Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The Shame We All Share For Failing to Take Action
on Climate Change
By Curtis F J Doebbler
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 20, 2011
For twenty years the nations of the world have been trying to
conquer climate change that otherwise is likely to make our planet
uninhabitable. The past week two weeks, from 28 November to 12 December,
more than 15,000 delegates from almost two hundred countries had gathered
in Durban, South Africa for their annual meeting to try to progress on
The meeting known as the Conference of the
Parties (or COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change (or UNFCCC) held in Durban, South Africa marked the first time in
recent years that States had come together in Africa to discuss this
important issue. This was significant because as Ambassador Lumumba
Diaping had lamented in the failed COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark back in
2009, we know from irrefutable science that if the world does not act soon
more than 100 million Africans will likely die due to the adverse
consequences of climate change during this century. Most of these
preventable death will come from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Mr. Rajendra
Kumar Pachauri explained to the COP17 delegates, fortunately we know the
action that needs to be taken to be able to protect our atmosphere.
Pachauri was speaking about action to ensure that the amount of carbon
dioxide in our atmosphere is kept under 350 parts per million or in terms
more user friendly for laypersons keeping the average global temperature
from rising more than 1.5 or a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above
The action that is required means changes
in lifestyles, especially of people living in rich industrialized
countries. It will require a sharing of technology, know-how, and
financial resources by the rich with the poor. And it will require the
will of the international community to act. Unfortunately, unlike
P..'s arguments which are based on the best available science. the action
that is needed by the international community requires political will and
a sense of community.
The last is perhaps the most important. As
former multi-time South African Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel told
said in the first days of COP17 in Durban, "it is the will that is the
most crucial and it is what is lacking the most."
COP17 there was an expectation that maybe that would change now that the
representatives of almost every planet on earth, rich and poor, large and
small were meeting in the mist of the African people, the people who were
worst effected by the adverse effects of climate change. May thought how
could the international community fail to act responsibly? How could the
South African hosts with the leverage of their fifty-three African
neighbors not force the hand of their guests? How could their guests not
succumb to the friendly African hospitality and the smiling faces of the
South Africans of Durban?
During the first week there was cautious
optimism. "Argentina, African governments, and the (136 nation) G77 are
working for a substantive outcome that allows us to leave town with our
heads high," said Egyptian negotiator and Deputy Assistant Foreign
Minister Ahmed Ihab Gamaleldin, taking a break from the almost around the
clock negotiations that were taking place.
For the African hosts,
Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Ms Bomo Edna Molewa said, "the
goals are clear we want a second commitment period, operationalization of
the Green Climate Fund, and real pledges by Annex I countries to cut their
emissions." She was referring to three goals that had featured
center stage in the negotiations since the failure at COP15 in Copenhagen.
Where the African goals achieved at this African COP?
Perhaps the most widely publicized decision was
the COP decision to agree to a new commitment period. In fact what was
agreed was that States would agree to consider a new commitment period.
Even this future consideration is conditioned on starting negotiations
towards a treaty that, according to the description of its provisions
given by developed countries, will violate the fundamental principles of
the UNFCCC. This is because the European Union and the United States are
attempting to require developing countries to give up the principle of
common but differentiated responsibilities that is central to the UNFCCC
by calling for a new treaty, apparently to replace the UNFCCC.
Developing States were threatened that if they did not accept to negotiate
a new treaty with commitments for all States, the EU and its allies would
not agree to a new commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The threat
The motivation behind the European action is questionable.
Although always off the record, European negotiators made it clear that
what they most wanted preserved in the Kyoto Protocol were the Clean
Development Mechanisms and other carbon trading provisions. This is not
surprising given the investment that European has put into carbon trading
and the fact that it hosts the largest carbon market in the world.
Nevertheless, to only call for the carbon trading provisions to be
maintained would appear obtusely selfish and insensitive to the global
problem of curbing emissions.
