Turn the page on poverty

Copenhagen 2009 blog


Barry Coates

Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director Barry Coates wrote from the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen where he was part of Oxfam's advocacy team.

December 19 — Copenhagen: Looking back, looking forward



They came, they saw but they certainly didn't conquer

This is the way the summit ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. 119 world leaders came, they saw but they certainly didn't conquer. They were captured by their limited vision, their vested interests and the lack of trust between them that has it roots in long standing divisions, including a denial of historical responsibility on the part of the major developed countries.

You can watch the video opposite to hear my reaction to the Copenhagen verdict - and read on below for more information.

President Obama doesn't walk on water

There was some serious damage done to reputations. The United Nations processes were deeply flawed, countries like New Zealand have been exposed as self-interested blockers and President Obama doesn't walk on water. Some leaders came out with credit. The vulnerable countries, particularly the Pacific, negotiated hard and fought for 1.5°C to be included in the Copenhagen Accord – they succeeded but their efforts to have a clear aim for a legally binding treaty through this process was stripped out late last night. President Lula from Brazil assumed the mantle of world statesman with a powerful speech and an offer to help other developing countries. Thousands of civil society activists were able to build public support and attention across the world.

UN Copenhagen Conference Cartoon. Credit: Malcolm Evans
Copenhagen: Cartoon Comment from New Zealand Cartoonist Malcolm Evans. View all cartoons here.

A Fair, Ambitious and Binding deal has not been made

But to little avail. The final agreement was empty of content and extremely weak on the level of ambition. We came into the Summit calling for a Fair, Ambitious and Binding deal. We lost the Fair early on when Annex 1 countries could not agree to a financing package beyond the next three years. It was closely followed by the Ambition – leaders could not even commit to a global goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C. Then in the wee hours of this morning, the Binding was stripped out in a very untransparent way.

Next steps

Next steps are for emissions reduction offers to be tabled by 31st January 2010. As explained below, that is a dangerous development, given the lack of political will to decent offers from Annex 1 countries. Then there will be a two week negotiating session in Bonn Germany from 31 May to 11 June 2010, followed by the next annual UN Climate Change Conference (CoP 16) towards the end of 2010 in Mexico City. None of that gives us much confidence that they will be able to muster the political will or bridge the political divides that are needed to provide the political mandates that are essential for a FAB deal.

The job is not done - neither is ours

Because their job is not done, nor is ours. We need to build a far more powerful campaign for the future. We must ensure that the politicians who caused this problem are held to account for this missed opportunity. Since waking up this morning, I have been working with colleagues to prepare the following analysis. I hope you find it useful.

But now I'm signing off from this blog and will take a few days off, to recover my health and my sleep. Happy Xmas to you all and thanks for reading these posts.

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December 19 — Copenhagen: What the Copenhagen Decisions mean

Hundreds of activists demonstrate in Copenhagen with the message "Climate Shame" aimed at world leaders.

There is extreme urgency. The scale of the crisis means that emissions need to peak within five years. People are already suffering unnecessarily from a lack of protection and support. We have just lost a year. The hope of millions of people has been frustrated and potentially a base of political support has been lost.

Status of Decisions

AWG-LCA: Document UNFCCC/CP/2009/L6 The document setting out the conclusions of the work of the AWG-LCA was agreed. Tuvalu and Barbados sought to ensure the process would lead to a binding protocol.

CoP Decision: "CoP takes note of the Copenhagen Accord 18 Dec 2009." It is not agreed, only noted. Because there was not consensus on the Accord, it was agreed the Parties supporting it would be listed.

The Reasons for the Impasse

There were two interrelated issues that were to blame for the turmoil during the summit, although it should be recognised that the roots of this failure extend back at least to the initiation of the Bali Action Plan.

1. The Process:

There were a small number of countries that came to this Summit without the intention of negotiating in good faith. They were generally countries that have massive vested interests in fossil fuels, or that exclusively focus on their short-term competitiveness. These countries often undermined the negotiations dynamic.

Many countries were left out of the 'friends of the Chair" process and withheld their agreement. While there was an attempt to include negotiating groups, the selection of participants was not open and transparent. The problem was also that the Danish Presidency grossly mismanaged the process. It was most unfortunate that Heads of State found themselves effectively negotiating from the podium, rehearsing their national positions rather than proposing breakthroughs which had not been achieved in the preparatory meetings.

The usual brinkmanship was relied on to deliver an agreement after hours of late night working. This forced an agreement under conditions of tiredness, stress and bilateral influence (which opens up the potential for bullying and favours, reinforcing the positions of the larger and more powerful countries).

