Is our world safe in our hands?


Climate change negotiators from 173 countries on Friday last week agreed on an agenda after days of bickering over the scope of talks left little time for substantive discussions.

The disagreement highlighted deep divisions between developing and rich countries on how to cut global carbon emissions.

The United Nations climate change talks in Bangkok produced an agenda late Friday for negotiations this year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

After a week of sometimes frustrating discussions of little substance, the UN issued a short statement saying delegates agreed to work toward a comprehensive and balanced outcome at the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, at the end of the year.

I closely followed the proceedings in Bangkok, Thailand, a city I have fond memories of. There was a lot of drama, with developing countries throwing a challenge to developed countries to proclaim themselves once and for all, whether they intend to continue with the Kyoto Protocol or to kill it.

They also agreed to address the implementation of agreements made last year at talks in Cancun, Mexico, and on issues that were not resolved at Cancun such as the possibility of a legally binding agreement.

And yet, contrary to conventional wisdom that developing countries are taking more climate action than developed countries, the Bangkok talks revealed statistics showing developing countries such as Zimbabwe are doing much better in reducing climate change effects than developed nations.

Division emerged between developing countries wanting comprehensive negotiations and industrialised nations focused on fulfilling agreements made in Cancun.

“That they need to find a way they can both focus on the very specific items that come out of Cancun as well as at the same time keep all of the other issues that were not resolved or agreed or no decision was made in Cancun, keep those on the table,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN climate change chief.

Many in Zimbabwe would remember the plastics ban by government last year. The public was not in favour of a blanket ban on using plastic bags while government was working on the use of biodegradable plastic as colouring elements like dyes are a health hazard and thin bags and material can severely jam up sewage systems.
Plastic itself is a chemically inert substance, used worldwide for packaging and is not per se hazardous to health and environment.

Recycling of plastic, if carried out as per approved procedures and guidelines, may not be an environmental or health hazard. There should however be a stringent monitoring mechanism in place to ensure the right kind of re-cycleable plastic is used.

Interestingly, delegates at the Bangkok climate change talks were all agreed that what was on the table in the negotiations was that 65% of emission reductions happen in developing countries and just 35% happen in developed countries, even though it was they who caused the problem of climate change.

This is like someone burning down your crops, making you do all the work to replant them and then acting like a hero when they give you a tiny discount on the seeds.

Developed countries have decided that a limitation of a two degree temperature rise should be the object of the climate negotiations, despite that goal being unsafe for millions of lives and livelihoods across the world.

Nevertheless, to achieve their inadequate goal, countries across the world would need to cut their emissions by 14 gigatonnes per year by 2020.
Of these inadequate pledges, in the worst case scenario, only 3 gigatonnes are included in rich countries pledges, in contrast to 3,6 gigatonnes in developing countries — giving up the lie that it is developed countries which are “leading” emission reductions.

In total this analysis shows that, with the use of offsets 3,6 gigatonnes of emission reductions will happen in developing countries in contrast to just 1,9 gigatonnes in developed countries.

To spend five days discussing an agenda seems insane but what is behind the discussion of the agenda is what kind of outcome we will have in South Africa later this year.

In Cancun last year, countries agreed they should prevent the average global temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius by 2020 and to a $100 billion fund to help poor nations adapt to climate change.

But they did not decide on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the only binding international agreement on reducing emissions, which is set to expire at the end of 2012.

US lead negotiator John Pershing said some nations at the Bangkok talks wanted to revisit decisions reached in Cancun.

Developing countries and activists say since industrialised nations were historically responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions they should be legally obligated to cut their own and help poor countries cut theirs by providing funding and technology.

Once the review process comes into effect countries will better understand whether the bottom-up approach is enough or if a top-down treaty is needed to complement it.
Can we help ourselves?