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The negotiations on the climate in Barcelona or the MacGyver syndrome

The negotiations on the climate in Barcelona or the MacGyver syndrome

By Beatriz Martinez

It's like trying to defuse a bomb with gum: it only works in the movies. Faced with such a panorama, one cannot help but suspect that, for most of them, climate change continues to be an abstract topic of discussion; Few of the attendees fear that the climate catastrophe could befall their lives or perhaps they believe that, when the time comes, they will be able to resort to the credit card to escape the disaster.


Field journal of an observer

There are many lines that the press has devoted to the negotiations on the climate that took place in Barcelona during the first week of November. The meeting was the last rehearsal of the international community within the framework of the United Nations before the great summit that will take place in Copenhagen next December and from which a global climate treaty is expected to emerge after 2012 , year in which the Kyoto Protocol ends. But media reporting tends to focus on official meetings and press conferences. The notes that follow are an attempt to share reflections - albeit small of personal - that go beyond the 'canned information', especially with those people who deserved to be there and were not.

MacGyver syndrome

It's like trying to defuse a bomb with gum, I thought yesterday taking stock of the week of negotiations on the climate that took place in Barcelona. It is something that only works in the cinema. And although the set was missing only the spaceships to make me believe that I was in a science fiction movie, the truth is that the reality of the climate crisis lacks fiction and science is too much.

However, instead of focusing on the real causes of climate change and finding real solutions to stop the ticking time bomb we are turning the planet into, the discussions turned to talk about gum.

The actors: a lousy cast

That the cast of actors was poorly distributed was obvious in the conference rooms, in the cafeteria and in the corridors. The vast majority of those attending - whether they were party members, observers or the press - came from the North. "I see too many white men in suits and ties here," to put it in the politically incorrect words of an observer. The list of participants published at the end of the meeting confirms the visual suspicion: long lists in the case of the richest countries and rather symbolic representations - with few exceptions, such as Indonesia or Nigeria - of the so-called developing countries.

Given the large number of meetings held in parallel, it was difficult for the delegations made up of one or two representatives to cover all the sessions, especially those of the different working groups (known as 'contact groups') that were held together. established in the past Bali negotiations to address specific issues such as reducing emissions from Annex I countries or the necessary financial resources and investments. "Our colleagues from the Arab countries explain to us what happens in the other meetings," commented a representative of one of these small delegations. Undoubtedly, one would expect something more from international negotiations so far-reaching than this crude system of "scribbling."

The balance of forces was also evident in the annex reserved for the meeting rooms for delegations. The European Commission, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and Sweden - to name a few - each had their own room to hold team meetings. On the other hand, alliances such as those formed by the G77 + China, the African Group or the Least Developed Countries had a space of the same size as that assigned to a single country.

But beyond the usual imbalances between countries, I found the lack of voices of the true protagonists worrying: the communities that are already suffering the effects of climate change and those that practice methods of protecting the planet that do not need numbers or acronyms . Faced with such a panorama, one cannot help but suspect that, for most of them, climate change continues to be an abstract topic of discussion; Few of the attendees fear that the climate catastrophe may befall their lives or perhaps they believe that, when the time comes, they will be able to turn to the credit card to escape the disaster.

The few critical voices coming from the front line of the fight against climate change were marginalized and drowned by the tide of ‘environmental experts’ in numbers and graphs who would not know how to distinguish a pine from an oak.

Speaking in klingon

Klingon is an artificial language, with its own grammatical and phonetic system, which was invented by an American linguist in the Star Trek universe as the language of one of the tribes of the cosmos. The Institute of the Klingon Language has been commissioned to translate even the works of Shakespeare, although it is estimated that its speakers do not exceed a dozen. I explain all this because, during these days, while following the discussions of the negotiations, I believe I have experienced the closest thing to the feeling of any Earthling when coming into contact for the first time with a "Klingonese".