The breakdown of this process may signal that the days of stitching up deals in small selective groups and then expecting all countries to sign up are over. There must be questions over the style used for consensus building and decision making.

Climate change negotiations are starting to look eerily like trade negotiations, including the dominance of commercial self-interest in the position. We need processes which move us away from competitive negotiations, where countries try to minimise their concessions, to collaborative actions informed by the science, for example, conducting problem-solving sessions in mixed groups rather than blocks. It is clear that the UNFCCC negotiating process would need substantial reform to handle the complexity of this issue.

While the security challenges of such a meeting are huge, it is inexcusable that the forward planning did not take account of needing civil society and other observers to be present for transparency and legitimacy.

2. The Substance:

The Annex 1 countries didn't come to Copenhagen with sufficient offers and then didn't improve them. Even the offer on long term finance was full of caveats and loopholes. The rich countries did not make offers that were based, even loosely, on sound science. We were told there would be final offers made during the last hours. These were never tabled.

Some developing countries came with proposals and concessions (eg. China on MRV, Brazil on financial contribution for developing countries and MRV, South Africa offer on emissions reductions). An analysis of Annex 1 offers compared to major developing countries offers on a consistent basis of below BAU (Business as Usual) is likely to show that at least some major developing countries are more ambitious than average Annex 1 levels (particularly when omissions and loopholes offered to Annex 1 countries such as on surplus AAUs, LULUCF accounting rules and bunker fuels are taken into account).

The loss of full agreement, that would have included international MRV for China, means that we potentially lose an important step that could help unlock the negotiations. Also at risk from the lack of full agreement is the agreement to the starter funding for adaptation and the goal on long term finance (even if not a commitment).

On the other side, the lack of full agreement means some of the unhelpful parts of the Accord are not locked in, such as a systematic lowering of ambition and a lack of clear commitment even to 2°C. The process for agreeing mid-term targets, without a criteria for burden sharing and a top down process to test the adequacy of targets, is of serious concern. Continuing the current pledge and review approach undermines equitable burden sharing and a level of ambition based on science. Current emissions reductions pledges by Annex 1 countries are outweighed by the loopholes. On current pledges, we are headed for a 3.9°C temperature rise.

On the positive side, there is at least a consolidation into a Chair's text for AWG-KP and AWG-LCA which has helped unblock the large accumulation of previous texts that Parties refused to take off the table.

3. The Politics:

The agreement with China is a step forward in terms of gaining political capital for the Obama Administration's position in the US; however, a full agreement to the Copenhagen Accord would have been more helpful. Unfortunately, the adversarial atmosphere in Copenhagen might be used to provide opponents of climate change and multilateralism with ammunition. More broadly, the lack of clear success might mean that some Heads of State would be wary of coming to the next Summit on climate change.

We face major challenges in calling for Parties to get back to negotiations given the likelihood that there will be a widespread perception that this would fail again. The lack of trust is even deeper than it was before Copenhagen (it should be observed this is not unique to the UNFCCC process – the Doha trade negotiations process isn't much better). Moving forward, we will be challenged to say what has changed in the underlying political conditions where 116 Heads of State have failed.

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December 18 — Copenhagen: Historic opportunity, historic moment, historic CoP out

The Climate Action Network 'Fossil of the Day' awards
Climate Action Network (CAN) regularly judges three 'Fossil of The Day' awards to the countries who perform the worst during the past day's negotiations at the UN climate change conferences. New Zealand has received several of these (I can't recall how many). One was for stating that unless it is allowed unlimited offsetting in its next commitment period, it would be forced to move towards a target of zero, and another for revealing that its '10% to 20%' target is actually a 'nothing to 20%'.

Agreements unravelling

This saga is unfolding as I write. A few hours ago we thought the deal was done and put out an (almost) final press release. Then the apparent agreement between President Obama, Wen Jiabao, the EU, India, South Africa and a few other big countries started to unravel.

First the EU said they were unhappy about it (which may just have been spin doctoring to cover their embarrassment over a massively weak deal), then Sudan (chair of G77 – the group of developing countries) said they had not been consulted and would not accept the deal, and then AOSIS – the group of small island states – said they would be submitting a new draft agreement. As it has been for most of the past two weeks, the process is in chaos.

A weak proposal

The day started as it has ended, with confusion about what was actually happening behind the scenes. The heads of state had met late into the night and we were leaked the draft statement at 2.30am. It was no surprise that leaders had not come with ambitious proposals but the obvious depth of disagreement was a surprise. The result was a very weak proposal that did not even fully agree the goal to maintain global temperature rise at below 2°C.

