The “A” in USA Does Not Stand for “Accountability”

Or Action. Or Ambition. Or Admirable. Or.. well anything positive as far as I’m concerned.

The UN Climate Talks are approaching being the longest in history as we await the re-opening of the negotiations at 11pm in Lima. The spark seems to have left and the fear of having a “deal” that doesn’t take into account the rights of people already impacted by climate change is looming over the whole conference center. Unless something drastic happens in the next 24 hours, this COP will do more than fail. It will lead to a dramatic step backwards in addressing climate change in a fair and equitable way.

The Venue after 1am is not the most pleasant place to be.

The Venue after 1am is not the most pleasant place to be.

I’m running on less than 4 hours of sleep after having stayed at the conference space until almost 4am to watch a new draft proposal of the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action (ADP) being unleashed. Yes, unleashed, not revealed or unveiled. The draft was essentially written without the consent of parties other than those in the “Umbrella group” which can lovingly be defined as the stallers of progress… or:

The Umbrella Group A loose coalition of non-EU developed countries which formed following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. There is no formal list, but the Group is usually made up of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the US. The Umbrella Group evolved from the JUSSCANNZ (an acronym for Japan, the USA, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand) group, which was active during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations.

Rihanna would definitely not want to take part in any of these groups despite her affection for umbrellas.

In the past week the United States has made one thing very clear: they do not want to be held accountable for Climate Change nor do they want to contribute what they are historically obligated to.

Our lead negotiator has said “I’m not a human rights man” when asked questions about equity, “We, the US, believe that Fair and Equitable mean the same thing so we would want to use one or the other. We prefer the use of Fair” in the more recent negotiations, and quite simply that “Climate Change is not the responsibility of just one country”.

Lead Negotiator Trigg Talley speaking in the ADP.

Lead Negotiator Trigg Talley speaking in the ADP.

As I sit here in the venue on what we all hope will be the last night of the COP, I’m stuck thinking of just how much this conference is smoke and mirrors. The draft ADP text, the deal that is supposed to emerge from Paris, is being written in a non-transparent manner and all vulnerable countries are crying foul. This can’t be real. How can a country that has been priding itself on being “ambitious” be the one keeping any action from happening?

This should invoke a feeling of impending doom.

This should invoke a feeling of impending doom.

Being from the US, I wish that I could make our negotiators understand that we have a historic responsibility that extends beyond our “historic emissions”. Our historical responsibility lies in the very existence of our “democracy” and the capitalist economy that continues the world’s development in the interest of the richest 1% and proceeds to steal the land of indigenous peoples everywhere while exploiting natural resources and polluting those that remain. The US has a historical responsibility for its oppression and hegemony that has hurled the world towards a 4 degree future, well beyond the limit defined by the best science.

The United States has to recognize and act on their responsibility to the world. Perhaps cutting fossil fuel subsidies and war spending might make it easier to follow through, huh?

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Speaking Truth to Power: Gender Day

The state of gender at the Conference of Parties(COP) is largely unchanged since I have been attending for the last 3 years since COP18 in Doha, Qatar. As countries are called upon to raise ambitions regarding emissions targets, Gender Day stands as a reminder that ambition must encompass more cross-cutting issues. Gender Day emerged at COP18 in Doha, Qatar and has since become an annual event. The day is filled with gender-themed side-events and high level sessions that serve as a vehicle for advancing conversations of gender equality within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Mary Robinson addresses the room at the high-level dialogue on Gender.

Mary Robinson addresses the room at the high-level dialogue on Gender.

The day started with the dedication of a tree planted in memory of Nobel Peace Prize winner, feminist, environmentalist, and human rights advocate Wangari Maathai. Gender Day at COP20 took a different tone than those of the past two years with Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, setting the mood at the high level panel for gender. Robinson acknowledged that gender equality has come a long way since the Beijing Declaration was adopted in 1995, but that there is still a long way to go. Robinson stated, “We need to continue to strengthen women’s rights and not let them backslide.” These remarks shortly followed the SBI decision on gender which was finalized on Friday, December 5th. The text denied the use of “gender equality” and instead utilizes the less impactful term “gender balance”. This means that low ambition for equitable gender participation will remain the norm within the UNFCCC in Lima and beyond. 

