Copenhagen: Climate Justice for the Poor, or Backroom Deals by the Rich?

By Josh Ran

Written by Jennifer Krill and Adrian Wilson. Cross-posted from It’s Getting Hot in Here.

Whispers in the hallways at the COP-15 Copenhagen climate negotiations emerged as a full blown controversy yesterday, when the UK Guardian published leaked text that was written by a secret group of negotiators, the so-called ‘Circle of Commitment’.  The U.S., UK, Denmark and other rich countries are apparently responsible for the text, which was written in secrecy in a dirty backroom deal. The Danish Text, as it’s being called here in Copenhagen, utterly excludes the U.N. process, especially cutting out the developing countries that are pushing for a strong, legally binding deal, with targets of 40-45% emissions reductions below 1990 levels in order to avert the risk of catastrophic climate change.

By contrast, the leaked text effectively kills the Kyoto Protocol and its emphasis on compliance and binding targets, while gutting much of the negotiations that have been underway over the last two years. Here’s a short summary of a few of the problems with the leaked text:

  • The Danish Text repeatedly refers to “the shared vision limiting global average temperature rise to a maximum of 2 degrees [Celsius] above pre-industrial levels.” This vision is certainly not shared – as the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance stated yesterday, “according to the IPCC a two degree increase in the global mean temperature will mean a three or more degree increase for temperatures in Africa, [causing] 50% reduction in crop yields in some areas.”
  • The text also specifies that “developed country parties commit to deliver upfront public financing for 2010-201[2] corresponding on average to [10] billion USD annually for early action, capacity building, technology and strengthening adaptation and mitigation readiness in developing countries.” While this figure is still bracketed, the idea that the Global North is considering initially giving only $10 billion per year in mitigation funding to the Global South is viewed by many G-77 nations as a slap in the face – especially given that the governments of the Global North have spent over $4 trillion in the past two years on economic stimulus and bailouts of the banking and auto industries. (NOTE: In negotiating text, the brackets refer to sections that are still in negotiation.)
  • In one of the most controversial sections, the draft specifies that “a Climate Fund be established as an operating entity of the Financial Mechanism of the Convention. … Support from the Fund may be channeled through multilateral institutions.” This is a key point that has been denounced by much of the Global South: this plan would take trillions of dollars in climate funding out of the hands of the U.N., and put it in the hands of multilateral institutions like the World Bank – which are effectively controlled by the U.S. and Europe.
  • The REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) outline in the text allows intact, natural forests to be replaced by tree plantations and includes poor provisions for monitoring, reporting and no verification at all.
  • Indigenous peoples – whose rights the U.S. is famously reluctant to respect, as one of four countries in the world to refuse to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – are not even mentioned in the Danish Text. The unique rights of Indigenous peoples, and indeed human rights or climate justice in general, are not  part of this backroom deal.

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After the draft was publicized yesterday, African delegates led a super high-energy protest through the halls of COP-15, chanting “One Africa, One Degree” and “Two degrees is suicide!” The Indigenous Environmental Network, Friends of the Earth, and many, many others led protests today in the main hall. The island nation of Tuvalu, after its call for legally binding targets in the plenary was opposed by the US and China, suspended the talksuntil just a few hours ago – a sentiment that is likely to continue, considering the atmosphere of protest andfrustration in the halls in Copenhagen.

But the Global North just doesn’t seem to get it. Some delegates here in Copenhagen, especially those from rich countries, were even dismissive of the situation, or were curious about which version of the text was leaked. US negotiator Jonathan Pershing, when asked about this text during his briefing yesterday, said: “There is no single text, there are many.” Pershing went on to defend Denmark for working behind the scenes and excluding so much of the world, claiming that as the president of the negotiations, Denmark is justified in developing secret text that is only available to inner-circle countries.

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Which would be understandable if the leaked text weren’t so obviously exclusionary, and weren’t so clearly against the position of the developing countries. Which is all the more interesting because the text sugar-coats this poison pill for the Global South with justice-based rhetoric: the text recognizes “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” states that “gender equality is essential in achieving sustainable development,” and notes that “the largest share of historical global emissions of greenhouse gases originates in developed countries.” But the substance of this text – rather than its precise wording – is what’s really important: it shows that, in the end, the countries of the Global North are willing to make pitifully few concessions to the very real needs of the Global South.

And, most importantly, it shows that the Danish government – and the unknown delegates that they collaborated with in drafting this text – have a callous disregard for any kind of duly consultative process, preferring instead to draft a deal that satisfies the U.S. (at the expense of the G-77, which represents 80% of the world’s population).

And so, it’s understandable that the G-77 delegates aren’t swallowing this poison pill. “It is literally a matter of life and death for the friends and families of those that are here. A bad deal is a crime against humanity and we won’t sign a deal if it means signing a death warrant,” said Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance yesterday.