“Since I last addressed the COP in 2009, I’ve been deposed in a coup, thrown into jail, and forced into exile. But almost 10 years since I was last at these climate negotiations, I must say, nothing much seems to have changed,” said Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives.
“We are still using the same old, dinosaur language.” he added.
His statements, in short, summed up where the climate change negotiations are going at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or COP24), with just a day to go before talks end.
Nasheed stopped just short of repeating what Albert Einstein famously said, “ Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Even the usual optimistic language in such UN meetings had a familiar and archaic tone—’The window of opportunity to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C, as revealed by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is fast closing. But we still have time and we can do it’. This was the official tone at COP24.
But the unofficial tone was of talk, talk and more talk.
Poland, the spoilsport
The IPCC special report energised talks in Katowice, Poland, by giving developing countries an edge in their demand that developed countries move faster on their commitment to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fulfill their promise of financial assistance. But Nasheed wondered if the developing countries should now change the narrative of their demands and instead push the developed countries to enhance their own investments in clean energy to boost technology improvements and price cuts. That, according to Nasheed, would benefit the developing countries far more than just seeking additional finances.
But the developed countries are unwilling to budge. The wolf in the herd of the sheep was the host, Poland.
A day after making the inaugural speech at COP24, Polish President Andrzej Duda made a surprise speech addressing coal miners in the southern town of Brzeszcze. “Don’t worry. As long as I am the president of Poland, I won’t allow for anyone to murder Polish mining,” he said.
According to Duda, one cannot neglect the welfare of the coal miners and ignore their needs under the pretext of global warming Poland needs coal and it will continue to mine it for the sustainable development of its people, was his narrative. This certainly was a shock to the EU, of which Poland is a member. The EU has been quoted in the meetings as being proactive in raising the ambitions to cut emissions as per IPCC 1.5°C report.
A Polish student at COP24 said that coal miners could have a better quality life if they start working on clean energy. Poland is quite skilled in making turbines for wind mills and even exports them. But it does not invest in wind mills in the country. “In reality, not only coal miners but even the average citizen would lead better life in Poland if we engage ourselves in clean and renewable energy,” he stated.
Many houses in the cities and in rural area still burn dirty coal for heat, which causes massive air pollution. But Duda has to please the coal miners union. How then can Nasheed’s suggestion to enhance the role of developed countries in improving renewable technology materialise into action?
Frankly, US President Donald Trump is not the only leader to serve the interest of his own country by overlooking the global climate crisis. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. Interestingly, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that there is a direct relation between nationalism and GHG emission; as nationalism grows, so does global warming.
From here, where?
Climate messiah Al Gore is also in Katowice. He also highlighted the importance of renewable energy in terms of job potential. Gore went on to say rather sarcastically that it was good that Trump was overlooking the COP24 negotiations. But he also defended the delays in talks saying how difficult it is to develop the consensus among 197 countries when even a small group of countries do not agree on such matters, in a reference to the recent G20 meet.
In reality, the fragmentation of multilateralism is destabilising the negotiations. The squabble on ‘welcome’ and ‘note’ is still fresh. Even the facilitative role of United Nations secretary general is unlikely to halt the destabilisation of talks.
The final days of the negotiations have also revealed that the basic tenets of environmental diplomacy are being conveniently forgotten. Since as early as the 1992 Rio Summit, the single most important principle of environmental diplomacy has been the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. This basis of negotiations of multilateral environmental agreements—a pact between three or more countries—is in jeopardy at COP24. The financial pledges, rising to $100 billion per year by 2020, which are the differentiated responsibilities of the developed countries, are not yet well pegged in the Paris Climate Agreement rule book.
The statement by Pakistan’s new climate change minister, Malik Amin Aslam, that an “enhanced ambition would need an enhanced financial commitment from the developed countries” is getting submerged in the noise of the negotiations.
Early in the second week of negotiations, Maldives’ environment minister Hussain Rasheed Hassan made a dramatic request at the end of his speech to the ministerial segment in the plenary. He requested all delegates to stand up for a minute. No one responded. Hassan repeated his request and then almost ordered everyone to stand up. Everyone, including those on the dais stood up. He then said, “Let us keep one minute of silence and reflect why are we here and what exactly are we are attempting here.”
One minute later, everyone sat down, but the negotiations remain unsettled.
In Nasheed’s words, carbon emissions keep rising, rising and rising, and all we seem to be doing is talking, talking and talking.
Rajendra Shende is Chairman of the TERRE Policy Centre and former Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.