The funding spin

The much vaunted announcement of US$100 billion for long term funding turns out to be a goal to mobilise funds, not a commitment; to come from carbon markets, not just public financing; potentially a mix of new funds and diversion of existing aid; and without any specifics on the sources of funding. Oxfam has been calling for predictable funding that is raised directly (such as through a levy on airline and maritime fuels), rather than through national Treasuries (which could add to government budgets).

So this deal that is spun in the media as "an agreement to move forward' is probably not an agreement, not much movement and it is doubtful that it is even forward.

The reality of Copenhagen

I seem to have been doing this analysis of drafts for a very long time. There have been six versions and lots of discussions on each one. It is the last night of negotiations and I still haven't made it to bed before 1am.

I was in the hotel for almost the whole day today, writing and analysing. But I have had a few breaks. One for meeting up with an old friend from Vietnam who works for the UN and one for an interview with TVNZ. The media have been very interested in the messaging from here – it has been great to be able to tell the real story from Copenhagen rather than the version according to the NZ government.

Tomorrow, is another day

This won't be the last blog. I am going to bail out tonight and catch up with the final statements in the morning. It's a final wrap up day tomorrow, but with these negotiations you never know! This may appear to be a pretty disappointing outcome but it should really motivate us to re-double our efforts to get the Ministers back into the process.

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December 16 – Copenhagen: In come the heads of state

World leaders gathered in the city centre of Copenhagen holding signs that read "History will judge me".

This is the way the negotiations end...

Not with a bang, but with a whimper (at least so far). The last 24 hours have had all of the elements of a soap opera. The overnight negotiations finally concluded before 6am when the closing ceremony of the long term track ended with little agreed. While some weary officials went off to bed, the heads of delegation accompanied their Ministers into the high level meeting.

Dramas and drafts

The other drama was the replacement of the chair of negotiations, Connie Hedegaard (Danish Environment Minister) with Andres Rasmussen (Danish Prime Minister). According to the Danish government, this was all arranged, but it had the air of a resignation when one process hadn't delivered the goods.

It soon became clear that Rasmussen's approach was to table a new version of his now infamous draft outcome. Developing country Ministers clearly said no. They repeatedly and strongly rejected a draft that had not been worked through in negotiations and looked suspiciously sympathetic to the US proposals. So the Danish Presidency's proposal was not tabled, at least temporarily. It is rumoured that there is a draft under development, being shown around to governments selectively.

Noteworthy and not-worthy speeches

Next came speeches and more speeches by Heads of State, including from Hugo Chavez who completely ignored his 3 minute time limit in a Castro style romp through the evils of capitalism.

The noteworthy speech came from Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. Yesterday he had made a dramatic flourish with President Sarkozy that had announced policy for Africa that had not been fully agreed by African leaders. Earlier this week, the Africa group called for a huge amount of funding for adaptation and mitigation, of around US$2 trillion. By yesterday, it was US$145 billion and today it seemed to have been reduced to US$100 billion. African civil society groups have been sharply critical of him giving up their position before the negotiations even started, and before most countries (like New Zealand) had even made an offer.

Ejection of the NGOs

While all this was going on, a major story was the ejection of three NGOs – Avaaz, Friends of the Earth and Via Campesina – from the convention centre, ostensibly for undertaking unauthorised demonstrations inside the building. But the move, coupled with the sharp cutback in numbers of NGO staff allowed entry, provoked a lot of criticism. At the same time there was an action to ring the convention centre from the outside and some fairly heavy handed police response. The levels of anger and frustration have been rising.

The convention centre was closed for much of the day and I was unable to get in. So I worked remotely by watching a direct feed from the plenary and press conference, while monitoring emails that are coming in at a rate of one each five seconds or so. Not being in the hall actually gave me a chance to write some articles and do a talk at the bloggers hub, the Fresh Air Centre. Over there I got to see my old mates, the Yes Men (A few years ago I was spoofed by them pretending to be the WTO and I inadvertently ended up in their first film).

Last push for progress

Tomorrow will be a crucial test of whether there is any opportunity of making progress. We have meetings with politicians in a last desperate attempt to build support for a good outcome. I encourage you to do the Oxfam action to write to John Key. He needs to be bombarded with messages. Similar actions are happening worldwide. We still have a chance to build the pressure for a fair ambitious and binding deal.