In the past two years, Gender Day has served as a platform for discussing women’s vulnerability to climate change without necessarily talking about how women contribute on an international scale. Although women are on the frontline of the impacts of climate change, there are not appropriate avenues for them to share their experiences and knowledge within the UNFCCC. Because of this, the side events and panels on Gender Day tend to be one of the few venues where women’s positive contributions can be heard within the conference. We need to re-center dialogue away from women as victims of climate change, but as key change and decision-makers. 

Side Event Panel discusses the impacts of energy extraction on communities in Georgia and the Amazon.

Side Event Panel discusses the impacts of energy extraction on communities in Georgia and the Amazon.

In order for Gender Day to fulfill its intended impact, the UNFCCC must fully recognize that gender equality is a human rights issue and address the institutional barriers that block progress. Gender Day must not only be about women, but should address the needs of all genders through gender responsive texts in the negotiations.

As Wangari Maathai said, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness,” she said, “to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”

Why I’m Not Convinced by U.S. & China Climate Announcements

Is approaching the news that the U.S. and China have both come to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions with fierce skepticism an indicator that neither of these countries have proven to be trustworthy? Yes. Just because neither of these countries have shown ambition or commitment in the past does not mean that the minimal targets that have been established should be celebrated as “ambitious” or even acceptable.

I fear that this is a distraction from moving our work further. Sure,  two of the world’s largest emitters finally had a heart to heart that seemed to produce something more positive is a good start, but what is the hidden cost? Just because they have agreed to set some reduction targets (which, by the way, should not be confused with “ambition” given that they are anything but that) does not mean that this is enough to get these two countries off the hook for their contributions to climate change.

My informed guess is that they are fronting this notion of lower-emissions without factoring in the damages caused by extraction meaning that (you-know-where-I’m-going-with-this) hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is likely to take the lead in energy development in both countries.

It’s no secret that both countries are already exploring the options of becoming more reliant on natural gas as a new “clean” alternative to oil and coal. In the past few years we’ve heard Obama touting gas as a way to lead into a cleaner energy future while admonishing our attachment to fossil fuels. Methinks our president is a tad confused (you’re right, that’s giving him too much leeway).

To top it off, China has been signing deals with other countries to supply the country with exports. So far they have signed a $20billion deal with British Petroleum (BP) and a $400 billion deal with Russia. So far this has prompted analysts to say that Canada, Australia, and the United States need to step up their gas export game.

All this is to say that Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is becoming the new paradigm in global energy demand. This is the opposite of progress. This is alarming, to say the least. Following the most expensive mid-term elections of all time in the United States where industry poured over $6 billion dollars in to one California county alone to stop a fracking ban and Texas’ government overturning a democratically voted fracking moratorium, natural gas is showing that it is becoming the new big oil.

Why am I concerned about LNG? First off, natural gas may technically “burn cleaner” than coal, but that does not mean that the overall emission are less. Second, the process of exporting LNG is dangerous. Third, Fracking as a practice is ruining our lands and public health through contamination of air and water with over 600 types of carcinogenic chemicals. Fourth, the American public is being lied to by our “leaders.” They commonly speak of how natural gas production will make the U.S. more energy independent and create make energy more affordable and yet here they are wanting to export this resource and prices of gas are projected to increase dramatically(see graphic below).

 

 

P.S. Anyone heard of a little thing called the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP)?

TL;DR: In sum this new emission agreement is a guide for a full-on international gas (LNG)  production arms race and we need to be cautious about letting the excitement about something being called “ambitious” get in the way of our critical thinking.

I’ll close with the last sentence of the widely circulated article from the New York Times: “The announcement on Wednesday did not have the details of the projected makeup of renewable energy sources by 2030.”

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