The international climate negotiations that are taking place within the framework of the United Nations have the curious gift of practicing double linguistic discrimination. On the one hand, they require anyone who wishes to follow them fully to have a good command of English. But if that weren't enough, they have generated a whole jargon that poses a real challenge to understand. Presenting a question of such great interest to all the inhabitants of the planet and relatively simple in the background in obscure and complex terms serves only to make the debate even more elitist, which only the privileged few can follow with enough time to become familiar with the terms.

The first prize of the linguistic masquerade ball goes, without a doubt, the acronyms: LULUCF (LULUCF in Spanish; land use, land use change and forestry), HFLD (country with extensive forest cover and little deforestation ), REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and QELRO (quantified emission reduction and limitation targets) are some of my favorites. Although perhaps the best is BINGO: non-governmental organizations of companies and industries, which reflects very well the spirit of casino that is breathed among them. Thus, we spent the week enjoying a multitude of pearls like this: “implementation of the NAPA and other elements of the LDC work program by the LEG” (this is the theme with which one of the side events held was announced).

To the double linguistic discrimination it is necessary to add the strong ideological bias that permeates the debate. The climate has fallen prey to the neoliberal mentality that only understands the world in terms of monetary value and is now a commodity that can be cut into pieces in order to be bought and sold. All these pieces are translated, in turn, into a multitude of figures that can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided among themselves, as if everything were reduced to a simple arithmetic exercise. Therefore, 'for illustrative purposes, assuming that AC-CDM credits are consumed at the same rate, the maximum limit in non-ETS sectors would translate into a figure of around 3.3 percent of the emission levels of 2005 '(comes from the information provided by the European Union on its reduction targets).

(Note for the curious: 'I don't understand' in Klingon it is written 'jIyajbe').

A bad script


Unfortunately, the meeting was not only sinful of bad actors, but also of a lousy script. In this sense, I think my list of words most listened to during the week is illustrative. Big hits include 'market', 'business', 'financial resources', 'private sector' 'profitability', 'emissions trading' and 'price per ton'. Among the great absentees, there would be ‘justice’, ‘historic debt of the North’, ‘capitalism’, ‘respect for human rights’, ‘production and consumption models’ and ‘abandonment of oil’.

During the official open negotiation sessions of the contact groups, the delegations of the countries of the so-called Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol, that is, the industrialized countries that are responsible for the majority of emissions, dedicated themselves to torpedoing any progress, and was trying to return to issues that the other delegations - the vast majority of the international community - considered that they had already been discussed in depth in past meetings or arguing that it was necessary to await the results of other groups before being able to pronounce on certain issues. These blatant delaying tactics led to the other delegates repeating words such as ‘disappointment’, ‘frustration’ and ‘lack of will from the Annex I countries’ on numerous occasions.

In the final plenary of the working group on the Kyoto Protocol, Sudan - on behalf of the G77 + China - expressed great concern about attempts by industrialized countries to 'kill' the Kyoto Protocol, do away with the principle of 'responsibilities common but differentiated 'and undermine the fight against climate change. He also warned that if the trend to delay negotiations continued, the prospects for an agreement in Copenhagen were bleak. The G77 + China statement was supported by other groups, such as the African Group, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries. The European Union, for its part, tried once again to shirk its responsibilities by speaking of a vague ‘comprehensive and comprehensive agreement’ and calling on developing countries to become more committed.

Kyoto torpedo fears are well founded. These days, all kinds of formulas have been heard - from 'politically binding agreement' to 'legally binding treaty', to 'global and comprehensive agreement' - that suggest that the industrialized countries not only do not want to reinforce the modest objectives set by Kyoto, but seek to replace a binding treaty, signed and ratified by 184 countries, by a general 'approach' or 'framework', which also sets limits on emissions from developing countries and further expands the 'flexible mechanisms' 'that have allowed them to evade their obligations to date.

Side events: what moves behind the scenes

But perhaps even more worrying that the pace of negotiations between the parties and their lack of common positions were the speeches that prevailed throughout the week at the numerous side events organized in the same building, many of them by the private sector. who sees climate change as a great business opportunity.

