No surprise, Connie: Doha was a failure

This is a response to European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard’s article entitled "Why the Doha climate conference was a success." It is soon to be available on New York Times dotearth blog. 

By Anjali Appadurai and Nathan Thanki

Connie Hedegaard doesn’t respond to our tweets. She ignores us in the halls of UN climate talks. So when we read her in the Guardian dismissing civil society frustration at the outcome of the recent talks in Doha, we had to set the record straight. Doha’s outcome was not even a partial success and did not come as a surprise to civil society, as Hedegaard suggests. Rather, we have only been grimly affirmed in our observation that the “leadership” of the world still seems to suffer from the remarkable cognitive dissonance that characterizes the type of outcome Hedegaard calls a success. To label it as such is insulting.

Worse – it is dangerous.

Yes, if things go according to plan for the big 2015 climate talks, they will yield a new "outcome with agreed legal force," probably similar to the Kyoto Protocol. But that deal won’t even come into force until 2020, nearly a decade down the road. While the science tells us that global emissions must peak by 2020 in order to have a 40% chance of staying below two degrees of warming, our leaders tell us to trust them while they manufacture a deal with the odds increasingly stacked against them.

Regardless of the timeline, Doha was supposed to lay a strong foundation for an effective 2015 deal, and it failed in this regard. Instead, what have we?

We have a purely symbolic second commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The EU commitment of 20% reductions below 1990 levels is already fulfilled thanks to a couple of lone stars and several members’ declining economies – but without setting further targets before 2020, they are congratulating themselves for eight years of inaction.  A 40% minimum reduction was demanded by the small islands – supposed allies of the EU – but that was never considered. A five-year second commitment period was another key, ignored demand from civil society and vulnerable nations.

In the end we have the "do nothing" approach of an eight-year commitment, locking in low ambition until the end of the decade.

Similarly lacking is finance for urgently needed adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. Three years of "fast start finance" with its broken promises have fostered distrust, and Doha did nothing to mend that rift – no plan for long term finance was made, no work was done on finding new sources, and the feeble trickle of current finance remains mostly repackaged development aid.

The terrible irony of climate finance has not diminished: there are trillions to bail out banks and wage wars, but barely anything to support the world's poor to cope with climate change.  To make it sound like a good deed is dangerously misleading: climate finance is a moral and legal obligation under the UN.

And the other shiny trinkets we were sold in Doha? A work-plan for the Durban Platform, a "view to considering raising ambition" in 2014 (diplomatic-speak for promising nothing), a declaration not to buy any more "hot air" (unused surplus carbon credits from the first Kyoto period), and a potential future EU offer to move from 20% to 30% cuts. Such offerings are no replacement for immediate, meaningful emissions cuts and finance. Behind the political rhetoric, intentions are clear: Kyoto was extended not out of an imperative to reduce emissions, but rather to continue the farcical carbon markets, to be a bargaining chip in forcing the rest of the world to accept Doha’s "package" deal, and to maintain the pseudo-green EU image.

Hedegaard’s measure of success is based upon EU goals going into Doha, and these – as pointed out by civil society – lacked ambition from the start. Doha gave us meager crumbs from the EU table while constructing a “bridge” to a new system that evades the very root of the issue: rich countries must make deep cuts to avoid runaway climate change and to repay the debt of 200 years of unabated industrial emissions. Focusing energy on bringing emerging economies to the same level of obligation wrenches the spotlight away from the true blockers of progress (led by the USA) and shines it falsely upon developing nations with tiny per-capita emissions mostly accumulated from producing goods we consume. In Doha this was called “progress” (read: dangerous misconception) and given the dubious label of “leadership.”

Such is the cognitive dissonance that prompted civil society outrage not only in Doha but also in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban. The chasm between political discourse and concrete action – reflected in the gaping holes in finance and emissions reductions between now and 2020 – is so huge that Doha’s incremental steps are insignificant when viewed in context.

What we are seeing is a clear message from the EU and other developed nations that they don’t want the responsibility of dealing with a problem they caused. Since Copenhagen there has been a collective forgetting, a wiping clean of the institutional memory of the Convention so as to disregard the past 20 years of inaction and the disparity of responsibility for the problem.

The final insult of Hedegaard’s piece is that it dismisses the outrage of civil society, from youth and grassroots groups representing social movements to  brand NGOs like WWF – who publicly endorsed an open letter from civil society to negotiators and issued an emergency appeal for immediate action. We were in the room as NGOs of every shape and size labored over decision texts fresh from the negotiating rooms, we were in the halls as youth from all over the world chanted angrily our condemnation of the same texts, and we were at the meetings where each detail of the Doha decisions was pored over and translated for observers in home countries.

The analysis of experts, activists and researchers is first-hand and legitimate; undermining it is perhaps the biggest failure of political vision. Frustration is renewable, and it’s also compounding.

The UN climate convention has had a clear objective since 1992: to “achieve […] stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.” Self-congratulatory politics won't do anything for this objective; they only reinforce the false notion of EU “leadership.” In truth, the only thing we are progressing toward is the edge of a climate cliff.

Failure, check.

