If you keep going in the same direction, you will inevitably end up at where you are going. – Chinese proverb
The climate paradox is that while governments agree that it is an imminent crisis, they are unwilling to act in a manner that shows that they assimilate this truth. Indeed, climate negotiations have remained largely a political exercise that commits large amounts of money to access climate science and yet pays scant attention to it. This is what we learn from the tonnes of information generated by the IPCC compared to the decisions that come out from the (Conference of Parties) COPs.
We note particularly that by the subversive decision of the 2009 COP at Copenhagen the world stopped talking of binding commitment to emissions reduction by nations and rather stepped on to the path of voluntary actions. The world also slashed ambition on climate finance and was forced to comply with a $100bn per year climate fund a year by 2020. What happens before 2020 was left hanging.
Another degenerate milestone was reached at the Conference of Parties five years later on at Lima, Peru. The Lima Call for Climate Action sought to actualise the intent of the so-called Copenhagen Accord. Rather than demanding binding emissions cut that would add up to meet targets indicated by science, nations are expected to toe the path of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). As the name suggests, nations are to suggest what they intend to (not what they must) do as their contributions to tackle the menace of climate change.
"The truth is that leaving fossils underground is more valuable than cash as a liveable planet offers opportunities that money cannot provide."
As at mid-April 2015, about thirty-four (34) countries have so far submitted their INDCs to the UNFCCC. By the time of COP21 in Paris, it is expected that about 90% of the nations of the world would have submitted their INDCs and that, with no incentive and no compulsion to do what will meaningfully add up to tackle the menace of climate change, their cumulative intended contributions would in no way be anything necessary to cut emissions at levels that would produce a less than 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase above pre-industrial levels. With a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise Africa and some other parts of the world would already be literally on fire.
We should also note at this juncture that whatever is agreed to at Paris would only come into effect by 2020 as previously set by the Copenhagen Accord. This suits political temperaments of leaders that are content to shift responsibility to take action to future administrations while they do nothing at the present. The further away the dates for ambitious actions are, the easier it is for political leaders to agree to such plans. The nearer the implementation of these targets is, the more improbable it is to expect enthusiastic support from political leaders.
Not everything in the Lima outcome document pointed at a lack of ambition. The outcome retained the concepts of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities (CBDR) as well as openings for gender action and another on loss and damage. While the CBDR speaks strongly to justice, fairness and equity, it is possible that arguments for payment of ecological and climate debt could be brought up under the loss and damage radar. This holds particular possibilities for support to Small Island states and other nations that have already been battered (and are still being battered) by freak weather events.
One thing that the COPs have consistently refused to acknowledge, as they should, is the central role played by human’s dependence on fossil fuels for energy and power generation. The World Bank and the International Energy Agency as well as the IPCC have acknowledged that substantial percentage of known reserves of fossil fuels must not be burned, that is, they must be left underground if catastrophic temperature increase is to be avoided. This reality which Oilwatch has been demanding for over 15 years now makes it urgent for nations to close their fossil shops and for corporations to shift their attention to clean energy and other forms of production. Is that what we see? No.
Rather than work on urgent transition from fossil fuels, nations and corporations are embarking on more extreme and reckless modes of exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, including fracking and deep seas drilling. Rather than shifting to safer and cleaner energy forms, many countries, including many on the African continent, are celebrating new oil and gas finds. They are delirious with joy and getting set to enjoy the pyrrhic bounties that the sector promises. While anti-fracking movements denounce moves towards the reprehensible mode of extraction in Europe we hear of the announcement of massive oil find at a location near Gatwick airport in the United Kingdom. When shall we learn?
Without the new finds, it was already estimated that the value of fossils to be left underground topped 22 trillion dollars. The fact that such fossils to be left underground are often referred to as stranded resources suggests that corporations and governments will don the saviour toga to rescue the resources from being stranded!
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Finance for Action
As already mentioned, the COPs hope that by 2020 there would be $100bn a year in the kitty for climate finance. A Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been set up. The means of raising that money – from private or public sources was not stipulated – and this has led to various interpretations including counting development aid as climate finance. As we write this in mid-April 2015 only $10.2bn is in that account.
Raising climate finance should not be such a hard thing if politicians especially from rich nations agree to do the right thing. For one, the huge expenditure on warfare amount to over a trillion dollars a year. 10% of the amount of money wasted on wars and other acts of aggression would already exceed the financial target for the GCF. Secondly, equity, fairness and justice demands that accumulated climate debt be paid. This would meet the huge financial demands been saddled on nations that neither contribute significantly to climate change nor are in a position to fund adaptation measures.
If the UNFCCC is serious about carbon offset mechanisms, countries that leave fossils in the ground should be accorded carbon credits to the value of the fossils locked underground. This means that the Ogoni people should be paid handsomely for keeping millions of tonnes of carbon underground since they expelled Shell oil company from their territory in 1993. This would also mean hat Ecuador would not have to desecrate Yasuni because of the quest for cash at the expense of lives and a rich biodiversity. This means that countries like Kenya would not have to open up the protected Lake Turkana area for oil extraction and that Mozambique would defend its rich biodiversity rather than celebrate gas finds on its territory. The truth is that leaving fossils underground is more valuable than cash as a liveable planet offers opportunities that money cannot provide. If the whole carbon trade is not a fabricated lie the logic should be extended to fossils left underground.
The urgency of the climate crisis demands that the world decarbonises urgently. We cannot allow politicians to intentionally refuse to act now and shift responsibility for action to generations yet unborn. No. We must not allow that.
This is why we reject all false solutions that lock in pollution and snuffs life out of our peoples. False solutions such as agro-fuels and REDD have already had serious negative impacts on our peoples. Geo-engineering experiments have failed spectacularly, and even if they were to succeed, all scenarios reviewed by scientists and by the ETC Group show that Africa would suffer severe negative impacts from such moves. As one highly regarded physicist told a recent meeting, “geo-engineering experiments have shown that it is totally useless.” It is a silver bullet that permits polluters to keep polluting and cannot deliver on its promise to suck released carbon from the atmosphere.
Complex problems can be solved with simple solutions. The climate crisis can be tackled by working with nature and not against her. We need to resolve to respect the rights of Mother Earth to maintain her natural cycles without human disruptions. We have to halt activities that have known negative impacts, including dependence on industrial agriculture and its litany of artificial and chemical inputs. We have to say yes to life and no to mining. It may be inconveniencing, but the pleasures and so-called easy life of today cannot justify a knowing condemnation of the planet and peoples to unacceptable future. We must all stand up, speak and act against climate crimes.
Climate action can only appear to be expensive if we continue to refuse to discern that the cost of inaction is far higher and intolerable. Inaction is attractive when polluters do not care about the impacted and refuse to accept the fact that ultimately everyone on planet Earth is vulnerable.
Mass movements can press this message at local and national levels. And then all must coalesce in the global space to demand the urgent halting of intentional climate crimes and inaction.