 compared with 2003 levels; China a 40-45 percent reduction in carbon emission intensity (amount emitted per unit national wealth generated) by 2020, compared with 2005; India 20-25 percent (as well as doubling renewable energy use and forest cover); and Brazil that it would reduce emissions due to deforestation by 36-39 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2080.

“We have done our best, more than our best, to ensure a positive outcome,” says India’ environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

“If for some reason there is a disappointment (in Copenhagen), the BASICs are not to blame,” he adds.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

How old will you be in 2050?

December 15, 2009

“How old will you be in 2050?”

Youth activists at COP-15 wear red T-shirts bearing this question to highlight the fact that, while most of the people involved in the climate change negotiations are,  err, well, not young exactly,  it’s the younger generation that will actually be most affected by it.

Young climate ambassadors

That is why Plan International, a child-centred community development organisation, seeks to empower children around the world to be part of the discussions and solutions of climate change. To that end, they launched their “children in a changing climate” campaign.

The first step in their plan is to promote disaster risk reduction (DRR) education in schools as part of national adaptation plans.

Thomas Tanner from the Institute of Development Studies argues that children and young people have a crucial role to play, as they invariably find a way to express their point of view, either formally or informally.

He points out an example where, as a result of DRR education, children in Santa Paz National High School in the Philippines campaigned to have their school moved away from a location that was susceptible to landslides.

Additionally, the Filipino school children turned into crusaders to solve the problem. They set up a tree nursery and are involved in reforestation programmes to decrease soil erosion and landslides.

Mohammed Yahia, Middle East and North Africa Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

New IPCC Report Already in the Pipeline

December 14, 2009

Besides fighting fire about the leaked emails from the UK’s East Anglia University, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri and other stalwarts revealed progress on the next IPCC report, the Fifth Assessment Report. Work on the new report started in 2008 and it is scheduled to be out in 2014.

Dr. Thomas Stocker and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri

Thomas Stocker and Rajendra Pachauri defined the science of the IPCC

There will be several new features,  says Thomas Stocker, co-chair of  one of the working groups.

There will be a chapter on clouds and aerosols, because there is now sufficient technology available for more accurate measurements of their effects on climate change.

IPCC is also working on a chapter on geoengineering — deliberately altering the earth’s climate system to contain warming. Stocker says it is worth looking at closely. “[These processes] may have side effects. We need to understand them very well.”

The third new chapter will look more closely at melting ice caps and rising sea levels, taking into consideration issues such as release of vast amounts of methane trapped  under the northern ice caps, which may be released once the ice melts.

The fifth report will also address the concerns of policymakers in developing countries who are demanding more region-specific information to outline better adaptation strategies for climate change.

Laura García Oviedo, Latin America contributor, SciDev.Net

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Dr. Thomas Stocker and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri

Dr. Thomas Stocker and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri defined the science of the IPCC

Dr. Thomas Stocker and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri

Dr. Thomas Stocker and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri defined the science of the IPCC

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