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December 15 – Copenhagen: Looking for a breakthrough

Desmond Tutu, Jeremy Hobbs (Oxfam International Executive Director) and Pelenise Alofa (from Kiribati) at the Oxfam Climate Hearings at the COP15 talks in Copenhagen. Photo: Jens Astrup/Oxfam International.
Desmond Tutu, Jeremy Hobbs (Oxfam International Executive Director) and Pelenise Alofa (from Kiribati) at the Oxfam Climate Hearings at the COP15 talks in Copenhagen.


Building a house without the foundations

On one of the last days of the talks, we were looking for a breakthrough. I am sorry if anyone read my blog last night. It was written with waves of sleep washing over and my eyes largely closed. Then I started the day with my own personal breakthrough – I finally got time to do my laundry. I enjoyed my one hour off over the last 9 days and then it was back to work.

We did a press release on the state of the negotiations after receiving the almost final versions of the outcome of two years of negotiations. The line was that the politicians ducked the tough issues two years ago and agreed only a really broad and vague mandate. It is little surprise that the negotiators have flailed around trying to agree a deal. It is like trying to build a house but without having prepared the foundations.

Framework for finance

The main issue that Oxfam has been focusing on is the right kind of framework for finance. Most attention goes on the amount of money needed, but some of the really important elements are in the framework. This includes additionality – whether governments will just take money from the aid budget and re-badge it as climate finance; also how the funds will be spent – whether through the World Bank and its sidekick, the Global Environment Facility, or as Oxfam is pressing for, through the new Adaptation Fund that has balanced governance, transparency and sound accountability.

And funding has to be predictable rather than trying to convince Ministers of Finance to vote it through (which they are never going to do) – that means levies on air travel and shipping fuels (which currently get away without being taxed) or taxes on pollution permits. These are the building blocks that can provide funding for vulnerable people to protect their communities and adapt to climate change, as well as support to leverage big emissions reductions in developing countries.

Restrictions and receptions

Today there were restrictions on non-government organisations getting into the convention centre, cutting down numbers by two-thirds to 7000 NGO representatives. It will get much tougher on Thursday – down to 1000. Then by Friday it will be around 300 on current plans. NGOs are complaining vociferously, especially since the UN climate change talks have been one of the forums that have been more open to NGO scrutiny and accountability.

I went to drinks with the New Zealand delegation last night. The highlight was the youth delegation presenting a spinnaker signed by hundreds of young people, accompanied by a great speech. It was carried off powerfully and with great dignity.

In defence of Africa

I talked with the journalist, David Williams, just as he was leaving the reception. He said he had just done an interview with the Minister for Climate Change Negotiations, Tim Groser, where the Minister had been very condemnatory of developing countries on the dynamics of the negotiations.

When I had met with him earlier in the day, I had said that this was not our experience of the negotiations and the Africa group (and the small island states last week) had insisted that there be a fair process. The real problem lay with the rich nations who had not come with decent negotiating proposals and had tried to evade their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and their negotiating mandate, the Bali Action Plan. In our press release, we said that the Africa group had pulled the emergency cord on the train that was headed for a wreck, a very different perspective from Tim Groser.

When it came out, the article contained comments against the Africa group that were even more harsh than I had thought. The reaction from the conference centre was sharp. There is real concern that the perception seems to really misunderstand the process and such criticism is unhelpful to achieving the agreement that we all need. The characterisation of the EU and US as calm and constructive while the African countries are the wreckers is a misreading of the situation.

No more excuses; the time is now

As I complete this blog (after midnight again!), the closing plenary sessions are underway. They are running half a day late, and were concluded not with a bang and a celebration, but with a whimper. Little progress has been made over the past two years and the big issues are all shunted off to the Ministers. We have a very long way to go to complete the deal and time is really running out. It is worth pushing hard to secure agreement even if there is not sufficient political will, because tight negotiating parameters will be needed to conclude a treaty early in 2010.

The message we are sending is 'no more excuses; the time is now'.

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December 14 — Copenhagen: Kyoto must not be killed

Five polar bears protest, to mark the last five days of negotiations at the UN Conference Conference in Copenhagen. Photo Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam International
Five polar bears protest, to mark the last five days of negotiations at the UN Conference Conference in Copenhagen. The bears, who were last seen at the 2007 UN Climate Conference in Bali, have returned with the same message, Save the Humans.

Groser-ly different perspectives

Every day is a big day at the CoP (stands for Conference of the Parties – it's a good acronym to make bad puns with, such as CoP out, good CoP/bad CoP).

Today started with a meeting with Tim Groser (NZ Minister of Climate Change Negotiations) and Nick Smith (Minister of Climate Change). I find that we have a very different perspective of what is happening in the negotiations – they got their briefings for government officials when they arrived; I have been closely involved over the past week, talking to a lot to NGOs and developing country officials. It gives a different perspective.

