Climate justice denied

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Fiu Mata’ese Elisara

By now the Samoa and indeed the Pacific delegations will have returned home after participating in climate meetings held in Bangkok, Thailand, a week ago 4 to 9 September. 

With three months to go before the 24th Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 24) meeting in Katowice, Poland scheduled for December this year delegates at the Bangkok session were to speed up work on the Paris Agreement Work Program (PAWP) discussed in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA).

Chair of COP23, Fiji President Frank Bainimarama, at the opening ceremony on morning of 5 September was justifiably anxious when he said “Leaders had promised much but delivered little and warned that “failure” to reach agreement on the PAWP “was simply not an option”.

He challenged negotiators that “history would condemn leaders who failed to properly address the impacts of climate change” and asked “Would any of us like to return to our people and tell them that we had the chance to do something truly great and truly necessary for the world we will pass to our children, but we lacked the will to get it done?” 

On different occasion, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi in Sydney Australia a couple of weeks ago rightly called climate change an “existential threat for all the Pacific Island countries” and in his no nonsense confrontational style added “any world leader who denied climate change’s existence should be taken to a mental hospital!” Australian scientists have since thanked our Prime Minister for his very frank, courageous and bold comment.

Xavier Matsutaro, climate change coordinator for the small Pacific nation of Palau, speaking to the Guardian, said Australia’s relationship with the Pacific was “dysfunctional” and “abusive”, adding that Australia was also responsible for diluting the strength of previous regional declarations on climate change – providing aid to the region to deal with the effects of global warming but undermining global attempts to halt its progress.

Matsutaro, who has attended COP meetings on Palau’s behalf for the last five years, added “Australia was regularly out of sync with the rest of the region and responsible for diluting the strength of resolutions on the environment”.

Speaking truth to power is not easy but for gutsy Matsutaro from Palau, a small Pacific Island country at the forefront of climate impacts, his testimony is even more difficult to ignore! Many of our own officials need to learn from this as our very existence dictate that we must.

Pacific Island leaders at the recent Pacific Leaders Forum in Nauru called on the United States to return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, said Pacific leaders would not tone down their message to the US, implying Australia had wanted a more diluted signal.

Anna Powles from Massey University’s Centre for Defense and Security said Australia is demonstrating its lack of regard for Pacific issues. “I think it shows that Australia is out of step with the Pacific and Pacific countries and leadership, despite their step up in terms of re-engagement with the Pacific.

The number one tension point is obviously on climate change and allegations that they’ve tried to water down the communique, is deeply disturbing.

Dr Powles added that “…for New Zealand’s credibility’s sake and for our legitimacy within the region and for the success…of the claim that we are part of the… Pacific islands region, we’re going to have to be very mindful of how we negotiate some of the more contradictory areas of Australian policy within the Pacific,” 

Well, these statements are encouraging but none of these laudable statements surprise many people anymore.

They are, however, statements that need to be said! But complacency has unfortunately rendered them become regurgitating noises in hollow ‘political’ drums! Ironically meaningless in a world now in abject crisis already reaping havoc around the world with unprecedented super cyclones, typhoons, fires, heat waves, flooding, destruction, volcanoes, tornadoes, and death. 

The point is, the urgency in these messages are real! The apocalyptic destruction and total loss for many is there for the world to see! But sadly, political world leaders cocooned in their secure homes and wealthy environments seem far removed from citizens’ reality. They do not feel it! So they ignore the urgency!   

What transpired in Bangkok and Nauru a couple of weeks ago are converging messages to truth, albeit ignored by the rich culprits. They rightly engage leaders of Pacific nations and developing countries of the world address the urgency of climate change that is already destroying properties, homes, livelihood sources, and literally killing many. Yet the rhetoric and reality are worlds apart.

Any hope on developing countries pursuit for sustainable development is at best, an ambitious dream. 

The global reality now point to rich polluting countries led by US, EU and Australia running away and hide, reneging on their 1992 Rio de Janeiro admission to being root causes of the global climate demise, accepting responsibility, assuming liability to help developing countries to recover and secure adequate response.

Clear promises for commensurate new, adequate, additional, and real financial resources; ambitious support for means of implementation to enable developing countries secure early warning systems, enable transition from disaster to recovery through adaptation, mitigation, capacity building, appropriate technology transfer, etc. set the legal and moral framework for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) outcomes and its related guiding Rio Principles.

The scene was set by ‘developed’ countries to assist ‘developing’ countries address climate impacts under United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

Yes, it was inherently clear there was demarcation between ‘developed’ countries as polluting culprits to help ‘developing’ countries as those unduly affected. As sovereign countries in the United Nations developing countries came away from Rio in 1992 immensely hopeful and grateful but unaware of the insincerity of it all! Still, we cannot and should not allow the rich to nurture this deliberate escape under our watch. I commend those developing countries who are staying true, unmoved and strong in their comments made in Bangkok.

