Burning the Planet, One Climate COP At A Time
Burning the Planet, One Climate COP At A Time
By Mary Louise Malig / peopleforestsrights.wordpress.com

For the third year in a row, a typhoon wreaked havoc on the Philippines during a Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 2012, during the UNFCCC COP 18 in Doha, Qatar, Typhoon Bopha, the strongest ever to hit Mindanao, the southern area of the Philippines, left more than a thousand dead and thousands more homeless. In 2013, during the COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland, Typhoon Haiyan, a super typhoon of levels never seen before in the Philippines, made landfall and devastated millions of families, displaced an estimated 4 million people, and, left in its wake at least 6,100 dead, making it the deadliest typhoon to ever hit the country. Storm surges brought by the super typhoon violently washed away entire communities. This year, 2014, during the COP 20 in Lima, yet again another super typhoon made its way to the Philippines. Initially a category 5 super typhoon, Typhoon Ruby, weakened to a category 3 once it made landfall. Its path however included the communities still reeling from devastation of Typhoon Haiyan the year before.

Although the Philippines is no stranger to typhoons, seeing 15-20 typhoons a year, the scale of these recent super typhoons hitting the country has inflicted damage never before seen. Scientists have been making these warnings for several years now, warmer waters and warmer air temperatures are combining to produce more volatile and extreme weather including super typhoons of record-breaking magnitudes. One would think that with the vivid and horrific reality of massive loss and damage in countries like the Philippines, happening exactly at the same time as representatives of 192 governments come together to discuss actions needed to address the crisis of climate change, that these decision-makers would at least be compelled to take genuine action. Instead, it has been the complete opposite.

From Commitments to Pledges to Contributions: downward spiral of emission cuts

Following an acknowledgement of historical responsibility for the contamination of the planet, 37 industrialized countries (known in UNFCCC parlance as Annex 1 countries) ratified the Kyoto Protocol, legally committing to cut emissions – by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012. The Kyoto Protocol however had flexibility mechanisms which allowed Annex 1 countries to “offset” – pay developing countries to plant trees in order for them to maintain their polluting ways, or to trade – buy and sell their polluting credits. These mechanisms have allowed Annex 1 countries to continue or even increase emissions at source.

In 2010 however, as negotiations discussed the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, at the COP16 in Cancun, a new concept proposed from the COP 15 in Copenhagen was agreed to replace the legally binding commitments: pledges. Despite protests from developing countries, the Cancun Agreements, which included these new pledges, were adopted. Pledges would be voluntary and would endeavor to keep the warming of the planet to stay below 2 degrees Celsius. Best efforts would be made to not burn the planet.

At COP17 in Durban, the following year, even more historic changes were made, breaking from the original principles of the Rio Conventions. The Durban Platform stated that the new agreement would be “applicable to all,” which would begin to undermine the principle of common but differentiated responsibility to escape the historical responsibility of developed countries.

Then COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, introduced an even weaker concept replaced pledges: contributions. Technically named Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, this allows countries to decide for themselves, what they think they can contribute to keep to the global target. It didn’t seem possible but they found a way to commit even less.

Today, at the COP20, it is clear beyond any doubt, that the historically responsible emitters are not interested in making any emissions cuts, nor the big developing countries well on their way to competing with the industrialized countries in polluting the planet. The options laid on the table for the post 2020-agreement, are even weaker than what was “pledged” in Cancun and Copenhagen. There also seems to be attempts to change the baseline to 2010 levels instead of 1990 levels, meaning that countries will probably even increase their emissions. Furthermore, with no clear legally binding mechanism to ensure that countries contributions are actually meeting the global goal. Worse, there are even more market mechanisms proposed in addition to those that are already under the Kyoto Protocol. Amongst the proposals include more carbon markets, including in forests and possibly even agriculture, and subnational, national and regional emissions trading schemes.

Science is very clear: to limit the increase of the temperature to 1.5ºC – global emissions should be less than 38 Gt of CO2e by 2020 (44 Gt of CO2e for 2ºC) – this means legally binding cuts – not pledges or contributions – with no carbon markets. At current business as usual rates, we will reach global emissions of 57 Gt of CO2e by 2020. Simply put, the current trajectory of the climate negotiations mean that we will not make enough cuts in emissions before 2020 to ensure that we will stay on the path of keeping within the limit of the 1.5 degree centigrade ceiling. The feedback mechanism of the climate guarantees that if this decade is lost, that there will be no going back from climate chaos.

