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

Gross National Happiness and CDM — in the Himalayas

December 15, 2009

Vendor in Thimpu, Bhutan. The country emphasises happiness and sustainable development over blind economic growth

Will the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which emphasises happiness and sustainable development over blind economic growth, offer some insights to solving the global climate crisis?

An LDC (least developed country), Bhutan is under threat of  floods caused by the outburst of glacial lakes as a result of Himalayan glacier melt. It is ignored among the COP bigwigs. But a side event organised by Bhutan at COP-15 drew in a big crowd, many happily squatting on the floor.

About a quarter of Bhutan’s seven million people are poor, and half of them do not have access to a clean source of power. The country relies on hydro power and would be happy if it qualified for clean development mechanism (CDM) projects in which a country can earn credit for investing in clean technology.

Bhutan has an enormous — 30,000 Mega Watts — potential for hydropower.  A pilot CDM project in Chendebji, Trongsa, invested in by an electric utility group E7, is on. And at COP-15, Bhutan aims to include two more projects under the CDM mechanism.

Bhutan’s national adaptation programme of action (NAPA) focuses on lowering its Thorthomi glacial lake, which is precariously held in place with some glacial debris that separates it from another lake, Rapstreng, some 80 metres below. Bhutan is manually scooping out water from Thorthomi to prevent a collapse that would wreak havoc all around.

Yet amidst these threats, Bhutan retains its core value of happiness. A lesson for all addicts to mad money?

Dipika Chetri, South Asia contributor, SciDev.Net

Asia network on climate change mooted

December 14, 2009

Asia braces itself for melting Himalayan glaciers and glacial lake outbursts; floods in nine major rivers that are fed by the Himalayas; erratic monsoon and rainfall patterns that threaten food security; and sea level rise. These superimpose on the continent’s endemic problems of poverty and a huge population vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Rather than wait for governments to respond officially to the impact of climate change, the Seoul-based non-governmental organisation Korea Green Foundation moots building an Asia Network for Responding to Climate Change.

Korea, by the way, is listed as a ‘developing country’ in UNFCCC discussions.

The aims of the proposed network are to share knowledge and experiences on climate change in the region; facilitate joint actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and to help climate change victims and refugees.

Korea Green Foundation suggested the idea at a side-event though it’s unclear on its exact research agenda; or how it would generate funds for the network.

But Adarsh Pokharel, from the Association for the Development of Environment and People in Transition (ADAPT), a Nepal-based NGO, is clear about the kind of research agenda the proposed network should consider.

It includes scientific tools to assess the impacts in Himalayas “to bridge the huge knowledge gaps” in climate change science and monitoring in the region; regional climate models; early warning systems for disasters; and impacts and vulnerability assessment, he told the foundation.

The foundation plans to hold its first meeting in 2010 in Seoul and invites all interested Asian agencies, institutes and NGOs working on climate change to join.

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

Carbon capture storage: Politically correct, technically incorrect?

December 14, 2009

Some technologies are inferior technically but politically convenient. According to a panel reviewing carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) as a climate change mitigation option CCS is one such case.

CCS involves trapping the gas at coal- or gas-fired  power stations,  steel and cement factories, and refineries; transporting it to a storage site; and then injecting into rocks underground.

CCS is yet to be proven to work anywhere, says Asbjorn Torvanger, from the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO), Norway.

Besides, it could lead to “fossil fuel lock-in” – that is,  far from reducing fossil fuel use, CCS relies on it, points out Philip Vergraft from Clark University, United States.

So why is the UNFCCC considering it (read the blog below on the next IPCC report)? Because that is the only way to draw the United States, Canada, Australia and other fossil fuel-dependent countries averse to the Kyoto Protocol, to the climate change table.

These countries are heavily investing in CCS R&D. China and India are attracted to CCS and are attracting partners.

Which is fine, because one should consider all options. Except that even in advanced countries such as Norway, the public is not comfortable with the idea.  “If public concerns are not adequately incorporated, controversy, mistrust and skepticism  may increase, says James Stephens from the International Development Community and Environment (IDCE) at Clark University, United States.

Transparency and critical independent experts are needed to improve, rather than promote, the technology at this stage, he adds.