One of the most disturbing was the presentation of a book that argues that the secret to solving climate change is to slow down population growth. "Reducing population growth is essential to lift the world's poor out of poverty and for future generations to live in a biologically sustainable economy." This rhetoric not only conjures up ghosts that one would think of the 18th century, but is a perfect example of how the Global North is adept at shaking off its own responsibilities.

Thus, it matters little that 20 percent of the world's population consumes 80 percent of the planet's resources or that an average American consumes 30 times more than an Indian. Nor should it be taken into account that Northern countries are responsible for more than 70 percent of emissions since the industrial revolution. The important thing, the theory goes, is to pay more attention to family planning. The bad news is that the idea seems to be gaining traction among some highly influential pseudo-academic circles. The good news, for those who want to buy the book, is that it is on sale (for only £ 47.50) and can be paid with Visa or MasterCard.

Climate change and security: the war industry rubs its hands

Another of the side events that should sound the alerts revolved around "environmental safety: the risk management approach to climate change." Organized by E3G, a 'non-profit organization' financed, among others, by the Shell Foundation, and the Pew Center on Climate Change, another organization whose mission defends that 'we can collaborate in the protection of climate change by sustaining economic growth' , the event was dedicated to presenting an even more bleak future outlook than that predicted by the group of scientists who prepare the UN reports on which the negotiations are based, the IPCC. "The projections underestimate climate change," said the speakers, and "the degree of uncertainty is very high," so it is necessary to "find a new security framework." However, they lamented, the only sector receptive to this issue is among the "security community," so the idea is to start spreading the message among those in charge of making policy decisions.

In a report distributed during the session (Delivering Climate Security: International Security Responses to a Climate Changed World, available at http://www.rusi.org/publications/whitehall/ref:I480E2C638B3BC), the threat they could represent protest movements around environmental justice issues, both by 'violent extremists' and 'ecoterrorist groups' (it is even claimed that Bin Laden has spoken several times about the inequalities of climate change), so it is necessary 'encourage a dramatic increase in investment in the development and deployment of technologies critical to energy and environmental security'.

The truth is that there are too many pieces of the report worth mentioning and, although the author expresses himself with subtlety, it is not difficult to guess between the lines that climate change could be a golden opportunity for that war industry that many insist on calling 'defense'. Not by chance, the report is published by RUSI, a think tank specialized in defense and security issues close to the British Government and open to the affiliation of large companies, whose list I have been unable to find. And there is even more: if you become a ‘platinum business member’ card, you have unlimited access to the director and research staff of the institute.

Flexible mechanisms: the goose that lays the golden eggs

Many of the parallel events to the meeting revolved around the so-called ‘flexible mechanisms’ contemplated by the Kyoto Protocol and applied within its framework. The flexible mechanisms are based, among others, on two broad formats: the emissions market (through which Annex I countries can buy and sell emission rights from each other) and the Clean Development Mechanism (which allows countries in the Annex I 'offset' their emissions through projects that, in theory, reduce emissions in developing countries).

These mechanisms, which were conceived from the very beginning with the idea that rich countries would not have to really take on their emission reduction targets, have proven to be a complete failure with respect to their supposed ends. The largest emissions market in the world, for example, the European Union (called EU ETS), has granted its industries more pollution permits than they needed completely free of charge, so they have not only maintained their levels of regular emissions, but they have profited from the sale of the permits that they had left over, many times in duplicate, by also having an impact on consumers in some cases, such as electricity.

The projects developed in the context of the Clean Development Mechanism, for their part, have not reduced emissions either, but instead, in the best of cases, have transferred them to other places. In fact, activities such as the construction of hydroelectric dams or the capture of methane from industrial livestock centers are counted as ‘emission saving projects’. The 'savings' is measured by calculating how many greenhouse gases are supposed to be released if the project did not exist, but the point is that even the most expert analysts doubt that the figures are reliable. Thus, despite the stubbornness of the theory, in practice there are many examples of projects that have led to the forced eviction of entire communities, increased pollution and the destruction of livelihoods.