I gave them the news that the negotiations were suspended. This issue dominated the day. Please excuse the techy explanation that follows.

Negotiations in a nutshell

The first binding agreement underneath the Framework Climate Convention is the Kyoto Protocol. It is the implementing agreement for the Convention, primarily through specific targets and a compliance mechanism.

It's a common misunderstanding that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. It doesn't. The Kyoto Protocol actually envisages a second commitment period. The problem is that many of the rich nations don't want more commitments, most notably the US, which refuses to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. So the rich nations are working together to 'kill' the Kyoto Protocol and transition to a new agreement (under the long term negotiating track) that has a much weaker compliance mechanism. In order to do this they are trying to negotiate a single new agreement, even though their mandate comes from the Bali Action Plan, which calls for a two track negotiation.

Developing countries reject the merging of the tracks and want to preserve the two track approach. To move to a single track with a compliance mechanism is, as the Head of the UN Climate Change secretariat says, "like jumping out of a plane without a parachute." Actually it feels a bit more like being pushed out of the plane by the unfair actions of the rich countries and the Danish government (President of the CoP).

Talks suspended, time wasted

Today, the Danish Presidency tried to set up a meeting to talk about the two tracks in the same session. Developing countries rejected the meeting, and called for the negotiations to be suspended, except for discussion of emission reductions targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Then Australia complained and all negotiations were suspended. Eventually it was sorted but it took precious hours away from a process that is running out of time. Ministers will be discussing a paper on Wednesday and nothing has yet been agreed.

Oxfam has been working to counter the spin that this hiatus was the fault of the developing countries. It was not. As they have repeatedly said, poor countries can't be expected to sign a suicide pact here.

Also on Day 8

Other work today included specific lobbying of officials on the details of the finance agreement in order to win important changes. Also were the media stunts, work with allies, campaigning, setting up meetings and preparing briefings. Amidst all of this, my niece Sama called by, ready to do some activism. Afterwards she concluded the conference centre is no good for a person's health (I could add mental health!)

More news tomorrow, but now I hope to set a record for my time in Copenhagen and get to bed before 1am…

  • Copenhagen: Cop out in Copenhagen
    My opinion piece was published in The Dominion Post today - page 5. If you haven't had a chance to read it you can find it on Oxfam's online news database.

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Dec 12 , 13 — Copenhagen: Midpoint in Copenhagen

Thousands of demonstrators at a mass rally in Copenhagen on Saturday 12 December in support of a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal. Photo: Oxfam
Thousands of demonstrators gather at a mass rally in Copenhagen this weekend. View more photos.

If the climate was a bank, it would be bailed out by now

It's the end of a long weekend. I thought I might get the chance to do my laundry, but I'm having to go green – I'll be recycling the shirts I wore last week!

Yesterday was full on. There were more documents released setting out positions for the final deal. Many of the points in the Africa group statement are similar to the one by the Pacific and other small island states, except for one headline number that has raised eyebrows. The paper calls for rich nations to contribute 5 per cent of their GDP to support adaptation and mitigation, amounting to US$1.8 trillion… per annum! It's a big number, especially on an annual basis, but not so huge relative to the US$8.4 trillion bailout of the banks. As they say, "if the climate was a bank, it would be bailed out by now!"

100,000 march for climate justice

I left in the afternoon to go on the massive march – somewhere around 100,000 people. I left it a bit late so had to work my way from the back to the front. It was amazing. So many different groups represented and fantastic displays, music, dancing and even some good speeches. Great banners: 'system change not climate change', 'blah blah blah – it's time for action', 'change the politics not the climate' and Oxfam's 'Climate change kills – Act now. Save lives.'

Of course the police roundup of 968 people at the march got a lot of publicity, even though only 3 people were charged. It was a real shame because the march itself was good natured, with committed supporters rallying to have their voice heard.

Some light respite

It was then onto a celebrity party – supermodel Helena Christiansen recently visited her mother's homeland of Peru, where she took amazing pictures of Andean people who stand to lose everything as the glaciers melt. She has launched an exhibition of the photos here in Copenhagen. Also Bollywood star Rahul Bose, who is really getting to grips with climate change issues. And finally onto the highlight of the week – the NGO party. There was some sense of a release of energy before the final week. It was a great chance for meeting old friends, salsa dancing and having a good time.

The week ahead – shaping the final deal

The crucial week is coming up. One of the things we are starting to do is meet with developing country officials who are preparing speeches for their Ministers or Heads of State. We have had a few meetings with Ministers who have arrived already and aim to do many more over the next few days. This is a key time to help shape the final deal.

