To evaluate how COP21 is progressing, I find it helpful to reflect on the history of UN climate negotiations. The following is a very brief video summarizing negotiations past.
Disclaimer: This is not to undervalue the efforts of those who strived tirelessly to bring progress and agreement to tackling climate change in the earlier COPs, their work has been the foundation on which any success here in Paris will be built.
Preamble: For all the intimidating acronyms sprinkled throughout this piece, I’ve linked a handy article that explains each one. Here’s another one from the CYD (Canadian Youth Delegation).
Now that you’re all caught up…
COP21 started with rhetoric recognizing the urgency of the climate change crisis. Opening speeches by many of the world’s political leaders called for ambitious and bold action, and seemed optimistic that the social and political landscape had finally shifted in support of binding international agreement.
That was on Monday.
The central piece of COP21, the Paris treaty being negotiated over these two weeks, is arguably the least exciting to watch. Or at least the most difficult and slowest. While the constant stream of events taking place at the pavilions, observation rooms, business gallery (invite only), press halls, (small) security sanctioned protest spaces, and the Climate Generations Space, are enough to give you serious FOMO, the negotiations crawl forward at a snails pace. The negotiation sessions are not accessible to most conference attendees, but are streamed to screens on walls around the buildings, alongside the worddocumentwhere they edit the text. Once, while I was watching, they negotiated one clause of one paragraph of one section, that was proposed for the first draft of the ADP text, for twenty minutes (and I had only arrived to catch the last twenty minutes of the session). There were literally 82 words – I had time to count. I’m actually not complaining about the process, it’s so important that they consider details thoroughly and give all nations time to voice their positions. I’m just trying to paint a picture for you, and then make you imagine watching that paint dry.
In the first week negotiators worked, sometimes into the night, to prepare a draftnegotiation text of the ADP (The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action – essentially the body that’s been working towards this agreement since COP16 in 2011). It was presented on Thursday, so now we get into the nitty-gritty.
Since then, the longstanding disputes around accountability (such as who should pay in the case of Loss and Damages) continue to stall progress.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum, comprised of small island nations and those most impacted by climate change, have been calling for shift in the baseline limit of 2°C recognized in the text to 1.5°C. While .5 degrees may appear small, it is truly a matter of survival for those most at risk from climate change, many of whom are already seeing impacts like sea-level rise. Some developed nations have supported this call, such as France and Germany, but including it in the agreement text will still be extremely difficult. When asked about this by a member of the CYD during a Canada briefing meeting, the lead Canadian negotiator said Canada will wait for ‘the science’ to make a decision about its support. The testimony of those on the frontlines of climate change remains framed as a plea rather than factual evidence.
Another point of contention is the inclusion of human and Indigenous rights language in the operative (re. binding) text. I am happy to say Canada has continued to push for its inclusion. Recognition of Indigenous rights had been first moved into the preamble and then bracketed – meaning up for debate. Again, there is a full week of negotiations where that could change. However, the fact that peoples’ inherent right to exist on their homeland is being debated reflects the consistent imbalance of power at these negotiations. Can you imagine debating the right to livelihoods, liberty and life for developed nations like the USA or EU, rather than their “right” to continued emissions? There would be no debate. Human rights and Indigenous rights are fundamental – without them climate justice will not be possible through international agreement.
I’m also concerned with the language of ‘net zero’ being pushed by the international business community. While their recognition of climate change and the imperative to act is significant and necessary for progress, net zero solutions often refer to offsetting methods like Carbon Capture and Storage or compensation through afforestation. In my opinion these practices are not significant enough to mitigate dangerous climate change should business as usual extraction continue, but more importantly it maintains the power structures that have led to unequal emissions contributions, unequal voice in environmental decision making, and unequal and unjust exposure to the threat of climate change. Another related example is the business community’s preference for language like ‘carbon neutral’ and significant push against ‘decarbonization’.
At this point I worry COP21 will end with either a weak but binding agreement, or a non-binding more ambitious text. In all honestly I think I prefer the later, because with bold sentiments the climate movement can leverage social pressure to hold governments accountable to treaty goals. A binding agreement without the language of climate justice implies that we are doing enough – and based on submitted INDC’s that model 2.6 degrees global warming, that is simply not the reality for many people in the global south. Recognizing inequality in climate change contribution and responding to the call of those on the front lines of the climate crisis today should not be seen making concessions, it is taking responsibility. It is having integrity.
Hoping for energy and optimism in the week to come.
About Emilia Belliveau
Emilia Belliveau is master’s student at the University of Victoria in the School of Environmental Studies and an individual member of BCCIC. In December 2015, she will be travelling to Paris, France to take part in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. BCCIC as an organization holds observer status to this conference and will be sending Emilia as well as a BCCIC staff member to the negotiations.
Through the COP21 lead up, and during the conference itself, Emilia will be making regular blogposts which will be available both here at bccic.ca as well as on her personal blog space : https://emibelliveau.wordpress.com/
In her own words, Emilia introduces herself below:
Thank you for taking an interest in climate change and international negotiations.
If we have yet to have the pleasure of meeting, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Emilia Belliveau and I’m currently a master’s student at the University of Victoria in the School of Environmental Studies. I’m interested in social justice, feminism, environmentalism, and politics – so I make an all around great party guest! I recently moved to the west coast from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and am enjoying getting to know this side of the continent.
I’ll be using this platform to share my experiences as I attend the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Paris. I have been nominated by the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) as an ‘observer’ delegate, which simply means I’ll be let in to watch the action unfold. This blog will report on both negotiation developments and my personal observations about the conference. I’m grateful for the nomination of BCCIC that has granted me access to this flashpoint in political ecology. It’s important to clarify that the views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the position of BCCIC or its affiliates.
If curiosity has brought you here – please check in often! I’ll be posting in the lead up to COP21 more about these negotiations (including background info, definitions and resources), their role in addressing climate change, the importance of a ‘treaty year’, the work of BCCIC, and other groups shedding light on Canada’s international action.
I’ll also be sharing the full story of my journey to COP21 and why attending these negotiations is so important to me.