It is troubling that the EU’s
threats were made with a legally binding treaty regime in place. Every
major country in world has joined the Kyoto regime, except the United
States, the world's second largest polluter behind China. The Kyoto
Protocol, based on principles greed to in the UNFCCC, sets down legal
obligations for States to cut their emissions.
obligations only apply to developed countries or the almost forty most
developed counties in Annex I of the UNFCCC. These greater obligations for
developed countries are based on the principles of equity and common but
differentiated responsibilities. These principles in turn are based on the
realization that for centuries the most developed countries have benefited
greatly from their over exploitation of the planet's atmosphere. To
compensate the developing countries who did not have these advantages, at
the UN's Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, developing
States agreed to cut their emission to greater extent than
developing countries to help promote more equal development in the world
while protecting our atmosphere.
Most importantly, an agreement
to a second commitment period is not a discretionary act, it is a legal
obligation that is found in article 3, paragraph 9 of the Kyoto Protocol.
All European States are party to the Kyoto Protocol and are bound to
implement this obligation. The EU was therefore merely offering what it as
already legally bound to achieve.
They get away with this because
in recent In recent years several developed countries have tried to renege
on this legally binding agreement. Canada, for example, publicly announced
during the opening days of COP17 that it would not agree to a new
commitment period. After 2012, unless a new commitment period is adopted
there will be no legal binding obligations requiring States to
meaningfully cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
Failure to agree
to a new commitment period is very likely to create a planetary disaster
because States have not shown the voluntarily will to cut emissions. In
fact voluntary pledges made by some States in Copenhagen point towards a
world with an average temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius, a murderous
prospect for Sub-Saharan Africans.
“A second commitment period,”
said Mr. Pa Ousman Jarju a Gambian negotiator and the chief negotiator of
the group of 47 least developed countries, “is fundamental.” But despite
its importance a second commitment period was not agreed in Durban.
Speaking after the final decisions of the COP where adopted, Mr. Pablo
Solon, the former chief negotiator for Bolivia said, that "[i]t is false
to say that a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been
adopted in Durban." He described the Kyoto Protocol as being on "life
support" after Durban. The COP decision contains no legally binding
commitments for any country. Instead States agree to consider agreeing to
a new commitment period sometime in the future without specifying the
level of ambition that would be contained in any subsequent agreement.
Financing Action to Address Climate Change
African hosts appear to have come closer to achieving their second
objective, the Green Climate Fund (or GCF). The Green Climate Fund was
operationalized in a COP17 decision that seemed to enjoy broad consensus.
South African Foreign Minister and COP17 President Ms Maite
Nkoana-Mashabane described the creation of the GCF as "the key outcome of
The GCF is expected to be the main source of
financing for global mitigation and adaptation action by developing
countries. Again, based on the principle of common but differentiated
responsibilities the fund is part of a series of UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol
provisions that require developed countries to provide financing to
developing countries to empower them to meet the challenges poised by
After days of negotiations Ms Bernarditas de
Castro Müller, a negotiator from the Philippines delegation who played an
instrumental role in arriving at the compromise that led to the
establishment of the GCF said, "we did it," but then quickly cautioned
that "now I have to explain it to my delegation," the G77.
outcome arrived at, however, looks very much as if States may have built a
bank, before having much money to put in it. Commitments made by Denmark
and Germany and a handful of other countries provide only a small
percentage of the 100 billion US dollars that fund is suppose to start
dispensing in just over eight years' time.
Environmental Finance and Executive Coordinator of the United Nations
Development Programme Mr. Yannick Glemarec estimated that the amount of
money needed for mitigation and adaption by developing countries is likely
to be “more than two trillion a year by 2020.” Oddly , however, the COP
decisions adopted in Durban removed almost any reference to long-term
financing. The issue has apparently been deferred to a future COP.
So where will the money come from?