There is a huge amount to play for. At similar international meetings that I've attended, the officials have often prepared the final communiqué before the Ministers arrive. They pretend to negotiate and then sign the deal with a flourish. This Copenhagen Summit is not like that at all. It is incredibly volatile.

A suicide note?

Oxfam and the Climate Action Network (CAN) both had strategy sessions this weekend. I ended up presenting the group of small island states (AOSIS) position at the CAN session. It was a good opportunity to build support amongst CAN for the great work that Pacific negotiators have been doing. Their positions are strong – no more than 1.5°C average global temperature rise, greenhouse gas concentrations less than 350 parts per million and emissions cuts of 45 per cent by the rich nations. This is needed for their survival – as they have said in the past, they are not negotiating in order to sign their suicide note.

Their positions are founded on credible science and their strong advocacy has significantly shifted the negotiating range. The most vocal and courageous nation has been Tuvalu, which is under attack and has been warned that there "will be consequences". They need the support of NGOs and sympathetic governments (unfortunately not being provided by New Zealand). I finished with the call 'GO AOSIS GO'!

New Zealand – hero or villain?

Some world leaders must change the game in order to get a real deal. Who will that be? And who will be the villains? Hopefully New Zealand will get its act together, because we are getting very close to being ousted as one of the blockers to achieving a decent deal in Copenhagen. We can do far better.

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December 11 — Copenhagen: Power to the Pacific

Huge statues of Maasai people are carved at the UN Conference in Copenhagen as the first week of negotiations comes to a close. Photo: Oxfam

Huge statues of Maasai people are carved at the UN Conference in Copenhagen as the first week of negotiations comes to a close.

Migration must not be seen as an option

The last two days have been extremely volatile. After the morning coordination meetings with Oxfam colleagues and the New Zealand delegation, I gave a presentation at a panel on migration and climate change at the Klimaforum venue in the centre of Copenhagen. It was good to see so many committed activists learning, networking and planning campaigns.

There were many people on the panel, including Tim Jones from the World Development Movement (the organisation in the UK that I used to head) and friend Kumi Naidoo formerly of Civicus and the Global Campaign Against Poverty. I talked about the perspectives of many of our Pacific partners and allies who are reluctant to discuss migration because it implies acceptance of the injustice of climate change.

It is wrenching that people have to leave their homes, their livelihoods, their land and their culture. We must challenge the assumption that emissions cannot be slashed. Migration must not be seen to be a feasible option that takes the pressure off the rich nations to step up to the challenges of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels.

Preparing the drafts

The main story today was that the chairs of the negotiating groups prepared drafts of the outcome, far shorter than the huge documents they have been painstakingly working through. This is a welcome process, even if the draft on the negotiating track 'Long term Cooperative Action' is painfully vague and empty of content. It is hugely disappointing that two years of negotiations have yielded so little in terms of an outcome.

Power to the Pacific

And, although it sounds a really policy-wonk-thing to say, I had the pleasure of analysing the draft prepared by the group of small island states (AOSIS). They have continued to be courageous in standing up for their principles in negotiations, despite pressure from the rich nations and large developing countries. In doing so, they have received huge support from NGOs and activists around the world. Their draft for a final agreement is along the lines we have been calling for – fair, ambitious and binding. Perhaps there is yet hope for a strong outcome from this frustrating process. Power to the Pacific!

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December 10 — Copenhagen: Tuvalu takes a strong stand



December 9 — Copenhagen: Dramatic developments

A demonstration in support of the islands of Tuvalu, the 4th smallest country in the world, which is holding out for a legally-binding treaty here in Copenhagen.

A demonstration in support of the islands of Tuvalu, the 4th smallest country in the world, which is holding out for a legally-binding treaty here in Copenhagen.

Developing countries stand up in Copenhagen

Usually international negotiations are deeply boring. The meetings are very formulaic and polite. Any criticism is heavily veiled and overt conflict is avoided wherever possible. But today has been an exception. Today there were two major arguments that surfaced in the negotiating rooms. Time is running out and the negotiators are feeling the heat.

The first argument

Unusually, the first of the disputes was between developing countries. They are usually united through the negotiating group 'G77 and China '. However, Tuvalu broke ranks and insisted that there be open and transparent discussion of their proposal for a two-binding-protocols approach. The new protocol is based on one of the two parallel negotiating tracks, explicitly aimed at including the US . They are also calling for a continuation of the existing Kyoto Protocol, and for the rich nations to fulfil their commitments to sign up to emissions reductions in a second commitment period (probably 2012-2017).