They are healthy and encouraging for our climate justice cause. 

In an address I gave in the Pacific Islands Universities Research Network hosted by National University of Samoa in September 2016, I cautioned against the shifting goal post in the global development architecture, transitioning of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - An ambitious commitment to “Leaving No One Behind”!

The focus shifted from helping ‘developing’ countries in MDGs to ‘all countries being equally responsible for their development demise’ and in their aspirations to achieve their own SDGs! It became universal!

The key equity and historic responsibility enshrined in the Rio principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability’ was deliberately and conveniently negotiated out by the rich! Calculated and deliberate! Nurtured into oblivion! The rich successfully negotiate developing countries into submission to their agenda of insincerity, injustice, reneging on promises. 

I also warned - The World Bank no longer distinguishes between ‘developed’ countries and ‘developing’ ones. It eliminates the term ‘developing country’ from its development indicators and data vocabulary! It marks an evolutionary thinking about the geographic distribution of poverty and prosperity.

The United Nations doesn’t even have an official definition for what a ‘developing’ country is, despite slapping this label on 159 nations! The effort by rich countries and institutions they control to run away from legal and moral commitment is far too powerful to ignore!

All countries now need equal help for development! Lamentably, developing countries fail to stay the course pursuing rich countries deliver commitments on new, predictable, sustainable, and additional finance resources meeting their aid target of 0.7% of Gross National Incomes (GNIs).  

So, in Bangkok, this has now become a dark reality that dominated the week long climate meetings. ‘Developing’ countries struggled to oppose ‘developed’ countries attempt to renegotiate the Paris Agreement to block any references to differentiation between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries in the implementation of the PA.

This undermining of the core principle of equity and historic responsibility, the Rio principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, is a deliberate ploy by the rich polluters, led by USA and Australia, to walk away from past Rio promises and clear financial liabilities.

It frees them from legal and moral obligations to provide means of implementation in close to three decades of climate commitments and promises to developing countries.   

Sadly, the demise of developing countries and indeed the small island states such as Samoa continues. We seem to join a climate fight we knowingly are losing, and badly at that. The main conclusion of the Bangkok talks was an empty talkfest baseline agreement by Parties to prepare mere reflections notes addressing false ‘progress’ made to date and identifying ways forward for advancing Parties’ continuing deliberations.” at the upcoming Katowice Poland December 2018 COP 24.” What an expensive exercise jut to come up with ‘mere reflection notes’ to continue talkfest in Katowice! When will this madness stop?

Let me now share my personal assessment of the Bangkok meetings ‘watching’ it all from the comforts of home in Samoa. Bangkok, like many climate meetings before it, is yet another costly and expensive missed opportunity.

My 03 May 2018 article published in Samoa Observer detailed what I termed as missed opportunities in this climate discourse. Bangkok again falls far short of expectations. Parties left without a textual basis for negotiations at upcoming COP24 session and at Katowice Poland in December this year they will have no choice but to delve into repeat discussion of the same issues covered in Bangkok.

Inevitably, Parties will deal with the ongoing discourse on the equity principle and failed finance promises to developing countries. 

On the key issue of finance and means of implementation, developing countries rightly argue for the promises made by the developed nations as essential to assist make their contributions under the PA.

Without adequate support promised by developed countries many developing countries will fail having no choice but to implement at the lowest possible level. Raising ambition in the push on small countries like Samoa to deliver will be highly unrealistic and unlikely. 

On adaptation, some progress was made in terms of further guidance from the adaptation communication and mandates under the subsidiary bodies and developing countries see the communication tool workable to move the process forward in Katowice.

On nationally determined contributions (NDCs), this was yet again a failure. Parties left Bangkok without progress to achieve what is required under the PA maintaining the comprehensive and full scope of NDCs in light of equity, common but differentiated responsibility, and of national circumstances.

On the issue of the transparency framework, developing country Parties worked through the enhanced framework for action, supporting three key principles for all Parties to keep in mind. First, the principle of no backsliding.

The PA expects all Parties to enhance existing arrangements under the Convention. Second, the principle of recognizing different starting points. The PA provides flexibility to developing countries because it recognizes our different starting points with regard to capacities in comparison to developed countries. Third, the principle of improvement over time.

The PA calls for an enhancement to transparency and support provided to developing country Parties on a continuous basis to build transparency-related capacity over time.

