Elephant in the room at climate talks

The United Nations climate machine has rolled into Bangkok, and an elephant sat patiently on the table in the plenary room.

As the latest round of UN climate talks kicked off in an “informal” session, observers described the presence of United States representatives as an “elephant in the room”.

The Obama administration recently announced it does not support an international agreement that guarantees a safe climate. They actually reject the entire premise of the international negotiations and instead they want to keep on with business as usual, each country doing whatever it wants.
“Business as usual” caused this crisis in the first place. Bringing that approach in Bangkok only guarantees climate catastrophe.

One of the key issues in the negotiations is that of “adaptation finance” — the amount of money needed for countries, especially the poorer ones, to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The amount needed is calculated to be at least $150 billion a year although some consider this a low estimate. Until now, the amount pledged by rich countries was pitifully low, and while the European Union has begun to indicate that they will put some money on the table, it is still nowhere near what is necessary.

As politicians falter, the public has once again taken a lead with communities across northern Thailand providing “small change for the climate” to give a boost to the adaptation fund.

The money collected was handed over in five elephant piggy banks last week to the top official in charge of the UN climate change negotiations — by five Thai children representing the 1,3 million people who have already called for a fair, ambitious and binding treaty as part of the anti-rich country’s campaign. They also represented the millions of young people whose futures are at risk if a strong outcome is not achieved in Qatar in December.

The official was clearly moved by the presentation and immediately suggested that one of the elephants could be placed on the table in the plenary room to remind delegates of their responsibilities to the people of the world. He was good to his word, and the elephant duly appeared with him at the opening session — sadly, however, this is currently the only money on the table.

Almost 50 of the world’s poorest nations claimed pledges made by rich countries to provide funds to help them adapt to a warmer planet risked being overlooked as UN negotiations over a global climate pact to start in 2020 got underway in Bangkok.

The group of mostly African nations said that ill-fated talks launched in 2007 to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol must not end without richer nations pledging financial aid to help them cope with rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Traditional industrialised nations and blocs such as the European Union, the US and Japan want to close down the talks, which failed in 2009, to produce a legally-binding global pact to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases starting next year.

They want to focus on a new deal to take effect at the end of the decade. Rich nations have pledged to find $100 billion per year starting in 2020 to help nations combat the effects of climate change, but poorer nations are concerned that existing pledges of $10 billion a year will expire in December without a new interim agreement in place.

“All sides need a clearer understanding on how to get to $100 billion a year by 2020 with no gaps,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN’s climate department and the public face of the talks.

The call comes as traditional rich nations struggle to rein in their national debt and budget deficits, while support for proposals to tap the private sector for cash through regulating or taxing emissions from shipping and aviation have struggled to receive backing.

The Bangkok negotiations, which end this week, will also try to advance talks on whether countries that have refused to be legally bound to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol should be allowed access to the carbon markets launched under the 1997 treaty.

Earlier this month, Australia’s main opposition party which is tipped to win the country’s next general election said it would not object to the country taking on another legal target to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, putting pressure on the government to sign up.

It is not a mystery as to what is missing in the climate change talks — it’s as obvious as an elephant in the room.

They need deep emission cuts in line with the science and they need a commitment to getting finance and technology to communities on the frontline. These were promised by industrialised countries in existing legal agreements, but the tricks they will use to get out of their commitments seem endless.

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