What’s at Stake in COP18?


This post is a very simplified comment piece for those out there who are trying to understand why these negotiations are important. It is not meant to be be a comprehensive scientific report, nor is it a news article. Many of the information included here is information that I’ve accumulated over years of studying climate change.  So while I will not be sourcing everything I will try in as much as possible to include reports and articles that will give more information. 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been having its Conference of the Parties COP for 18 years. In 1997, these negotiations have resulted in the Kyoto Protocol that was supposed to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below the 1990 levels, by the end of this year.

Today 15 years after the agreement was finalized and at the end of the year in which countries should have met these targets, global GHG emissions are 58%  above the 1990 levels. On the other hand, scientists are calling for immediate action to cap the emissions in 2015, if the world was to sustain any hope of keeping the global temperature increase under two degrees Celsius.

The structure, negotiations and power dynamics are extremely complicated and difficult to explain. I still want to lay out the reasons that make these negotiations very crucial if we wanted to keep any hope of saving humanity as we know it.

Not only did the global emissions increase; five countries ( Canada, China, Russia, New Zealand and the United States) have so far expressed their unwillingness to take part of a new binding agreement that replaces the Kyoto Protocol, basically signaling their intentions to not reduce their emissions. Now, just to be clear, even though we’re only three days away from the end of the negotiations, there isn’t even a proposal on the table yet.

What is on the table? 

Currently, there is the fragmented ghost of a deal that is called the Durban Platform (ADP). It is the decision made last year, to basically push the decision to this year’s negotiations. It also carries forward the agreement from COP16 in Cancun that they are to set up a new funding mechanism, the Green Climate Fund, to which developed countries will be adding USD 100 billion per year by 2020. This money will be used by developing nations for mitigation and adaptation plans. While USD 100 billion per year sounds like a lot of money, it is actually urgently and crucially needed because the impacts of climate change are extreme, severe, and are causing large economic, social, health and infrastructural problems, around the world.

Currently, this fund is empty and developed countries are under no obligation to add anything to it. Furthermore, many have already expressed their unwillingness to add any money to the fund for various reasons but mostly using the current economic crisis as an excuse.

Now these negotiations are also supposed to resolve and close the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track.  The problem is there are a lot of outstanding issues around adaptation and funding that are yet to be resolved. There are some concerns that the LCA could be closed without properly addressing its outstanding issues which would leave the possibility of developing a post-Kyoto agreement very difficult.

So in order to move forward, negotiators have, in the next three days, to:

  1. Complete and close the LCA track;
  2. Resolve the issue of funding and put money in the GCF;
  3. Maintain a top-down science-based approach for the Kyoto Protocol;
  4. Come up with a plan that is not to just come up with a plan.

Meanwhile, the earth is 18 years warmer

This is not exactly good news. Scientists are calling for emissions to cap by 2015 to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees. The average temperature increase today is at 0.8 degrees. So far, this has been linked to the significant increase in hurricanes and extreme weather events, droughts, floodings, crop failures, melting of the permafrost, rising of sea levels, drying of aquifers, etc.

To put this in context, a 4 degrees warming would see Bangladesh disappear, rivers like the Amazon and Ganji drying out and glaciers melting and shutting down the freshwater flow and a 6 degrees warming is expected to basically cause a mass extinction of species, including humans.

If this is not considered to be the biggest threat facing humanity, then I am not sure what would qualify.

And if all of this is not enough, in the last week, two reports have been released with some rather disturbing information. The United Nations Environment Program released a report saying that the permafrost, which contains a large amount of Carbon Dioxide, is melting at a much faster rate than scientists had anticipated. Hence, the current climate projection models do not account for the additional CO2 released from the permafrost.

Yesterday, a study in Nature Journal found that it is highly unlikely that we would be able to meet the 2 degrees limit, when considering the rate of progress we’re at. So, unless we dramatically and immediately reduce greenhouse gases, our hopes of keeping the temperature increase at only 2 degrees, are basically vanished. Not to mention that the CO2 effects will extend for decades before things start getting better again.

So knowing all that, we sit here watching as countries fight meaninglessly. Some are pleading for meaningful action, while others runn away from their responsibilities, using excuses like the economy.

Well I hate to break it to you world, if you mess up the environment, there will be no economy. It is  that simple.

Why should you care? 

If you exist, you are already experiencing the impacts of climate change and it is only going to get worse from here. Things are going downhill, already and will impact your lifestyle, economic situation, food sources, etc.

If you have children, then you owe it to them to ensure that you leave them with a decent future.

If you live in a coastal community, or on a small island state then you are at high risk of water level increase.

And simply think of what you’re leaving this world with. Basically, by doing nothing you are actively partaking in destroying the planet. Basically, you have the power to do something now and you chose not to.

When these negotiations started, I was seven years old, today I am 25 and we still don’t have a deal. The outcome of these negotiations cannot and should not be: “we need more time.”


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