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens
Stoltenberg led a host of of developed countries in arguing that the need
money can be raised from the private sector.
countries have a different view. Mr. Pa Ousman Jarju a Gambian negotiator
and the chief negotiator of the group of 47 least developed countries
said, "such faith in the private sector is wrong, it is contrary to what
we see in practice ... markets are in crisis now."
A policy brief
by the Stockholm Environment Institute indicates private sector finance is
not equally distributed nor “new and additional” as the UNFCCC requires.
It is also likely that the private sector can only provide a small
proportion of the 100 billion USD amount that was arbitrarily agreed upon
in Copenhagen two years ago.
In Copenhagen developed countries led
by the EU and the US also promised to provide 30 billion USD for fast
track financing by 2012. A report by African Climate Policy Centre that
was released during COP17 showed that with one month to go less than 2
billion USD of the promised 30 billion USD had actually materialized and
that even unpaid pledges amounted to less than a quarter of the total
Creative suggestions based on levies on air travel,
shipping, and financial transactions appear to all but disappeared from
the texts of the COP decisions. Based on the track record of developed
countries and the private sector on financing mitigation and adaptation, a
fund with woefully inadequate funds may turn out be a pyrrhic victory for
Africa and other developing countries.
Most disappointing to the ambitions of Africans, however, must undoubtedly
be the lack of progress towards their third goal, ambitious emissions
limits. The failure of COP17 to agree to any emissions limitations is
perhaps the greatest blow to hosts South Africans pride.
was the challenge, in the words of the UNFCCC, of acting to keep the
gases produced by human beings at a level that is not dangerous to our
planet's atmosphere while ensuring equitable and sustainable development.
This required meeting the two-prong challenge of ensuing that emissions
would be cut to appropriate levels after reaching their peaks no later
than 2015 while at the same time ensuring that the burden for making these
cuts did not fall on developing countries in such a manner that it would
handicap their development.
The decision adopted concerning a
second commitment to the Kyoto protocol does not include any figures
defining the ambition of States to cut emissions. A column in the table
that lists the Annex I countries has yet to be filled in and it is not
clear how or when it will be completed. As a result the level of ambitions
for emission cuts coming out of Durban can be described as very low and
inadequate for achieving a level that prevents dangerous interference with
the planet’s atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the European Union made a
significant effort to describe their agreement to discuss a second
commitment period as an agreement to cut emissions. It is, however,
extremely difficult to see the logic of this reasoning. While it is true
that European Union States are obliged to cut their emissions by 20% as
required by EU legislation, other major emitters among developed States
have either agreed to no or much lower emission cuts. As a result, and
although they have no legally binding obligations to cut emissions,
developing countries have been placed in the position of being expected to
provide most of the global emission cuts.
To justify there
position developed countries often pointed to the fact that China, a
non-Annex I country is the largest aggregate polluter and that other
developing countries are also becoming major emitters. Such finger
pointing, however, appears to have a discriminatory undertone.
Calculated per capita China's emissions are insignificant. In fact the
emissions of all the developing world are a fraction of those of the
developed world when they are calculated per capita. The gap between
material resources is even greater. While the per capita GDP on the United
States is about $46,860 USD per year and the average GDP per capita in
Europe is $30,388, China's per capita GDP is only $7,544 USD per year and
for India only $3,408 USD per year according to the World Bank. Why should
Chinese citizens be entitled to less emissions or less resources than an
European or an American?
The Decision-Making Procedure at COP17
Perhaps most disturbing about the decisions taken by COP17 was the
way the decision making process worked in Durban. While several States
praised the South African government for being more inclusive than the
Danish and Mexicans in the past two COPs, few meetings took place in
public where NGOs and the press could keep watchful eyes on the
This was troubling to both NGOs and States who often
complained of not knowing what was really going on and what appeared to be
going on did not look good. Small Island states were being showered with
gifts, including pro bono advisers that would tell them how to act and
sometimes even what to say and when. African States were being threatened
with no money if they did not bow to the demands of the EU. And
strong-minded ALBA States were threatened with isolation if they blocked
agreements that were not as ambitious as they and most of civil soeicty
had called for.
