The UNFCCC COP18 climate change conference has been hailed, by some, as a success. The ‘Doha Gateway’ was celebrated in particular for its success at ensuring a second term of the Kyoto Protocol. After the negotiations went more than twenty-four hours overtime, the president of the conference quickly gaveled through the deal despite a block from Russia and serious opposition from many developing nations. Civil society and negotiators from developing nations looked at one another, dark circles on haggard faces, as developed nations clapped and cheered. They would still make their flights home.
What came out was the Doha Gateway Package to a warmer world. This warming world threatens the existence of species and people, ecosystems and nations. A negotiator from Nauru pleaded, in the final hours, “We are not talking about how comfortably your people will live, but whether our people live at all.”
A bloc of developing countries, led by the battered Philippines, demanded ambitious action. Their dire request was not answered with equity or fairness. The contribution that developed countries promised to make to the Green Climate Fund is not in place. Kyoto has been extended for a second period, but many countries have dropped out, and it now only covers 15% of global emissions. Compromises on loss and damage were weak at best. Nothing is in place to hold the globe to the critical two-degree warming threshold agreed upon at Copenhagen.
The issue is no longer about whether climate change is real. No countries are meaningfully denying that. The issue is whether or not anyone will do anything about it. The reality we are all facing requires ambition and commitment, and COP18 proved this to be lacking on the international stage.
Canada, as predicted, won its sixth annual Colossal Fossil award. Canada took a backseat in the negotiations, but had set an unambitious precedent by stating that it would commit to no new financing. Not to mention being the first to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol and setting the stage for the withdrawals of other developed nations this year. Faith in the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) climate negotiating process has been steadily draining out, and there is no sign that the flow can be staunched at the international level.
What we did see at COP18 was an unprecedented show of solidarity between civil society and developing nations. Youth and NGOs from around the world banded together in the hundreds, showing through actions, statements and discussions that they were here to demand meaningful action. This movement is growing, and is being echoed across the globe. The protests against Keystone XL and the Defend Our Coast movement in B.C. are only a few North American examples. They are mirrored all over the world, a case in point being the newly-formed Arab Youth Climate Movement, a large group of dedicated individuals working in one of the most unfavourable situations for climate justice. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, people worldwide are standing together even when governments refuse to act.
The UNFCCC process is not accomplishing enough. It is not fulfilling its mandate of helping us avoid catastrophic global warming and climate change. We need to cap global carbon emissions in the next fifteen years at the very latest. The UNFCCC was meant to be the place to accomplish this, but it has been sidelined by national and industrial interests. As faith in the UNFCCC drains out, the vacuum is being quickly filled by global citizens. We can only hope their commitment sways governments to bring more ambition to the table next year, at COP19 in Poland.
When it comes to international climate negotiations, bureaucracy is failing. It seems it will be left up to ordinary people to demand a resolution to the greatest crisis our civilization has ever seen.
Alana is a writer, researcher, and activist, though not necessarily in that order. She is a member of this year’s Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) to COP18. The CYD advocates for young Canadians at United Nations climate negotiations and holds our government accountable for their actions at these talks. You can follow the CYD’s activities at COP at www.cyd-djc.org and @CYD_DJC. Keep up with Alana at www.alanawestwood.com.
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