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Talk of a ‘new climate deal' at COP17 is a distraction from inaction

Murray Worthy

7th December, 2011

Talk of a long-term climate deal to cut carbon emissions is allowing industrialised countries to delay taking action, says Murray Worthy from the World Development Movement

The main story coming out of the UN climate talks in Durban so far has been whether or not the summit can agree to start negotiations on a new long term deal. The EU doesn’t want to talk about much else, and many media reports are focusing on whether developing countries like China and India will come on board.

However, lurking behind the positive spin of a new ‘comprehensive deal’ lies the truth – developed countries are ignoring their responsibility and failing to act, and the clock is ticking. Talk of a ‘Durban mandate’ is little more than a smokescreen.

Unless you’re Lord Monckton or Lawson, the science is clear. No one at this summit disputes that humans are causing climate change. At the climate talks in Cancun, countries pledged to keep temperature rises below 2C, thought to be a key tipping point for the global climate (though significantly higher than the 1.5C limit demanded by most developing countries). And everyone knows what is needed to get there.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that developed countries, which are responsible for 70 per cent of global historic emissions, must reduce their emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 to achieve this goal. What is important now is actions not words, and a political agreement with voluntary pledges – which rich countries are pushing for – falls far short of what is needed.

The current voluntary ‘pledges’ don’t even go halfway to meeting these 40 per cent targets, reaching barely 13 – 17 per cent reductions by 2020. This would lead to an average global temperature rise of 4C or more – with temperature rises much higher for countries nearer the equator. This is a world most of us cannot and do not want to conceive of: massive droughts, desertification, mass species extinctions, huge sea level rises affecting most major coastal cities like London, New York and Hong Kong and a death toll few would want to contemplate.

But there is barely any ambition from developed countries. The lower end of the EU’s pledge of 20 – 30 per cent emission reductions can be achieved with little more than business as usual. Instead of raising this goal to the 40 per cent we know is needed, negotiators are working on how they can use carbon markets to shift the responsibility to developing countries, or ‘carry over’ emissions reductions from the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period. Instead of pushing for a deal that could help tackle climate change they are working hard to ensure they can do as little as possible.

Vital as it is, reducing emissions is only part of the story. Finance is the other key part of any global deal on climate change. Despite rich countries’ responsibility for the problem, most of the impacts  already being felt are in the global south. Developing countries need finance to help them adapt, and to help them access the low carbon technologies they need in order to develop without trashing the climate. This isn’t just campaigner’s rhetoric; it is as a basic principle in the UN climate change convention.

In Copenhagen, developed countries pledged $30 billion in ‘fast start’ finance for 2010-2012. Two years in, progress has not been fast and little finance has actually been delivered. So far only $2 billion of the $30 billion pledged  has actually been given to developing countries, and over 90 per cent had either been announced before or has been raided from overseas aid commitments for vital goals such as healthcare and education. Many countries in the global south rightly feel they have been conned.

Until now climate finance has been delivered through a disjointed jigsaw of funds run by governments and  the World Bank. Proposals for a new Green Climate Fund to manage long term climate finance are now being negotiated here in Durban – and the con game continues. The fund is set to have an arm dedicated to providing public money directly to the private sector, subsidising multinational companies. And countries like the UK are pushing for the World Bank, discredited across the global south for its undemocratic governance and history of climate-devastating projects, to have a central role in the fund.

While the UK is working hard to ensure that the new fund meets the needs of corporations rather than communities, the US and EU are blocking progress on a deal to raise money for the fund. Some countries are arguing that their current financial situation means they are in no position to commit, yet we know that hundreds of billions can be raised from tackling tax avoidance and tax havens, redirecting fossil fuel subsidies, cutting military spending or introducing a financial transactions tax. Even seemingly win-win proposals on the negotiating table, like raising finance from reducing emissions from shipping, are being held up.

Faced with a closing window of opportunity to control climate change, rich industrialised countries are sitting on their hands and refusing to act. To achieve any kind of success, they must increase their commitments for reducing their emissions, in line with the science, and commit to delivering the finance that is needed, with a fair fund to manage it. Talk of a new global deal without meaningful action now is little more than a ruthless negotiating tactic – a distraction from inaction.

Murray Worthy, policy officer at the World Development Movement

 

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