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Barry's Blog from Bangkok 2009

Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director Barry Coates wrote from Bangkok, where he was sitting in on climate negotiations in the lead up to December's UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

September 29 -- Bangkok

It’s the end of day 3, Wednesday 29th September. Lots of people running around from meeting to meeting and lots of heat. Unfortunately not much light. And even less progress in resolving the big issues.

I had a discussion with Adrian Macey, New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador yesterday and I thought you’d be interested in some of it. Adrian agreed to do this on the record and part of it was filmed. A lot of the discussion was very technical and makes for really boring watching (and blogging) so we’re cutting the visuals and this blog down to a few highlights.

I started by asking about the NZ delegation’s aims for this meeting. Adrian replied that they are trying to get a workable document that can be used to gain an agreement in Copenhagen (this means boiling down around 200 pages of disputed text down to 30-50 pages). He also wants progress on issues of most importance to NZ, such as ‘flexible mechanisms’ (carbon markets), rules on land use and forests, and an integrated discussion on the Kyoto Protocol and the proposed new agreement [this sounds like a really techie issue, but it is hugely contentious in negotiations – more in a future blog].

He talked about the new carbon trading proposal that would generate credits in the rich countries in return for funding for emissions reductions in developing countries. Adrian considers that the NZ proposal would include sectoral benchmarks, stimulate new technology and could lead to verifiable cuts in emissions [in case you hadn’t picked this up, NZ is very keen on private sector markets for carbon trading].

The NZ government has not yet developed a policy on the NZ government contribution of funding for mitigation or adaptation, nor a commitment for funding to be additional (ie. not raiding the aid budget to fund climate change adaptation needs).

He defended the emissions reduction target of 10-20% that NZ has submitted, saying that it is in the upper end of the ambitious range because NZ has a high proportion of renewable energy and almost half of our emissions are from agriculture – these would be expensive to reduce. Therefore he argued that NZ’s share of a global target would be less than other countries.

Adrian said that they are trying to get agriculture acknowledged as important for both mitigation and adaptation. They are talking to others about the newly proposed global research alliance with different centres around the world leading on different issues.

Finally we talked about the prospects for progress over these two weeks in Bangkok. There has been political impetus from Heads of State at the UN General Assembly last week, and some new ideas. There is a tone of seriousness in the negotiations and undoubtedly there will be a deal done in Copenhagen. But, he warned, the details may take several years to complete.
All of the above sounds as if New Zealand is playing a constructive role in negotiations. I haven’t put much of my own commentary on it because I think it’s good to hear what Adrian has to say. My critique will emerge in the next few days!!

But some of the critique is already out there. Earlier this week, Adrian gave an interview to the journal Point Carbon in which he talked about New Zealand’s emissions reduction targets of 10-20%. When it was announced, the Minister had said that the range would be depend on some conditions, such as big developing countries also reducing their emissions. It was assumed that, if those conditions weren’t met, New Zealand would reduce its emissions by 10%. But the interview revealed that we might throw our toys out of the cot if we don’t get our own way, and reduce our emissions by less than 10%. In other words, there’s not really a range as much as a bottomless pit if we’re not happy. That’s a bad sign for the negotiations.

So tomorrow morning, New Zealand will be ashamed again to be awarded a Fossil of the Day, given to those countries performing worst in the negotiations. This adds to two fossils we were awarded at the last negotiations in Bonn.

So the messages to our politicians: don’t trash our hugely valuable international reputation; seize the opportunity to transform our economy; protect our Pacific neighbours and others who are most vulnerable; and do our fair share to avoid climate chaos.

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September 28 -- Bangkok

Tcktcktck. The clock counts down to the deadline for climate change negotiations. Not to achieve an agreement is unthinkable. It was good last week to hear the speeches of heads of state at the UN meeting in New York saying how committed they are to a deal.

But the key question is how. It is not easy to negotiate a hugely important global deal amongst 192 countries. And especially since climate science demands that there be a dramatic transformation of economic activity worldwide.

That’s the scene setting for UN negotiations on climate change that started yesterday in Bangkok. There are 15 days of negotiations before the Copenhagen conference and hundreds of pages of densely typed documents. The challenge? Distil it all down to about 30 pages, agree on some of the key issues and avoid a massive greenwash.

The past 24 hours shows how hard this will be. The opening was, as usual, marked by fine sounding speeches. My favourite was the Thai Prime Minister saying there is no Plan B, only Plan F where ‘f’ is for fail.

But even before the day had ended the good vibes had been replaced by a fight between the US (supported by other rich countries) and India (supported by most of the developing countries). The issue is whether the developing countries need to take on legally binding obligations or whether they have obligations that are different to those of the rich countries (as is provided for in the mandate for these negotiations agreed in Bali almost two years ago).

The lines are drawn tightly in these negotiations. Most of the dynamic is between the two blocs, ignoring the fundamental point that we will all be in deep trouble if there is no global agreement. The casualty is trust and cooperation.

So not much progress yet. I am a part of the Oxfam delegation here, working both inside and outside the convention centre. I must say that the real fun is happening amongst the myriad of groups who have joined in the tcktcktck coalition across South-East Asia. I am also on the Board of the tcktcktck campaign so it’s great to be joining with activists from across the region.

It’s not all bad though. I had time to walk through the Bangkok markets near our high rise hotel. It’s a great grounding in the high levels of poverty that exists in this society. And in the vulnerability to climate change that has just struck hard in Manila. The images of people’s lives being devastated in the Philippines has been a really useful reminder of the humanity behind the negotiations. If these negotiations don’t work, there will be many millions more suffering under climate change in the future.

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