Unfulfilled promises of Finance

Following the principle of historic responsibility, developed countries should be providing finance to developing countries for adaptation and mitigation. In Cancun, long-term finance was promised along with the mechanism of the Green Climate Fund. The promise was 100 billion USD every year by 2020. That may sound like a big number but when compared to what is needed, it is meager. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ 2009 UN World Economic and Social Survey estimated that 500-600 Billion USD is what is needed every year by developing countries to adapt and mitigate climate change.

The original demand of the developing countries before Copenhagen was that climate finance should be at least 1.5% of Annex 1 countries’ GDP by 2020. Looking at 2009 numbers, this amount comes out to 1.5% of 39,881 billion USD, which comes out to 598 billion USD. This is small change compared to what is spent for financial speculators and wars. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Military Expenditure Database, the US government spent 661 billion USD in 2009 and 616 billion USD in 2008. The US government itself has spent trillions of USD in bailing out Wall Street, the speculators and the banks.

The concept as well of “climate debt” and hence the historical responsibility to pay this debt owed to developing countries, has been completely lost. Instead, promises remain largely unfulfilled. In Lima, celebratory announcements were made of the supposedly groundbreaking achievement that they have reached a meager 10 billion USD out of the 100 billion USD originally promised.

To reclaim the future, we need to change the present

The urgency of the climate crisis, blatantly ignored by the climate negotiations, is lived daily by social movements, indigenous peoples, and communities all living on the frontlines of climate change. In the streets of Lima, during the COP20, at least 20,000 people marched for Mother Earth, calling for a change in the system, not the climate.

It is the adherence to the capitalist system and the perpetuation of corporate profits after all that drives the climate negotiations – which are promoting false solutions such as REDD (Reduction from Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), Climate Smart Agriculture, and other market based mechanisms to carbon markets to techno-fixes such as geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage, industrial bio-energy and others that do further harm to the planet. One of the most crucial steps to real and deep emission cuts is to leave more than 80 percent of fossil fuels in the ground, but with the corporate capture of the negotiations by the oil and energy industry, there will never be a break from business as usual. The seeming insensitivity of the COPs to very real devastation experienced firsthand by countries like the Philippines, is intentional as governments prioritize big business over affected communities.

We need to break from the current system of over-exploitation, over-consumption, over-production and extractivism and in its place, let flourish the many different solutions, existing methods and systemic alternatives of peasants, indigenous peoples, women, and communities such as food sovereignty, buen vivir, agroecology, community conservation, deglobalization, rights of nature, and many others.

Changing the system is our only hope to reclaim our future.

Mary Louise Malig, a trade policy analyst, is Research Associate and Campaigns Coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition.


0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 20,684 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 11,399 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,643 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,929 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
How Big Banks Launder Money and Get Away With It
9 min · 1,687 views today · 'I wrote about how money laundering was actually done... they spiked it.' Parliamentary Candidate David Malone was a popular second choice in the UK Green Party leadership...
Why I Didn't Vote Trump or Hillary
Joe Brewer · 1,506 views today ·   This is my ballot. It arrived in the mail where I live in Washington state — and I’ve already sent it back to the elections committee. Note how I didn’t vote for either...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 1,450 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 1,162 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 844 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Heartbreaking Animation Reveals Plight of Animals Under Threat of Extinction
3 min · 839 views today · This stunning and heartbreaking animation gives voice to animals under threat from human activity. Made as part of the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, it features a...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 825 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 719 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 639 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Mark Corske's Engines of Domination (2014)
60 min · 614 views today · Political power -- armed central authority, with states and war -- is it part of human nature? Is it necessary for human communities? Or is it a tool that ruling elites use to...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 473 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 433 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 397 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 362 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 291 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
Are You Lost in the World Like Me?
3 min · 278 views today · Animated film by Steve Cutts for 'Are You Lost In The World Like Me?', taken from These Systems Are Failing- the debut album from Moby & The Void Pacific Choir. 
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Burning the Planet, One Climate COP At A Time