All posts by Nathan Thanki

Political Science

“Science has been deleted from the Paris Agreement!”

Variations of this headline dominated the coverage of SB50 negotiations in Bonn. 

The idea began early in the week when Saudi Arabia raised procedural concerns with the agenda item relating to the IPCC Special Report on 1.5, which was published in October last year. 

The Saudis said that the topic should be discussed under an existing agenda item, not a new stand-alone agenda item. After some back-and-forth, the SBSTA chair proposed that Parties have a “substantive” exchange of views on the topic, and conclude the agenda item at that session in Bonn. Everyone agreed. 

But then the headlines came.

Before going any further it must be said for the avoidance of confusion that the Kingdom has spent many years and millions of dollars undermining the climate science of the IPCC, and making sure negotiations in the UNFCCC do not set ambitious mitigation goals. 

This is unsurprising for a country whose economy is wholly based on oil. They are trying to buy time. 

But for many complex reasons they have been made into the sole villain of a long-running play with an abundance of villains, including some truly evil geniuses. 

For example, the United States had in fact opposed the actual IPCC Special Report back in October…

And again, along with Saudi, Kuwait, and Russia, in Poland last December…

Yet this time around it was only Saudi who grabbed the headlines.

Very little of the coverage explored the reasoning behind some of the statements. Thankfully Third World Network does that, and reports what exactly was said by whom, so you can judge for yourself.

An unfortunate reality that has been caught up in the “science denialism” is the fact that there are in fact gaps in the IPCC reports.  The IPCC readily acknowledges this. It is not a controversial statement, nor should stating it serve to undermine the basic findings of the IPCC.

In fact, science, and in particular climate science, is always political. From the selection of authors, to decisions about what qualifies as acceptable literature to peer-review, to the negotiation of the summary for policymakers, the entire process – like any aspect of life – is political. The IPCC is not immune from assumptions which are anything but neutral, including assumptions built in to the models about how much we will have to rely on certain unproven technologies…

None of this changes the fact that the IPCC is the best available science. 

What’s not clear is that a failure to enthusiastically welcome IPCC under the relative insignificance of a stand-alone SBSTA conclusion actually… matters. 

It’d be nice, but what matters more is what countries do. Is their NDC in line with what the IPCC says is required to remain below 1.5 agrees warming? 

Is the money that rich countries are putting on the table commensurate with the financial needs of poorer countries to deliver their NDCs? 

It is interesting that there was not so much coverage of stories about how rich countries conspired to delete references to conflicts of interest, or how peddlers of false solutions kept forcing their free-market ideology down our throats. And we have to ask why were these issues trumped by procedural bickering about a report which has already been written, and its negotiated summary widely circulated. 

Or why the headline for every single news outlet was not this:

Or this

False Solutions

Another major issue at this round of talks was actually a hangover from COP24 in Katowice. The shorthand is “Article 6” – referring to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with international cooperation between countries to result in an overall decrease in emissions. Mainly this has focused on controversial trading of “offsets”. 

Market mechanisms have long been a bone of contention in the climate talks, going back at least 2 decades to the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. Back then, a so-called Clean Development Mechanism was set up with the intention to help developed countries meet their emissions reductions targets under the Protocol through the purchase of emissions reductions credits. 

However the actual result was that some people made rather a lot of money selling these “credits” to people who wanted to pollute more but not have said pollution “on their books”, while very little progress was made to actually cut emissions. Concerns around the actual function of the scheme expressed themselves in terms like “efficiency”, “additionality”, “carbon leakage”, and the simpler “human rights violations”.  

For years afterwards, negotiations attempted to establish global carbon markets, voluntary trading schemes and so forth. As opposition to carbon markets is a core tenet of climate justice, many groups did not even engage or follow this process, which usually ended in no agreement between countries, although of course some countries did set up their own domestic markets which they hoped would one day allow for international emissions trading.

In the process of negotiating Paris, market mechanisms did not feature. They suddenly appeared towards the end in Article 6, which established a “Sustainable Development Mechanism.”

Now we have to reckon with the reality. There are markets whether we like it or not. We can oppose them while also attempting to reduce the harm they cause.

In Katowice, the section of the “rulebook” dealing with these was not agreed and became a major sticking point. The talks nearly collapsed in spectacular fashion, and eventually the formal conclusion taken was that there was no agreement. 

The scene was thus set for a pressurised round of talks in Bonn, as the deadline they set to conclude this last remaining section of the Paris rulebook was December 2019, at COP25. 

They had a lot of ground to cover, as the starting point wasn’t even agreed. 

Nor was the way forward. 