On the issue of response measures, the importance of fully considering actions to meet specific needs of developing countries arising from the implementation of response measures was re-emphasized, while avoiding negative economic and social consequences, including equitable access to sustainable development and poverty eradication.

On the global stock take (GST) some developing countries were concerned that equity issues, loss and damage, and response measures continue to remain unresolved and these issues are essential to unblock discussions on the design of the GST mechanism. Loss and damage was a specific concern raised by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which Samoa is part.

Reflecting on COP 24, the developing countries highlighted the importance of finding the right balance at the high level meetings and ones most critical to successfully complete operationalization of the PAWP. The priority was to focus political messaging on reaffirming support for the multilateral approach to addressing the pressing global challenge of climate change.

A priority task of the Katowice Climate Conference is to finalize the PAWP, to successfully complete mandated events, such as the Talanoa Dialogue and high level events on the pre-2020 agenda and finance.

The Talanoa Dialogue being the 2018 facilitative dialogue to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal and to inform the preparation of NDCs..

In the negotiations on technology transfer, this is a serious agenda item in relation to the terms ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries. Rich country Parties are resisting to commit to provide any enhanced support for technology development and transfer, seeking to limit what support they are in fact willing to provide, trying to erase the differentiation between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ refusing to have any reference to these in the text.

Developing country Parties see this as renegotiating the PA’s terms that reflect the continuing differentiated legal commitment under Article 4.5 of the Climate Convention, requiring developed countries to support technology transfer to developing countries. 

Lamenting the insincerity of the Bangkok process, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which Samoa is a part, reiterated the need to work in a transparent manner recognizing the uneven progress made in most issues.

AOSIS felt that it was critical to maintain the balance achieved in Paris and make comparable progress across the tracks of negotiation on the PAWP, stressing the issue of ‘loss and damage’ “is linked to a number of thematic areas and look forward to working with Parties in maintaining its inclusion in the guidance for adaptation communication, specifically limits to adaptation, in reporting under the transparency framework, Global Stock Take and support. 

Australia whilst expressed concerns about “slow pace of work” went on to allege that one reason for this were efforts by developing countries to address issues outside the mandate of the PA, especially on finance.

It added curiously that the “bifurcated approach”, referring to the pushed differentiation between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries, as being “… inconsistent with the PA…” and stressed the need to focus work on “the Paris mandate”.  

The European Union said that the Bangkok made progress focusing on substance and clarifying views, but the outcome is not sufficient to serve as the basis for negotiations calling for urgency to step up efforts for a draft negotiating text and urged the presiding officers to provide textual proposals to bring Parties closer to the outcome at COP 24  

So where do we find ourselves on negotiations over the Paris Rulebook and the PAWP after this Bangkok session? In the assessment of some civil society members who attended the Bangkok meetings, “We are worse off and we see these insincere discussions setting us on a pathway to climate chaos, the negotiations under the Paris Agreement have been captured by the corporations.

The Paris Agreement has let developed countries off the hook, both from their historical responsibilities for climate change, and from meeting binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Big developing countries such as China are also using this Agreement to continue to produce dirty energy and to maintain their low emissions reductions targets.

Adding it all together, the emissions reductions targets from countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) average closer to 4 degrees of warming, is nowhere near 2, let alone 1.5 degrees Centigrade”.

In reality, ‘as we speak’ the impacts of climate change are already visible, and are being felt by vulnerable, frontline communities across the globe, but particularly in the poorest countries and small island nations.

To protect these communities, climate finance is an urgent necessity. But the mythical 100 billion dollars commitment from developed countries is yet to materialize, with no progress towards paying for the loss and damage that climate change causes.

The nature of the USD$100 billion commitment is vague with negotiations reflecting an increasing mix of equity, loans, concessional and blended finance.

The Bangkok intersessional post review shows the negotiations stalled and the political leadership has failed to listen to the peoples’ solutions. We are not only facing a backtracking on commitments to cut emissions at source and to take responsibility for historical emissions through providing climate finance, but we are also facing the even scarier possibility of the climate crisis being addressed through geoengineering, technological fixes, and market-based solutions that further commodify and financialize life on the planet.

The clock is ticking. It is urgent that big emitters and polluters like the US, EU, China and Australia are held accountable, and not allowed to derails the climate process.

The voices of communities, Indigenous Peoples, women and young people are key and must be heard and taken seriously in the corridors of the UNFCCC as community-led solutions are real in order to reclaim climate justice.

We owe it to our peoples to hold developed countries to their promises and not allow them to deny developing states communities to give life to polluters to walk away from climate justice and the Paris Agreement. After all, in whose interests are the negotiations?

© Samoa Observer 2016

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