Tuvalu's call was backed by other members of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), including the Cook Islands, Barbados and Fiji , and by some poor African countries including Sierra Leone, Senegal and Cape Verde. Their speeches were impassioned and framed in stark terms, talking about their right to survive as peoples and societies in the face of potentially catastrophic climate change. As Tuvalu said, they cannot leave Copenhagen without a binding outcome that will sharply reduce emissions.

Ray of the Day

Tuvalu received a "Ray of the Day" award from the Climate Action Network. This was the first award for positive contributions to the negotiations, applauding its proposal for an open and transparent discussion on the need to have a legal outcome from Copenhagen .

However, the major developing countries and some other members of the G77 negotiating bloc did not support the move. Their concerns were largely tactical, in that discussing a separate protocol could undermine their call on the developed countries to agree to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. Tuvalu has been clear that they are calling for a two-legally-binding protocol outcome, and are strongly supportive of maintaining the Kyoto Protocol. A logjam over whether or not this topic should be formally discussed led to a suspension of the COP plenary and officials are now trying to resolve tensions behind closed doors.

The right to survive

There were loud and passionate calls from hundreds of NGOs and activists in the conference centre chanting "survive Tuvalu", supporting their courageous stand. The Tuvalu negotiator and other countries that spoke in support talked about their right to survive as peoples and as countries. This intervention sends a powerful signal that the expectation of the vulnerable countries and millions of people worldwide is for a legally binding outcome from Copenhagen. This is still both possible and urgently required. The clear message is that this must be a non-negotiable outcome from Copenhagen.

More dramatic developments

Almost at the same time, there was a second dramatic development in the negotiations. Under the Kyoto Protocol negotiating track, Brazil , China and South Africa made strong statements accusing the Annex 1 countries of trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol by not coming forward with emissions reduction targets for a second commitment period. Japan and Russia , in particular, have said that their offers of emission reduction targets are not applicable if they are under the Kyoto Protocol. They want a new agreement that would not include the same compliance system and would include actions by developing countries. It is clear that these countries, along with other Annex 1 parties, would like to see an end to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen – this is likely to be a make or break issue for many developing countries, which might trigger a walk out.

Anything is possible

As seen today, there are some faultlines in the negotiations. These need to be resolved if there is to be a legally binding outcome next week. After two years of negotiations since the Bali Ministerial Conference, time is running out. Even so, anything is possible – a fair, ambitious and binding agreement; a collapse; or greenwash. Watch this space!

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December 8 — Copenhagen: Is this the real deal?

Dancing flash mob at the Copenhagen Summit.

Dancing flash mob at the Copenhagen Summit.

Is this the real deal?

The dramatic story from today was the appearance of a draft proposal from the Danish government for the final outcome. As host, the Danes are President of the conference and if there can't be agreement from negotiating 20 pages of documents, there are precedents for the President to introduce a draft themselves. While it was 'leaked' to the Guardian newspaper, it has been an open secret that the Danes were talking to a few countries about a draft document.

As soon as we got the draft, things went crazy. Everyone was wanting to know what was in it, what it meant, whether it pointed to a deal from Copenhagen etc. My role was to go through the document with an Oxfam colleague and assess whether it meets the criteria for a fair, ambitious and binding deal. That's tough to do under normal circumstances but with thousands of people around and some media interviews to do, things got a bit frantic. Finally now, at midnight, they are calming down!

The top line is that:

  • It's not fair because it primarily reflects the interests of some major developed countries (notably the US and EU)
  • It's not ambitious because it talks about a reduction of 50% in global greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050; that's way off the cuts that science demands and will be necessary to avoid catastrophic impacts on millions of vulnerable people – Oxfam is calling for at least 80% cuts; and there are no figures for mid term targets for the rich nations (the science demands at least 40% cuts by 2020)
  • It's also not ambitious because the funding mechanisms are weak – a real deal from Copenhagen needs to scale up funding to meet the needs for adaptation in vulnerable countries and to support emissions reductions in the developing world. Oxfam estimates around US$200 billion will be needed each year. It sounds a lot, but is tiny compared to the US$8.4 trillion spent responding to the financial crisis (hence the signs around Copenhagen "if the climate was a bank, it would be bailed out by now")
  • And it's not binding because it is not a fully legally binding agreement, and crucially, because it doesn't have a mechanism to ensure that emissions reductions in the rich countries are enforceable (like the Kyoto Protocol)

So, in summary, the draft is not great on the headlines. But the good news is that many of the details are a step forward, and include issues that developing countries have been calling for, like direct access to funds for adaptation (instead of them being tied up in red tape), and funding from taxes on shipping and aviation fuels.