But absent from the debate was any real answer to some important questions, like does this market approach actually reduce emissions? Does it help vulnerable people? Do transfers of credits actually even benefit the seller country? Are forests and biodiversity going to be traded away? Are we going to hold the rest of the talks to ransom for this? 

The most they were able to agree upon was to forward the decision-making to SB51 in Santiago, setting the scene for an even more pressurised negotiation. 

As per TWN’s reporting, “on the last day of negotiations, three separate set of draft conclusions on each of the three items under Article 6 (i.e. on the international transfer of mitigation outcomes [ITMOs] under Article 6.2; the sustainable development mechanism under Article 6.4 and the framework for non-market approaches under Article 6.8) were proposed for consideration by the SBSTA Chair Paul Watkinson (France) .

Each of the draft conclusions contained three paragraphs: the first para recognised the work carried out at the Bonn session; the second stated that there is agreement to continue consideration of the draft decision text (to advance further negotiations on the matter) at the next session of the SBSTA in Dec. 2019 (with the decision text referenced in a footnote) and the third para provided a placeholder for intersessional work (i.e. for a technical paper and workshop) within brackets, due to different views of Parties on the matter.

“Following these extensive interventions, the SBSTA Chair Watkinson after hearing “divergent views” on intersessional work said that there was “no consensus” and therefore suggested that the draft conclusions ‘do not include intersessional work'”.  

He also said that draft decision texts “do not represent a consensus among Parties,” and assured Parties that there would be no further iteration of the texts (prior to the meeting in Chile). He also clarified that the only editing that would be taken into account are such as “brackets are correctly inserted” and ‘accurate representation of inputs of Parties'”.

We should be talking about real solutions. Instead all the attention and effort is on what we know are false ones.

Even Leo DiCap is pushing the dangerous distractions.

Corporate Power

Although these negotiations are formally between states, because we live in a world so significantly shaped by trans-national corporations, the reality is that corporate power influences the agenda, specific outcomes, and the overall direction of the talks in a big way.

Don’t believe us? Check out this epic thread on twitter which points out some of the cosy connections and easy access enjoyed by these pimps of misery.

This is not just the word of activists. AFP reached the same conclusions.

The issue has been around since the first day of the talks, and actually before. Jeremy Leggett’s “The Carbon War” is an illustrative glimpse into corporate interference in the mid to late-90s. Here’s a report about how it all works.

The trend has continued into the Paris Agreement era.

It’s actually something the fossil fuel industry has itself boasted about. However, more and more people are waking up to the greenwash tactic deployed by the largest polluters.

After years of highlighting the situation without being able to do anything about it, four years ago some members of the climate justice community identified a potential policy avenue through negotiations under “arrangements for intergovernmental meetings.” As Corporate Accountability write in their blog (below), together we launched a “campaign calling to kick Big Polluters out of climate policy. Backed by hundreds of thousands of people like you around the world, government delegates from the Global South have been uniting to demand a conflict-of-interest policy that could protect the U.N. climate treaty from industry interference.”

Although “Powerful Global North governments, like the U.S. and EU, have consistently sided with Big Polluters to maintain the status quo” the issue was still on the agenda this year. And it was most certainly on our agenda.

The above press conference webcast and the video below explain a little bit more about the efforts being taken.

What's going on at the global climate talks?

The U.N. climate talks happening NOW are the most important meetings you’ve never heard of — and Big Polluters are in the room undermining them. TODAY, governments have the chance to advance a conflict-of-interest policy that could finally begin to protect the treaty from polluters’ interests. But a handful of Global North governments are standing in the way.You can help show them the world is watching, and asking them to choose: people or polluters?

Posted by Corporate Accountability on Wednesday, June 19, 2019

However, because “arrangements for intergovernmental meetings” is not explicitly a space to talk about conflicts of interest and how to handle impropriety, the deck is stacked in favour of countries who don’t want to deal with the issue. Naturally, this was exactly what they did – putting forward proposals on other topics, such as the frequency of meetings, to deliberately provoke long-winded conversations and crowd out the agenda. In spite of developing countries and civil society raising concerns about the dangerous influence of vested interests, the issue did not advance and the decision coming out of Bonn represents a concerted effort on behalf of developed countries like the US, EU, Japan, and Norway, including by reverting to a classic divide-and-rule tactic as suggested below.

The inside story was not well covered by journalists, who instead ran with a fictitious “the science has been deleted from the Paris Agreement” angle. But AFP did devote some coverage, exposing the ludicrous position of developed countries.