Despite the careful effort to negotiate behind
closed doors evidence of inappropriate interference sometimes made it into
the public domain.
During the AWG-LCA plenary in the late evening
of 10 December the Venezuelan Special Representative of the President on
Climate Change Ms Claudia Salerno Caldera exposed threats that had been
directed against her stating that "in the corridor I have received two
threats. One, that if Venezuela do not adopt the text they will not give
us the second commitment period … [s]econdly, and the most pathetic and
the most lowest threat that if we don’t give them their comfort zone with
no rules, flexible, in which they are going to do what they want when they
want to head us to four degrees we are not going to have the Green Climate
While several States spoke boldly during the AWG-LCA debate
calling the agreement “a very watered down text,” “unbalanced,” “biased
against developing countries,” “expressed great concerns,” and “not
adequately capturing the essential elements” discussed in Durban, it
appeared that the threats from developed countries had their intended
effect when it came time to adopt the text. No State objected to the text.
The only concessions that they had managed to extract seemed to be that an
earlier more elaborated text would also be forwarded to COP18 and that the
outcome documents were so inconclusive that perhaps negotiations would
start over in Doha next year.
One young activist observing the
proceedings wondered why the Venezuelan allegation of what was in effect
corruption of the UNFCCC process did not lead to an immediate
investigation and at least the temporary suspension of the process.
Instead, the process continued as if nothing had been said.
Similarly when questioned about the lack of transparency in COP17
processes such as the mainly closed door meetings both Costa Rican
Executive Director Cristiana Figueres and the South African hosts defended
the secrecy. South African Minister Ms Edna Molewa could only explain this
as "it has to be that way." It is also unlikely that the UNFCCC
Secretariat will take any action as it supported the closed door
The best control on State action, the more than 10,000
civil society participants who had converged on the COP17 were often kept
in the dark about negotiations and prevented from exercising their
On the last Tuesday night, NGOs were excluded
en masse from the International Conference Centre. UN Security guards came
through the massive Center telling NGO representatives that they had to
leave while meetings were still going on. UN Security claimed that had to
sweep the area for bombs using dogs, in the UN Security Chief's words,
that "were vicious and would bite people." The UN’s rationale that
required believing that the dogs were trained to only bite NGO
representatives or that UN Security merely did not care whether State
representatives were bitten, was not convincing. Instead the
exercise looked like just another effort to keep civil society at a
distance from the talks.
Some NGOs observers who did stay until
the very end were surprised at the failure of the developed countries,
including the hosts, to fight for a stronger agreement. Instead of
fighting for Africa's interests as the Danish Prime Minister had for
European interests when his country hosted COP15 by taking over the
Presidency of the COP himself in the closing days, South African President
Jacob Zuma declined to apply his respected negotiating skills to the
climate talks and instead travelled abroad during the closing days. ALBA,
African and G77 countries that were approach by civil society
representatives urging them to stand for a strong agreement during the
closing COP plenary seemed more concerned with not upsetting the developed
countries then with fighting for the interests of Africa.
the Western media either through ignorance or intentional malice might
deliver to the EU, the US and their allies a rhetorical victory, little
was done in Durban to combat climate change and that is something of which
we should all be ashamed.
Leaving the Inkosi Albert Luthuli
International Convention Centre early Sunday morning and walking through
the early morning crowds that were starting to gather with their
sleepy but always smiling faces, it was difficult for any of the delegates
to raise their heads to look these hard working and friendly Africans in
the eye and it surely wasn't just because of sleep deprivation.
Dr. Doebbler is a well-known international lawyer and
professor at Webster University and the Geneva School of Diplomacy and
International Relations in Geneva Switzerland. He is a frequent
commentator on events in the Middle East in particularly and on
international affairs more generally. He is also the UN representative of
Nord-Sud XXI and the President of the NGO International-Lawyers.Org.