What’s at stake in COP19?

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This is an updated version of a blog I wrote exactly a year ago towards the end of the UN climate negotiations. It serves two purposes: 

1. to inform or remind people of what the UNFCCC is, what it encompasses and what’s actually at stake

2. to show the stagnation, repetition and inefficiency of this process.

You see, I’ve been trying to write something for the last couple of days and I could not come up with anything. Everything, I read, heard or wrote sounded like something I read, heard or wrote before. Of course, I could have written about the Philippines, developed vs. developing countries, Canada and Australia blocking progress again but the point is one. The impacts of climate change are worsening and the international community isn’t even at the stage where they could consider doing anything about it. So to save myself the trouble of re-rewriting something I already wrote and save you the trouble of reading a lengthy article (that you may have read before), I copy pasted chunks of the old text and anything new is in bold.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been having its Conference of the Parties COP for 19 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 16 years after the agreement was finalized and one year after countries should have met these targets, global GHG emissions are 61%  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.

Not only did the global emissions increase; the global community actually failed to come up with a meaningful post-Kyoto agreement. 

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.

What is happening now? 

The Durban Platform (ADP), that was a plan to come with a plan, was finally concluded “committing governments to nothing”.

There is also the issue of finance. The file itself has been lingering for a while but what’s actually new is that finance ministers are meeting as we speak to come up with a decision to fund adaptation, mitigation, renewable energy and other stuff. Expectations are indeed high, however, without getting into much detail, consider these two factors when making your judgement about any potential outcome:

1. governments are talking primarily about private financing that only happens in as much as there is a significant short-term benefit. 

2. those same governments have been trying to come with a climate deal for the last 19 years, but still haven’t come up with something. 

So is it realistic to expect them to do something in like a day?

Meanwhile, the earth is 19 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, scientific occurrences and research show that it will only be getting worse. For the first time in human history the levels of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere surpassed the dreaded milestone of 400 parts per million. To put that into perspective, the last time CO2 concentrations reached those levels was 4 million years ago when the average temperature was about 4 degrees Celsius higher than the current average and sea levels were also up to 14 meters higher than today.

More recently in September, the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth report last September confirming the facts and raising warnings around potential conflicts that could result from that.

So knowing all that, we sit here watching as countries fight meaninglessly. Some are pleading for meaningful action, while others run 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 26 and we still don’t have a deal. The outcome of these negotiations should not be, but we all now it is going to be: “Let’s come up with a plan in Paris in 2015.”

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