Although the campaign to limit the influence of vested interests in the UNFCC must carry on to another round without many major breakthroughs (yet) the Overton window has absolutely shifted, to the point where the below is possible.

Climate Justice Statement

At opening and closing plenaries, and on a few other rare occasions during the plethora of negotiation sessions under the UNFCCC, governments are forced to listen to the views of observer organisations. For two minutes (or in the case of the Environmental NGO constituency, 2×1 minute) civil society gets to present their views. Here is the statement of the climate justice constituency, made by Felipe Fontecilla, a Chilean student currently studying at the College of the Atlantic.

It is said that politics is the art of the possible. But these negotiations are not about what’s possible. They are about what power finds acceptable.

Is it acceptable that while the water runs out in Chennai, and while people in Mozambique struggle to rebuild their devastated communities, rich people and nations are busy reinforcing their borders and safe-houses?

Is it acceptable that poor countries must pay for the losses and damages that have been imposed on them, while also being asked to pay for technologies and plans to cut their emissions?

Is it acceptable that with one hand you sign declarations of emergency and with the other give permission for further extraction?

Is it acceptable that while our home burns to the ground, you say the very arsonists who lit the match are also the firefighters who will save us?

Even as the flames engulf us, polluting industries are literally busy pouring fuel on the fire. But you know this – many of you are helping them with subsidies! And here you tell us there’s no way conflicts of interest can be addressed…

Your broken promises and delayed action, from Kyoto to Cancun, have got us into this mess. Now, we need radical change to our economic system. But you offer dangerous distractions like offsetting and market mechanisms – trading everything under the sun and resulting in nothing. We need protection for people; you offer the persecution and criminalisation of environmental defenders.

If you truly welcomed the science of the IPCC, we would see it in your NDCs, in your laws, in the balance sheets of your budgets. Instead, you applaud a report today and ignore its implications for the rest of your tenure.

People around the world are rising up because what this process considers acceptable is fundamentally unacceptable to us.

COP in the UK

Though not really a matter for negotiators, this week it was announced that the U.K. will pick up the UNFCCC mantle after Chile’s COP25 by hosting COP26 from 9th – 20th November 2020. Initially, Italy had also wanted to host, while there was a persistent claim from Turkey that they too wished to have the dubious honour of spending millions of euros to welcome 40,000 people for a fortnight of negotiations.

The country which hosts the summit has significant power in shaping the agenda and influencing the outcome—there is no such thing as a neutral host—and U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (currently a contender in the Tory Party leadership race) clearly views COP26 as an opportunity to boost his own brand and restore some diplomatic prestige to the U.K. in the aftermath of a rough few years of Brexit carry-on.

But hosting the summit is also a major deal for the U.K. climate justice movement—recently rejuvenated by Extinction Rebellion’s direct action tactics, Fridays For Futures/School Strike’s clear moral message, and both the U.K. and Global Green New Deal’s clarity of vision.  

The opportunity is there – though by no means an easy one to take – to build the power of the UK climate justice movement. This has little-to-nothing to do with the technical process inside the COP and everything to do with the process leading up to hosting, the mobilizations, the narrative that gets shaped etc.

UK movements would do well to turn to previous COP host nations for examples of how, and how not, to make best use of the opportunity. It is a complicated affair.

Climate Justice Without Borders & Ende Gelände

While negotiations in the World Conference Centre Bonn proceeded in their uniquely complex, bizarrely mundane, and frustratingly detached fashion, over the weekend the far more significant responses to the unfolding climate crisis took place on the streets of Aachen and in the Rhineland open pit mines.

On Friday 40,000 predominantly young people descended on Aachen as part of the Fridays For Future / School Strike For Climate.

Though the School Strikes have not (yet) opted to raise specific demands beyond a general call to urgent “climate action”, there is a definite appetite for system change visible on many of their demonstrations. This march was no different in that regard.

Where this march differed from other School Strike mobilizations was the overtly internationalist stance it adopted. The official name of the central strike in Aachen was Climate Justice Without Borders. As World Refugee Day fell last week, this was particularly timely, and reflects a growing recognition that the fight for climate justice is intimately bound with the fight for migrant and refugee rights.

The march ended with a rally with many musical acts and political speeches. A strong climate justice message was delivered not only from an impressive young woman MC, who reminded the crowd of their responsibility as Europeans, whose societies and economies have benefitted from climate-destroying activities, to push their own governments into a just and adequate response. This message was taken further by Tetet Lauron, a member of our Coordinating Committee, who reminded the crowd that the three most important life lessons were all learn in kindergarten.