10 million signatures!

Yesterday the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA), presented a petition with 10 million signatures to the head of the UN climate change secretariat and the Danish Prime Minister. GCCA has been doing great organising to amplify the campaigning messages of hundreds of NGOs, faith groups, trade unions and others around the world. It has been gratifying to see this quite amazing initiative playing a major role in cranking up the public pressure (check out www.tcktcktck.org).

What's next? The pressure is on to craft a document negotiations can be completed on, in time for Heads of State to sign on Friday week. The Danish draft was a disappointment but there is still time to substantially improve it. At the end of Day #2, a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement is still possible.

More soon...

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December 7 — Copenhagen: Crunch time in Copenhagen.

Greenwash or the real deal? It's crunch time in Copenhagen

The Copenhagen conference has started with the intensity and sense of importance that it deserves. Already some people are wandering around ashen faced and exhausted – and it's day one!

Part of the reason is that the gloomy prospects of a few weeks ago have been replaced by the realisation that a global climate change deal is entirely possible. There is nothing that over 110 of the world's most powerful men and women cannot do to agree a deal. The expectations of millions around the world will make sure that leaders come to these talks with not only a mandate but bearing the expectations of their people.

The nature of a deal is also evident. All of the elements of a fair, ambitious and binding agreement have been on the table in negotiations over the past two years. It is almost inconceivable that Heads of State will walk away from this historic opportunity to protect our planet and its people.

The danger is that they will agree only an empty statement and then claim a huge success. The greenwash monitor is on full alert – repackaging existing aid programmes and calling them climate finance; using dodgy accounting to give a misleading picture of the impact of forest sequestration; fine words with no real commitments behind them; and replacement of public funding with promises of benefits from carbon markets. These are the tactics that can be used to give leaders something to announce when there is little real substance.

But the world is watching

Many thousands of people have come to Copenhagen to 'keep it real' and many more are engaged from afar. One of my passions has been to try to help bring campaigners together across nations and sectors, uniting different groups around a few key demands for climate justice. Over the past year I have been a co-Chair and then a Board member of the Global Campaign for Climate Action, which has organised the TckTckTck campaign. Today, under the TckTckTck banner, a petition was presented with a staggering 10 million signatures calling for a fair, ambitious and binding climate treaty.

And there is more good news. South Africa made an announcement providing the kind of start to climate change negotiations that the world needs. They have undertaken to reduce their carbon emissions by 34% below business as usual by 2020. This follows similar announcements from China (40-45%), India (20-25%) and Indonesia (26%).

This further nails the myth that the major developing countries aren't taking action. Although developing countries as a whole did little to cause climate change, they are stepping up to the challenges of the future. They were only a small part of the problem but they are prepared to be a major part of the solution.

A decent proposal

The South African proposal would develop clean energy sources such as 100MW of wind power generation, 100MW of solar power generation, 1 million household solar water heaters and the scaling up of energy efficiency projects. This is a prime example of how climate finance and other support from rich countries can help developing countries to make the shift from dirty to clean energy (or to low-carbon development).

This is in a country that faces serious developmental challenges – 20% of South African households have no access to electricity and the nation accounts for 35% of all people living with HIV and AIDS.

They have made it clear that short-term promises of repackage aid commitments will not be sufficient to seal a deal. Oxfam believes that the amount of required in this long-term finance package is US$200 billion by 2020, half for adaptation and half for mitigation.

The South African announcement throws a further challenge to the rich nations. Are they prepared to honour their commitments to move fastest and furthest? Are they prepared to provide the short and long-term funding to support actions by South Africa and other developing countries? As negotiations start here in Copenhagen, the focus needs to be on the US and other rich nations. It's their next move.

New Zealand's role

So far the action by countries like New Zealand have not given any confidence that they will offer proposals that will support the deal. One of my roles in Copenhagen is to report on what New Zealand is doing in the negotiations. Hopefully our diplomats were around in the weekend when climate change supporters broke the world record for the biggest number of people doing a haka.

The haka was organised by our Oxfam team. This morning when I was waiting to get registered for the climate change conference for two and a half hours in the FREEZING cold with hundreds of people around me, there it was on a giant screen. It was awesome. Check it out.

So many people stopped what they were doing and watched. It was a really powerful symbol.

In the next two weeks public pressure will be crucial, in the convention centre as well as elsewhere in Copenhagen and internationally. I hope this blog might provide some insights into what's happening. And perhaps if you're inspired you will join in the actions to make our politicians realise that delivering the real deal is exactly what they're elected to do. More tomorrow…

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