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7 January 2010 Edition

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De Brún: Copenhagen failure puts onus on people's climate movement

Bairbre de Brún at the Copenhagen Climate Summit

Bairbre de Brún at the Copenhagen Climate Summit

VULNERABLE developing countries and environmentalists have reacted with fury to the outcome of the Cop15 climate change summit held in Copenhagen in December. The summit failed to come close to achieving an ambitious, legally binding global treaty on reducing carbon emissions and represented a step backward from progress that had been made in previous climate discussions.
Speaking to An Phoblacht this week, conference delegate and Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún said that political leaders of powerful industrialised countries have blamed the summit’s failure on developing countries and emerging large economies such as China refusing to ‘play their part’.
In reality, however, what happened at Copenhagen was that the industrialised states tried to step back from generally accepted climate principles and goals – in particular the Kyoto Protocol’s principle that rich and poor countries had differing obligations.
“Everybody here was aware of the urgency of the need to reach a strong and just agreement to halt climate change. It was very disappointing that the parties lacked the political will to move towards this,” de Brún said.
 “If 2010 is spent similarly wasting time everybody will suffer – and the most vulnerable countries, which have done the least to contribute to carbon emissions, will suffer the most.”

De Brún said that while the Democratic administration in the U.S. has taken a far better position on reducing carbon emissions than the previous Bush administration, “the U.S. failed to offer anything close to the emission cuts that are necessary for it to make”.
While the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report recommended that industrialised states make emission cuts of 25%-40% on 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050, the United States offered to cut its emissions by just 3%-4% by 2020.
“As well as this inadequate target, the other key problem with the U.S.’s position was its insistence that emerging large economies, including China, agree to sign up to the same obligations as the industrialised world – regardless of their historic contribution to greenhouse gas emissions or the development needs of the country,” the MEP said.
“Such a scenario would prohibit development and entrench global economic inequality. It was unacceptable to the emerging economies and developing countries.”
De Brún said that the EU had gone to the 2007 Bali climate conference as a grouping with one of the most progressive positions in terms of making emission cuts, and it unilaterally signed up to legally binding emission cut targets of 20% by 2020.
“But coming into Cop15 the EU failed to show leadership by stepping forward and raising its target to 30% by 2020, saying that this pledge was conditional on what others would agree to do,” she said.
“Vulnerable countries became increasingly angry and vocal during the summit, demanding industrialised states set ambitious reduction targets required by science. They wanted to see a clear commitment on finance for mitigation and adaptation to the impact of climate change in the developing world – the level of funding, the source of it, and the administration and distribution of funding.”
Rejecting the demands of the powerful wealthy states, African delegates chanted in the conference centre: “We will not die quietly.”

The standoff between the rich and poor countries was reflected in the outcome of Cop15, de Brún said, describing it as “a lowest common denominator announcement” which was not only not legally binding but did not actually set targets, and was merely “taken note of” by the conference because it was unacceptable to several countries.
“The interim 2020 targets – which are the most important considering the urgency of the climate challenge – were completely absent even from the early drafts of the Copenhagen Accord and the 2050 reduction targets disappeared from the final draft,” de Brún said.
“Countries are expected to fill in a table on their targets for 2020 by February. What is certain from the industrialised countries’ commitments that have been declared to date is that they are not adequate to meet the goals laid out in the Bali Action Plan of 25%-40%.
“The Accord for the first time within the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) process cites the target of limiting warming to no more than 2ºC but in the final text it recognises it as a ‘scientific view’ as opposed to setting it as a commitment,” de Brún said.
Noting that many leaders of developing countries stated that even a 2ºC rise in warming would be disastrous, and were demanding a target of limiting warming to 1.5ºC instead, de Brún said that the Accord provided for a review of emerging climate science regarding this issue – but that this is not scheduled to take place until 2015.
Regarding climate mitigation and adaptation funding, de Brún said: “The Accord makes reference to US$30 billion from 2010 to 2012 in immediate aid to developing countries but there is no clarity as to who will contribute what from the industrialised countries.”
The $10 billion per year pledge provoked outrage among delegates from the developing world, where last year 300,000 people died from the effects of climate change.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said: “The budget of the United States is US$687 billion for defence. And for climate change, to save life, to save humanity, they only put up $10 billion. This is shameful.”
De Brún said there was also mention in the Accord of the “goal” of developed countries jointly mobilising $100 billion each year in climate funding for developing countries by 2020. “But this was an even vaguer commitment, with no detail as to where it would come from,” she said.

Taking action
“The search for a global agreement at Mexico – Cop16 – at the end of this year will not be easy, especially in the context of the ongoing global economic downturn,” de Brún said.
“Unless people around the world now protest at the lack of agreement and campaign strongly for their governments to take the necessary action now, we are sleepwalking into disaster,” she said.
“Such an agreement has to be informed by the most up-to-date scientific evidence and be strong enough to tackle climate change.  The nature of this agreement must also be fair and just to developing countries and must recognise development needs and the wealthy countries’ climate debt.
“At home this means we must campaign for a strong, legally binding global climate treaty in 2010, and for political representatives to press for this internationally. It also means legislation that encapsulates targets, monitoring and finance for actions we need to take here in order to shift to a sustainable economy powered by renewable energy.
“The major demonstration in Copenhagen city on 12 December and the alternative conference, Klimaforum, organised by climate NGOs, environment campaigning groups and activists,  showed a level of commitment that stood in stark contrast to the lack of ambition from world leaders,” she said.
 “Although we are all rightly disappointed with the outcome of Cop15, we should not be disheartened. It was hugely heartening to see the sheer numbers involved in the actions outside the summit and to see the vibrancy of the discussions and debates about a green future,” de Brún said.
She concluded that the lesson from the failed summit is that “this challenge cannot be left to a handful of people who are clearly lacking the vision and will to bring about the vital changes necessary to protect the future of our planet.
 “There is a huge willingness among large swathes of the populations in many different countries around the world who are determined to take action for change, and governments need to listen to these demands and respond.”

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