The climate conference in Cancun ended in common applause, but we woke up to 2011 with a heavy headache. Was Cancun really a step forward, or just a handful false expectations? And what is required to prevent a brutal crash in Durban?
Through 2010 the Mexican host and the UN Climate secretariat worked hard to prevent a failure in Cancun. This was, obviously important for Mexico, but also crucial to be able to defend that the climate crisis can still be solved under the UN.
In Cancun, everything was uncertain until the last text was ready Friday afternoon. From then, it seemed like the cheering would never end. And it didn’t end until the negotiations ended around 4 am Saturday morning. Then, the Norwegian Minister for Development and Environment, Erik Solheim, and his delegation popped the Champagne in the conference office.
We were enjoying the sunrise on the bus to Cancun city. Happy, not broken as we and a lot with us, were after Copenhagen last year.
However, the happiness was not flawless. How could the parties suddenly forget the hard lines had developed during the past year? How could the United States, especially with its new and conservative senate, agree on this negotiation text so quickly? Why is this agreement so different, so much better?
- We won’t agree on anything except the Copenhagen Accord, said the US head of negotiations Jonathan Pershing, early last summer.
And Pershing got what he wanted. Large parts of the text are a copy from last years debated two page-agreement. An agreement that around 60 poor countries up until now have refused to associate with. An agreement that does not contain sufficient mitigation targets, or a legal framework that will secure our planet from dangerous global heating. An agreement that doesn’t tell us how we will find the money we need to protect poor and vulnerable people fro the destructive consequences of climate change. An agreement that does not secure the future for us and even less the future for people in the global South.
The United States and the powerful industrial lobby could once again leave the conference centre with a smile on their faces. And this time, it was without huge protests from civil society or the most outspoken developing countries. There were no demonstrations outside the conference centre and of the 194 countries presented in the climate negotiations, Bolivia was the only one still speaking up.
We got a framework in Cancun. The parties signed a document that describes what we are going to do, but not how. After another two weeks of intense negotiations, one year after the deal should have been signed (in Copenhagen), the big steps forward are in technology transfer and rainforrest preservation. More controversial and essential questions as the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, mitigation targets and finance for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries was without important progress.
In other words, if we want to get a deal in Durban in December, our negotiators have a huge job in front of them. In addition to several planned negotiations sessions, a new fund with a new board will be created and at least five different working groups and committees that will discuss solutions on at least as many fields during 2011. After Copenhagen, the negotiators said that the workload and pressure had been too much. If we are going to achieve everything we have planned before Durban, it seems like the level of ambition is even higher this year.
In her opening speech in Cancun, Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN climate negotiations said:
- When you know that your position conflicts with another ones, don’t ask for a compromise, offer the compromise yourself.
Figures is right, but she is also wrong. Even if politics are about compromises, the nature is not.
If there is something that the climate negotiations seem to have forgotten, it is this. In the end, climate change is about ecological sustainability, people and human suffering. Not about numbers and percentages, and even less about what is politically possible.
At the moment, we are on a small island in the middle of the Pacific, on average just one meter above sea level.
Here on Tuvalu, the euphoria of the last night in Cancun quickly turned into a vague memory. Our happiness bleached with the corals in the lagoon, the costal erosion along the shore, salted ground water resources, a exceptional three months long drought (in the middle of the stormy season!), empty water tanks and rising tide that is sipping through the atoll ground leaving salt stripes in the soil.
Tuvalu is in the frontline of climate change today and in the future. If most of the world scientists are right, the island states are in high danger of becoming uninhabitable before 2050. What will then happen to the people living here?
In order to get an acceptable agreement in Durban, the US and the rest of the rich slow cookers will have to move their positions remarkably BEFORE they enter the conference hall again. Everybody knows each others positions. We have come as far as we can. Now it is time to put more cards on the table.
We thought that 2009, with the big final at the climate conference in Copenhagen, would be the big climate year. Now, after Cancun, it seems like 2011 and the conference in Durban is even more important.
So now, one week into this New Year, we all have a responsibility and a job to do. Let us show the worlds politicians that we care and that we expect a fair, ambitious and binding deal in Durban in 2011. We haven’t got any more time to lose. Lets get to work!