Bad Boy Scout: The Importance of Process and Good-Faith Negotiations

by Anjali Appadurai

Sometimes I get frustrated with all the "procedural crap" that seems to govern any group process. [Earth] has found it onerous to sit in YOUNGO meetings where process seems to be treated not as a means to an end, but rather as the end itself. Endless hand signals, protocols, rules, processes, tokenization of cultural and gender representation, and over-sensitivity can seriously undermine the creativity and cohesiveness of a group.

There comes a moment, however, when we have to realize the importance of process to the outcome of the multilateral process. When convening hundreds of negotiators representing almost 200 countries with differing interests, process becomes the vehicle of progress. Process is the rules of the game: it's only fun if no one cheats. To this end, participating positively in the agreed-upon process is of utmost importance, and the failure to do so is considered "bad faith negotiations". Bad faith negotiating tactics are akin to bad form in sports or cheating on a test — they benefit only one party while undermining the entire game.

So it's especially infuriating when at this conference as we fight endlessly for climate justice, we see violations of the process and bad faith negotiating that take our fight several steps backwards. It can be noted that almost every notable instance of bad-faith negotiations at this COP was on the part of some developed country. Here I will outline three such incidences, all of which took place in just the last three days:

Read more…

Youth Statement: Doha failed to deliver

In light of a recent Guardian article by EU representative Connie Hedegaard and other media attention trying to dress up the catastrophic Doha outcome as a success, young people around the world issued the following statement to clear up the Doha Delusion:

Youth Statement

As COP18 came to a close last week, we were left with what can only be described as colossal betrayal and abandonment of the world’s most vulnerable people. The world needed progress, but Doha failed to deliver.

In Doha our governments failed us. They  provided no new targets to reduce carbon emissions, no finance commitments, and a weak compromise on loss and damage for the least developed countries that are already suffering from the devastating impacts of climate change.

As youth, and future guardians of this world, we are disgusted by the misinformation that is being spread. We want to set the record straight. No self-congratulatory Ministerial statements, or lofty opinion pieces are warranted here – on all possible counts, Doha failed to deliver.

The world needed ambition, but Doha failed to deliver.
In the run up to COP18 it was universally acknowledged that greater ambition was desperately needed – but  nothing changed in Doha. There is still nothing in the texts that equitably apportions responsibility for increasing ambition, nothing in the texts that demands ambitious leadership from developed nations, and nothing in the texts that will steer us away from catastrophic climate change. The world needed ambitious leadership based on the universally accepted principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, based on respective capabilities, but Doha failed to deliver.  

The world needed finance, but Doha failed to deliver.
The world needed mobilisation of funds to tackle climate change. The Green Climate Fund that was set-up to fund mitigation and adaptation projects still remains empty, despite urgent pleas from developing nations. The world needed sustainable mechanisms to fill the fund, but Doha failed to deliver.

The world needed a stronger Kyoto Protocol, but Doha failed to deliver.
The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is being cited as one of the many successes of this conference. The Kyoto Protocol, although currently the only legally binding deal committing countries to reduce their carbon emissions, is far from perfect – and this agreement on a second commitment further weakens the deal. The world needed a Kyoto Protocol revitalised with the necessary commitment, ambition and urgency, but Doha failed to deliver.

The world needed justice, but Doha failed to deliver.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and in the midst of Typhoon Bopha, COP18 should have provided honest reparations for those most affected by climate change, and adequately addressed climate justice. Instead, “loss and damage” received tokenistic near-dismissal. There are no guarantees that the fundamental demands from developing countries to establish an international mechanism will be met. The world needed climate justice, but Doha failed to deliver.

Some have dismissed such claims of failure, calling the Doha conference a ‘transition COP’, where nothing major was ever going to be decided, except negotiating steps towards a global deal for 2020. This lack of political will is locking us into a decade of inaction – a decade we cannot spare. We needed real progress, but Doha failed to deliver. 

‎Doha unveiled the hypocrisy behind UNFCCC encouraging youth participation

by Lurette Paulime

I have been involved in the international youth climate movement before, but I have never seen youth activists experience such an enormous frustration as at COP18 in Doha. At COP16 in Cancun, young people were removed by the police and others got arrested but they did not lose their accreditations to the UNFCCC. Now, this issue is become more serious at the COP18 in Doha.

Some youth lost their accreditation, others got debadged, arrested, and deported. While this situation is not unique, it is especially in Doha that I experienced the fragile state of young accreditation within the UNFCCC. In fact, UNFCCC officials can no longer hide the hypocrisy of their encouraging youth participation in the process. We were present and vibrant in every corner of the convention center in Doha. They asked us to get angry, they asked us to do something — but when we tried to do it, they just kicked us out. The most disappointing scene was the case of the two members of the Arab Youth Climate Movement that were arrested and deported to their home countries when they were just unfurling a banner. Our very own Anjali was temporarily de-badged for no justifiable reason in the first week of the conference. These are just a few examples of the frustration and threats youth in Doha had to bare.

Read more…

This is tyranny: YOUNGO intervention to COP18 closing

This speech was given by Merna Ghaly of the Arab Youth Climate Movement to an empty plenary hall. The country delegates had all snaked away after the shameful acceptance of a decade of inaction. Nevertheless, civil society was still there till the bitter end, and we delivered strong messages of condemnation. We will be back, stronger than before…

This deal is an insult to the world's most vulnerable and to future generations.

Read more…