Multilateralism Saved at the Expense of the Planet
Originally posted in The Leveller volume 4 issue 4
By almost all measures, the Durban Platform of the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was an epic failure.
After two weeks of intense negotiations, country parties managed to come up with a platform that rendered the Kyoto Protocol into a zombie agreement — dead, but still walking. Implementation of a post-Kyoto treaty, which is to be agreed upon by 2015, was deferred to 2020.
COP17 also lacked decisions on how to finance the Green Climate Fund despite the creation of new market mechanisms and incentives for climate finance. To add insult to injury, the Government of Canada announced days after the conference that it would be pulling out of the current Kyoto Protocol and not committing to a second period to cover the gap until the adoption of a new treaty in 2020.
Climate scientists warn that humanity has five years to peak emissions before out-of-control climate change becomes inevitable. If this is the case, the Durban Platform essentially seals the fate of climate-vulnerable communities like those in Sub-Saharan Africa and small island states. In a sense it is ironic that the international community produced this platform in such a climate-vulnerable region, where climate change has already had a serious impact for the past decade.
A local community worker from Malawi said that the region’s climactic trend towards drier and hotter conditions are bound to have dramatic effects on human life there: the local food system is dependent upon corn production and thus is highly vulnerable to reduced precipitation. A youth organizer from Kenya suggested that “the solution [to the climate problem] is to have a legally-binding agreement.”
This is the outcome that the host country seemed to have hoped for. In the opening high-level plenary on the second week of the conference, South African President Jacob Zuma stressed the need for a legally binding agreement within the multilateral UN process, which would keep global average temperature increases below two degrees centigrade.
Necessary actions toward achieving such an agreement were largely sabotaged by Russia, Japan and the US. Throughout the conference these three countries refused to be ambitious or make a legal commitment towards virtually anything. Surprisingly, BASIC – a bloc of newly industrialized countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) – showed an unprecedented level of leadership in the negotiations.
In the first week, China was rumoured to be ready to commit to a legally binding target. This was a fleeting hope as China finally announced that they would only commit to targets pegged to GDP growth, effectively legitimizing a rise in Chinese carbon emissions.
Things were looking promising as the European Union stated that it would unconditionally commit to a second period to the Kyoto Protocol, though with heightened provi- sions for market mechanisms. However, when parties emerged late on Saturday night – already 24 hours past the deadline to pass the Durban Platform – they were still bitterly divided over several critical issues.
Venezuelan delegate Claudia Salerno stated that the platform was woefully inadequate to address climate change. She added that she was being threatened by other parties outside in the hallway to accept the text, or else they would block the Green Climate Fund and the second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol.
Referring to the Green Climate Fund pledges, Salerno said: “Here we are not selling Kyoto for $100 billion…We are not going to be bought for $100 billion.” Behind closed doors with rich countries, and Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organizations (BINGOs), poor and climate-vulnerable countries are bullied into accepting weak agreements full of opportunities for multinational corporations to profit.
The worst of all these bullies has been Canada. On the first day of the conference, rumours were flying that Canada would announce its intention to pull out of Kyoto days after the conference. When asked about this rumour, Environment Minister Peter Kent would not confirm or deny. This came at the same time Kent announced that Canada would “play hard ball with developing countries” to get an out- come that suits Canada’s national interests.
Within the first week of the conference, South African High Commissioner Mohau Pheko alleged that this was in fact the case: various poor countries had told her that Canada had been using development aid to pressure them to withdraw from Kyoto. Canada was surprisingly quiet throughout the conference, choosing to ignore the process and contribute where it could to weaken targets or strengthen market mechanisms.
In one defiant moment during the conference, six Canadian youth engaged in a silent act of protest. During Minister Kent’s address, the youth stood up and turned their backs to Kent, each wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “People Before Polluters/Turn Your Back on Canada.” Their actions received wild applause from the crowd, but they were largely ignored by the parties and the media as they were being escorted out of the plenary.
Just two days after the conference, Canada announced that it would pulling out of Kyoto, allowing it to legally and fully participate in the next conference of parties.
On paper, as promised by the host, the process did not die in Africa. But with the effects of climate change already manifesting themselves in increasingly frequent instances of famine and flooding world-wide, the Durban Platform, as suggested by author Gwynne Dyer, may be more accurately described as the Durban Suicide Pact.