Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Enter Tuvalu: Guest post from Copenhagen

This week, we're continuing our focus on talks in Copenhagen, with a guest post from that city.  For the Green Light Dhaba's own introduction to the Copenhagen talks, including our five decade forecast, go here. If you are confused about "emission intensity," go here.  

For more of the big picture, you really should go see Beyond Copenhagen ("A collective action against climate change from India"); it has interesting photos and blog posts from Copenhagen. As usual, the people at the Indian Youth Climate Network have all kinds of things going on both on the ground in Delhi and on line.  Read and explore!

Our guest post today is from someone who wants to be identified only as "a Legal Adviser to an International Environmental Group." The original text came via an email update forwarded to the dhaba last Friday morning by a reader who had gotten it from a friend and thought it was worth sharing.  We agreed.  It took us until yesterday to track down the e-mail's author, who said we could run it; he was kind enough to provide an update as of yesterday afternoon. There are a lot of people close to the negotiations who cannot speak on the record; thanks, Mr. Legal Adviser, for sharing your insight and analysis.

As I write this, the formal climate meetings have ground to a complete, absolute standstill. You might not read much media about this because it is kind of hard to understand. But what is clear is this. The little island country of Tuvala (accent on the second syllable) is the hero in a fight to save its entire country from submersion.

Here is what is happening. There are two main bodies meeting here ­ one under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, another under the Kyoto Protocol. Under the Protocol, all developed countries, except the U.S., which refuses, have commitments to limit their emissions. There is a one process on-going here to strengthen these commitments. Since the U.S. refuses to be under the Protocol, though there is a second process under the Convention possibly to develop a new agreement, perhaps another protocol, to address the U.S. and others.

It is becoming clear now that there are three main camps defined by what they want to happen in these two processes. First, there is the group of emerging developing countries like China, India and Brazil, joined by oil producing countries, mostly OPEC. They want stronger commitments by developed countries and no new agreement that might affect them. Second, there are the developed countries that, more or less, now want to kill the Kyoto Protocol and maybe have some kind of new agreement under the Convention. Maybe. Then there is the group now led by Tuvalu. They include mostly low-lying island states and poor countries. They want to amend the Protocol to put stricter limits on developed countries, but they also want a new binding treaty under the Convention to put limits on the U.S. and the emerging developing countries like China.

The big developing countries say that we can¹t stay under two degrees Celsius of warming (3.6 Fahrenheit) without deep cuts by the rich countries that got us into this problem in the first place. They are half right. The developed countries say that we cannot stay under two degrees without the big, fast-growing countries like China entering into a process to begin to reduce their emissions. They are half right too.

But on this problem, of course, half right is not enough. Half right is the same as subjecting the next, and maybe even this, generation to a high probability of climate catastrophe and certainly guaranteeing misery for billions.

Enter Tuvalu.

They have used the rules of the process to demand that they be heard. The process is consensus among 194 countries. It is a big deal in such a process for a single Party to shut things down. Of course, the U.S. does it all the time in international negotiations because it has the power to force others into line. But little Tuvalu only has the moral force of its own existential vulnerability. They cannot be part of a process that will destroy their nation. So they are risking everything to change the

Conversations are on-going still at 9 pm and might well go through the night, or through the whole weekend. Ministers have begun arriving. Heads of State will be here in six days. We¹ll see how long things remain deadlocked. I mean, how long can this little country hold out for what is right? On a day when a new (peer-reviewed, not stolen from someone else¹s computer) study appeared in the /Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences/ finding that seas could rise by as much at
6 feet in just 90 years, the answer for little Tuvalu might be as long as it takes.
Update as of Monday 5pm IST
The poorest countries of the world feel that negotiations were proceeding quickly on a new Protocol without the rich countries making serious commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (KP). They asked that KP negotiations be given priority but were denied that request. They have now walked out of the sessions that are not about extending the KP until the KP negotiations catch up. In turn, the rich countries have shut down the KP talks and everything in Copenhagen is at a complete standstill.

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