The wider Fridays For Future / Youth 4 Climate young people’s movement was also introduced to some climate justice concepts as Greta Thunberg released a snippet of her lecture at a conference in Stockholm, where she told the audience that their overconsumption as high-polluting elites was denying many people around the world the chance of fulfilling their right to a dignified life.

Rather than making people feel guilty, a deep understanding of the inequities of our world usually leads people to take action. And so it was that the direct action of Ende Gelaende was introduced.

For the 4th year, thousands of activists aimed to turn the slogan “Keep It In The Ground” into a reality but occupying a major lignite mine. The photos speak louder than words.

Ruben_photo_2019-06-22_16-59-57
Photo: Ruben Neugebauer/Ende Gelände
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Photo: Tim Lüddemann/Ende Gelände
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Photo: Ende Gelände

Part of the beauty of Ende Gelände is not only that it aims to shut down fossil infrastructure, but the way it attempts to do so. There is far more hope to be found in a dirty open pit mine facing the violence of police brutality, than there is in the comfortable and exclusive World Conference Centre Bonn – to where we now return.

The issues

Photo Credit: ENB/Kiara Worth

Some of the issues being discussed here in Bonn are outlined here in the ever-excellent Third World Network’s curtain raiser.

Or, if you’re really nerdy, you can read the “reflections note” by the chair of one of the negotiation track.

The ins and outs of the negotiations, which sometimes take several days to even adopt their agendas, can be followed in more detail via the Third World Network updates or the Earth Negotiations Bulletins or of course, on our twitter.

From a climate justice perspective, we have the same, as yet unmet, demands and overriding priorities in Bonn as we did in Katowice before the rulebook was agreed.

As the negotiations progress we will agitate for: a conflict of interest policy to prevent corporations from weakening the rules; support for countries that are hit by climate impacts to rebuild and pick up the pieces after disasters; and measures to prevent countries from exploiting loopholes to carry on polluting while pretending to be “neutral” through offsets.

Bonn, Again

As the world hurtles ever faster towards complete ecological breakdown, international climate change negotiations resume this week in Bonn, Germany, and members of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice are here to do what they do best: demand climate justice.

A bit of background…

After 3 years of negotiations, countries finally agreed to a set of (almost) comprehensive guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement during the COP24 session, held last December in Katowice, Poland.  

Trying to make sense of #COP24? This is how #climatejustice spokespeople have reacted: https://t.co/HNPdegk8tD— Demand Climate Justice (@gcdcj) December 15, 2018

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets the bar for what climate action looks like globally, nationally, and in many ways locally. Holding governments to account in this process hinges on demands being delivered back “home”.

Thankfully a burgeoning global climate justice movement is beginning to bring together various strategies of articulating and realising alternative visions for the world, electoral politics, and targeting the corporate polluters by exposing their financial support, their social license, their infrastructure, and their political connections.

However, even though most of the Paris Rulebook is complete, there is still a lot of detail to work on in the negotiations and a long way to go before actions match rhetoric.

The road ahead

This session – SB50 – marks 25 years of meetings of the subsidiary bodies to the UNFCCC and the start of the post-Paris process of ratcheting up the national targets. At this session parties will consult on what will be a political outcome to increase ambition. 2019 – 2020 is a critical period for countries to focus on ratcheting up their existing climate action plans to deliver the scale of climate action needed – through international finance, technology transfer, and capacity building on an unprecedented scale to enable all countries to reduce emissions to zero as quickly as possible, with richer countries taking the lead on emissions cuts in the region of 80-90% by 2030.

The next step is the UN Secretary General Climate Action Summit in New York in September, where only countries who put forward more ambitious national plans are invited to speak. Will this be an empty stage? Given that ambition can be defined as action on adaptation, and on increased support for action in other countries, there is plenty of scope for countries to turn up in September with increased ambition, in all its forms, including actions that are conditional on support being given.

At COP25 in Chile this December there will be a final effort to take stock of climate action being done in the pre-2020 period. Developed countries have ignored this critical period since 2012, when they agreed the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which obliged them to make aggregate emission cuts that would be at least 18 per cent below 1990 levels. The Doha Amendment has not come into effect due to a failure by many developed countries to ratify it in their national parliaments.

In Chile countries are expected to arrive at a political outcome to enhance their pledges under the Paris Agreement (pledges which only apply after 2030).

Next, at the COP in 2020, countries must deliver long-term (2050) low greenhouse gas emission development strategies, as well as new and enhanced national pledges that are in line with the science for a pathway to 1.5C. This means the emissions reductions, adaptation, and support pledged must put us on a trajectory to zero emissions, well before 2050, and with richer countries completely phasing out all fossil fuels by the 2030s.