However, what represents a resounding human and environmental failure in the eyes of many seems to be an excellent business opportunity for the private sector, as was made clear in a session organized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) with speakers such as Russell Mills from Dow Chemical, Abyd Karmali from investment bank Merril Lynch, and Andrei Marcu from the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Mr. Marcu, for example, stated that the emissions market 'is very complicated, but it has fulfilled more than expected' and that the Clean Development Mechanism was on the right track, but 'could give more' (I understand that he was referring to benefits, although who knows if he was thinking of potatoes).

Mr Karmali focused on the importance of pollution price stability to attract investment and maximize profits (there we have a science fiction idea where there is any). "The price of CO2 is fundamental," he reminded those present. And the good news is that the proposed REDD credits that are on the table, which would be generated with avoided deforestation and degradation, "could work very well in terms of cycles for investors."

But perhaps the one who best expressed in a single sentence what had led them to meet in that room was Mr. Mills, who pointed out that 'investing in this field is like investing in any other (...) The starting point is to make the more attractive investments. '

The speakers took the opportunity to read their particular letter to the Magi, that is, the conditions that they would like to see reflected in the new agreement that the international community adopts regarding the climate. Among other things, they stressed that it would be desirable for the new treaty to explicitly mention that the private sector has a role to play, that it considers the fungibility of different emission rights mechanisms and that the application of the different mechanisms is predictable.

The private sector, therefore, is already dreaming of a paradise - which is guessed but still to be discovered - of new mechanisms (essentially financial, although they claim to be based on 'environmental goods') that allow them to continue making money with it. air. And apparently the climax of that dream would be the creation of a single ‘pollution unit’ that would allow markets to engage in unlimited weather speculation. The possibilities, like the market, only know the limit of the imagination.

Civil society: the secondary actor

During the meeting, there was also a secondary role reserved for the so-called civil society, although much of its visibility was reduced to the slogans of campaigns such as' TckTckTck ', in which many of the large international NGOs participate, or' 350.org '. Despite the striking nature of their actions - 'TckTckTck', for example, kept a stack of alarm clocks near the entrance for days, which they rang before the final plenary began - with this type of campaign there is a risk of emptying of all content the legitimate demands of any movement that wishes to go beyond false solutions and give the impression that all that is needed is to rush to sign a treaty because time does not stop running or limit the levels of concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 350 parts per million (which is the figure given by the United Nations as a risk threshold beyond which the climate catastrophe would be irreversible).

It is true that time is short. It is also true that it is urgent to reduce emissions. But it is not enough, and that is precisely what civil society must put the greatest emphasis on, especially that which can make its voice heard among decision-making circles. Question the current development model and the paradigm of unlimited growth, denounce the trade, finance and investment systems that promote hyperproduction and hyperconsumerism, advocate for alternatives to the extraction and massive burning of fossil fuels for energy generation and transportation or recognizing the ecological, social, financial and historical debt of the industrialized countries with the peoples of the South are points that should be among the priorities of the civil society agenda and without which all the other demands are reduced to the superfluous.

In fact, with this idea of ​​delving deeper into the causes and responsibilities of climate change, two direct actions were organized. In one of them, some 70 activists from the local platform 'The weather is not for sale' blocked for an hour some of the access doors to the building where the negotiations were taking place to denounce that 'the market is the problem, not the solution'. The final plenary session was also interrupted by two activists who stood at the presidential table displaying a small banner that read "Stop CO2lonialism." Although the United Nations security guards (dressed, by the way, in a rather galactic uniform) were in charge of quickly boarding them and removing them from the room, the action deserved great applause from many of those present.

Credit titles

In the credits with which I put an end to these reflections there is no place for big stars or soundtracks, only for a cry for justice that we are not trying to drown. Oh, and a happy ending to remind all those attending the summit not to worry about the emissions produced during its celebration: the Department of the Environment and Housing of the Generalitat de Catalunya has offset the emissions (calculated at 474 tons of CO2 ; the ton is now priced at about 14 euros) through the company SENDECO2 (here is the certificate for skeptics like me).


Beatriz Martinez is a translator for the Transnational Institute. - Nov 11 2009 - http://www.tni.org


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