Hope someone hears the message.

T V Padma, South Asia 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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Official draft text of working group ignores IPR

December 13, 2009

You have heard what Rasmus Vincentz  had to say  (see video in the blog below)  on what developing countries can and cannot expect on the tech transfer front during the negotiations. And that they should not have expectations on intellectual property rights  (IPR) issues (makes it inconvenient for companies looking for customers, looks like).

In fact,  IPR no longer figures in the draft official text on the outcome of the ad-hoc group on long term cooperative action (AWG-LCA – remember the COP language?).  This is what it has to say in the section on tech transfer:

Enhanced action on development and transfer of technology


45.  To establish a Technology Mechanism pursuant to decision -/CP.15 (Technology) to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation that will be guided by a country-driven approach, consisting of:

(a) [An executive Body on Technology] [A Technology Action Committee] in accordance with terms of reference to be adopted by the Conference of Parties;

(b) A Consultative Network for Climate Technology to be supported by regional technology centres to support and accelerate the diffusion of environmentally sound technologies for mitigation and adaptation through the provision  of technical assistance to support on adaptation and mitigation country Parties.

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

Video interview with Rasmus Vincentz on technology transfer

December 13, 2009

Rasmus Vincentz, a climate expert at the Danish Energy Management, talks to SciDev.Net about technology transfer, and explains why there is a conflict of interest between the developed and developing countries.

“Negotiations about intellectual property rights are totally blocked here. They have been on the table and mentioned in the documents, but no one expects them to go any further.”

Mohammed Yahia, Middle East Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

Battlelines – in the first week

December 12, 2009

Here’s a snapshot of discussions during the first week at COP-15:

G-77 versus rich countries: Developing countries are not happy over the way the negotiations have proceeded so far, with few indications of developed countries coming forward with substantial aid to help poor countries combat the impacts of climate change.

The European Union in Brussels pledged 7.2 billion Euros aid over the next three years  to developing countries. Sudan’s Lumumba DiAping, chair of G-77, the large bloc of developing countries, says the money is insufficient and will breed more mistrust about the EU’s intentions on climate change.  The core of the G-77 criticism is that it does not address the issue of long-term financing.

Lock Horns

Horns locked at COP15

But developing countries experts working specifically on issues related to deforestation and afforestation (REDD) and technology transfer are satisfied with progress on these two fronts.

China versus US: The United States and China lock horns. Waving the red flag to almost all climate change bulls at COP-15 (leaving out a few like Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia), was US chief negotiator Todd Stern who said: “We (US) absolutely recognize our historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere up there that are there now.  But the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations, I just categorically reject that.”

Todd further got China’s goat by saying China should not expect climate change aid from the US.

China’s response?  Vice foreign minister Ye Hefei on Friday: “I don’t want to say the gentleman (Stern) is ignorant.

I think he lacks common sense where he made such a comment vis-a-vis funds for China. Either lack of  common sense or extremely irresponsible.”

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

Drafts update – Africa, BASICS seek to counter official draft

December 11, 2009

Won´t break deal or bag fossil award, says Jairam Ramesh

Its been a week of drafts at COP-15, kicked off by the (in)famous Danish text published in the Guardian, followed by Le Monde publishing a draft apparently prepared by the larger developing countries — Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASICs) — to counter the Danish text.

And on Friday, the official drafts of the two ad-hoc working groups on the Kyoto Protocol and on long-term cooperation were circulated to the delegates.

But that is not the last of drafts. The BASICs and African countries have issues with the official drafts, and are now working together to merge their respective drafts into a cohesive document representing developing countries’ stand.

The combined African-BASIC draft will be ready by Saturday morning, says India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh. This, for now, sets to rest speculation of cracks within the G-77 + China bloc.

Ramesh indicated India has some serious concerns regarding the official draft. These concern setting definite emissions targets for developing countries, and setting global goals for emissions reduction without equitable burden sharing.

We want an agreement that does not violate the basic principles of UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol and Bali Action Plan, says Ramesh.

My brief is to position India as a deal maker,” he adds. He is also wary of bagging the Climate Action Network’s “Fossil of the Day” award given daily to three worst countries obstructing negotiations.

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

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