In COP-17, China is one of the “major emitters” that has contributed a large share of global greenhouse gases. This should not be a surprise after you count in China’s population and economic development. By 2011, China has a population of 1.3 billion people, the largest in the world. China’s estimated GDP in 2011 is $11.3 trillion, making it the second largest global economy. China, with its mass population of hard-working people, has closely followed the “old-school” development model, which every developed country has gone through and has benefited from.

This growth model came at the cost of environmental degradation, and it has been increasingly challenged by climate change in recently years. With strange weathers and even climate disasters occurring more and more frequently around the globe, today, most people in our world, including the Chinese, have become aware of the warning signals from mother earth. The question is: can we fix it?

Tell It Like It Is....

….the 1966 Aaron Neville classic, and good advice to live by.

I love the oldies….like REALLY love the oldies. If the original recording of a song was on the A-side of a vinyl by 4-5 guys in matching polyester suits, spinning smoothly and dipping the microphone stand – I am probably listening to it right now. There are many reasons why I love this music, one being that the message always has a way of coming through crystal clear. The music and lyrics are simple and elegant, conveying pure emotion with an eclectic balance of innocence, wit and charm. The music moved you, and moved through you. What you heard was the real deal.

You may be wondering why I am writing about music on a blog that is supposed to be about a climate change conference. Well, after five days here, I would really like to hear someone “tell it like it is”. If you listen to the official statements by delegations day after day, it’s akin to skipping on autotune, it’s the same artificial message over and over again.

But today I caught the dull whispers of a song that I had not yet heard during week one of COP17.

While the majority of interventions or comments made by delegates during meetings here are extremely dry, serious and / or monotone, there have been a handful of negotiators who’ve made memorable comments, making their colleagues laugh or raising the level of drama a bit. Here are a few examples:

From Doug: In a session on mitigation, a couple of large, wealthy countries repeatedly complained that small countries were trying to shift the nature of agreements made in Cancun, saying something along the lines of, “We agreed to ‘targets’ in Cancun, now some countries want to change the word to ‘commitments’.” The large countries intervened multiple times with, “In Cancun, this” and “In Cancun, that”. With impeccable delivery, a small, poor country responded with, “With all due respect, this is NOT Cancun, this is Durban”.

In a session on issues relating to the Clean Development Mechanism, a Latin American delegation twice warned the co-chairs of the group that “there would be hell” in the closing plenary if their submissions were not included in the next draft of the text.

Winning The Triple Crown (of climate services)

Hello folks,

In Monday’s post I outlined four major issues that I would be following at the COP.

1) humanitarian and disaster response

2) mitigation and adaptation funding

3) climate modeling

4) poverty and vulnerability to climate change

It is fitting that like the process of adaptation and risk assessment, the growth of my knowledge about these interrelated topics, and the synergies that bind them has been gradual but profound. I have seen how issues 1,2 and 3 are even more closely linked than I first imagined. Furthermore, creating comprehensive solutions to one of those problems helps to address the others.

Here is a taste of the lively expo and delicious ‘carts’ right outside the ICC. Life seems to be smiling upon us, hopefully that smile will extend to the negotiation rooms:

A lot of numbers get thrown around at UN climate change negotiations. 17%, the U.S.’s voluntary emissions reduction pledge by 2020. 20%, the EU’s own unconditional pledge to reduce carbon emissions. 40-45%, China’s pledge to reduce carbon intensity. But behind those weighty numbers are perhaps even more important ones: the baselines from which those reductions are calculated. The above targets were all announced at the 2009 Copenhagen conference, but are derived from different baseline years: 1990 for the EU target, and 2005 for the U.S. and China targets.

Such inconsistency in baseline years can lead to confusion at best, and distortions at worst. For instance, when we spoke with a prominent U.S. negotiator, he noted that at the time of the 2009 Copenhagen conference, the U.S.’s 17% below 2005 pledge was actually more stringent than the EU’s 20% below 1990 pledge, since converting the EU pledge into 2005 terms would bring the relative reduction to less than 17%. It’s a clever spin on the issue, but of course glosses over all the hard work between 1990 and 2005 that the EU did—and the U.S. didn’t do—to get a lower 2005 emission level in the first place. And of course, it’s a much nicer point for the U.S. to make than to convert its own target baseline from 2005 back to 1990, which would shrink reductions down to 3% (source at p. 9).

COP17 is, above all else, an exercise in words: wordsmithing, editing, and precisely crafted language with exquisitely imprecise meaning. The hours upon hours of meetings that compose the COP revolve around subtle linguistic gymnastics by thousands of professionals whose specialty is stretching or shrinking the distance between clarity and ambiguity to gain an advantage in the negotiations.

To an outsider, the first impression of the meetings is usually exasperation. In larger meetings, the agenda is often a series of previously prepared statements which can appear to be extraordinarily similar not only to each other, but also to statements given in previous sessions. The threat of climate change, “the need to take action,” “the importance of the most vulnerable,” and our favorite, “common but differentiated responsibilities” are repeated in different combinations until they appear to be simply drawn at random from a pre-selected list.

Speaking but Not Listening; Meeting but Not Engaging

After four days of COP negotiations it’s apparent that parties need to spend less time delivering statements they have prepared in advance and more time listening to and engaging with the statements of others.

Of course, this problem is as old as multilateral diplomacy itself.  Still, that doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome.  The COP Presidency seems to agree and hosted a traditional South African Indaba over the past two days to address the issue.  A meeting held by the Zulu and Xhosa peoples, an Indaba is meant to bring parties together to discuss a matter of great importance to the community, particularly problems that affect everyone, and to solve intractable or difficult collective challenges.  According to the…

Calls for Climate Justice at COP17

As with past climate negotiations in Copenhagen and Cancun, developing countries and developed countries at COP17 in Durban are sharply divided over the future framework for a legally binding treaty for mitigating climate change, and are struggling to operationalize finance mechanisms to help countries adapt to problems like rising sea level, flooding, and drought.

While I’ve spent most of my time at COP17 inside the negotiations as a member of the Maldives delegation, overarching critiques of the process from those representing civil society, youth groups, and indigenous groups have piqued my interest.  These critiques are expressed through side events and demonstrations, and are decrying the snail’s pace of UNFCCC negotiations, highlighting the huge power…

If some of the meetings you are attending are like the ones I’ve been to, there are dozens of people, but only a handful of them actively engage in discussions. Power to those country delegates who want to have their voices heard! I suppose the next best thing is to listen to the discussion, take notes and report back.

However, some meeting participants seem too bored for meeting discussions. It occurred to me that maybe there should be designated seating at each meeting as follows:

  • Last row: for those who intend to be on Facebook
  • Previous to last row: Mobile devices
  • Next row: Email
  • Next row: Twitter
  • And so on, depending on the level of attention.

My most humorous conference moment came…