Editor’s Note: The following dispatch was written on the final evening of the recent UN climate summit (COP20) that took place in Lima, Peru and concluded, after an extension of the talks, on Sunday, December 14, 2014.
I am writing from Lima, Peru, where the 20th Conference of Parties (COP) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was supposed to be coming to a close… there has been wrangling all night, the closing plenary of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) has finished without a concrete result. The COP President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal was meeting with countries and country blocs to see if agreement can be reached before decision-makers return home.
The name of the outcome document that will result at Lima has been discussed. In the past we have had the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, the Cancun Agreement, the Durban Platform and the Warsaw Framework. The name ‘Lima Action Platform is being suggested, or LAP.’ ‘LAP’ may end up standing for ‘Lack of Action and Progress.’
Over the past thirteen days world leaders and representatives from 195 countries, members of the business community, academics, NGOs, indigenous and grassroots organisations, a total of over 12,000 international visitors have descended on Lima.
The aim of COP20 was to establish what each country’s ‘contributions’ in the fight against climate change should look like. These ‘Intended nationally-determined contributions’, (INDCs in UN parlance), should form the basis of the global climate agreement that is expected to be finalized at Paris in 2015 at COP21.
I have not been optimistic about the outcome of COP20 from the start. I fear this UN climate conference will go down in history as the COP which failed to make provision for the poorest and most vulnerable, that failed to protect the rights of indigenous people and local communities; that postponed REDD+ negotiations, and failed to promote gender equality.
Oddly, the COP takes place in the Ministry of Defence, referred to by Peruvians as the ‘Pentagonito,’ meaning ‘little pentagon.’ It’s a sprawling military barracks, with old army training equipment scattered across the grounds. A labyrinthine village of vast temporary buildings and tents has been put up, comprising 30 conference rooms and two plenaries for 2,000 people. The enormous windowless concrete Ministry looms over the whole. As I remarked to a colleague, somehow the site reminds me of Bosnia in the 1990s…
There is hardly any provision for disabled people at the COP and woeful provision for those who, like me, have an injury. There were no lifts that I could see, and getting from place to place involved long walks in the heat. I walk with a stick. I found negotiating the COP difficult, so I can only imagine the challenge it presents for those who are disabled.
Most of the events relating to indigenous communities took place at the Maloca, the Indigenous Pavilion, which was in the ‘Jockey Club,’ a horse racing track about a mile from the main COP. The Maloca was the only area I visited that was deprived of wifi – a tool crucial for networking, negotiating and decision-making. Getting to and from the Pavilion for indigenous events was not easy. There were no buses from the Maloca to participants hotels – we had to return to the Pentagonito and take a bus from there.
Indigenous people are present in force at COP20 but tragically their voices are not being heard.
ADP DRAFT DECISION TEXT
At about 2 am this morning, Lima, Peru time, a new draft text of the ADP was issued that could form the basis of an agreement in Paris. The decision text is fatally weak, does not respect the principles of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is vague on financing, unbalanced, and overly focused on mitigation. The concept of differentiated responsibility is being diluted by new terms. Language relating to ‘loss and damage’ which is critical for developing countries has been removed. In short it is a poor basis for an agreement in Paris.
All these shortcomings will affect developing countries and poor communities in disastrous ways.
At 10.40 am this morning, the closing Plenary began, where countries responded to the text. Some including Malaysia, Sudan, Tuvalu, China, Cuba, Oman, Pakistan, my native Nicaragua and South Africa among others objected to the text, and refuse to accept the agreement as it stands. These countries called for negotiations on the text of the agreement to continue directly under the Peruvian COP President Manuel Pulgar Vidal.
Ian Fry of Tuvalu, speaking for the Least Developed Countries, stated: ‘This text needs a little surgery. We’d like to put on gowns and scalpels and insert some vital organs.’ He also stated, ‘Loss and damage is a crucial issue for the poorest and most vulnerable.’
I was very surprised that after eloquently lamenting the loss and damage language, the Philippines agreed to accept the draft ADP text as it stands.
Singapore described a lack of trust: the draft text is deviating from the Convention, there’s backsliding on finance and commitments from developed countries.
The Malaysian representative Prof. Gurdial Singh Nijar said, ‘If you look at who is clapping in this room, and when, you realise we come from different worlds. Many of you colonised us. We started out at different points… The ADP process in Lima has been exhausted… This process was not given a chance until it was too late. This is unlikely to produce an outcome. You must recognise that there is a world out there, a disenfranchised world that is different to your world.’
Nicaragua’s representative Jaime Hermida Castillo said, ‘the divisions over the draft agreement are a reflection of our world… We feel climate change right now, although we didn’t create it. But we don’t have the same resources to deal with it.’
India echoed these sentiments, stating, ‘Let us not forget the billions of poor. Let’s not make the poor pay for this, but the polluters.’
The ADP draft text has now been passed to the COP for further revision, under the supervision of President Pulgar-Vidal. The aim is to achieve a consensus today. He meets all blocs for 10 minutes each. He stated this morning, ‘This is not a moment for proposals but for solutions. Let’s work together.’ We’ll see.
Human rights are not mentioned in the ADP. It is both inexplicable and unconscionable that the concept of human rights has been omitted from the draft text. ‘A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation.’ Climate change, and the harms it will cause, are fundamentally issues of human rights.
The Philippines had proposed that the following language be added to the ADP: ‘fair, inclusive, respectful of human rights and particularly rights of indigenous people and women.’
Ghana and Mexico supported the addition of human rights language. Unfortunately I fear, there is now very little chance they will prevail. I cannot fathom why more countries did not support the addition of this language to the ADP.
On the 10th of December – International Human Rights Day – the Special Procedures Mandate Holders, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system, issued a statement urging Member States to integrate human rights standards and principles in the climate negotiations.
It’s critical, their statement continues, since ‘impacts of climate change interfere with the effective enjoyment of human rights. In particular, climate change has a disproportionate effect on many disadvantaged, marginalized, excluded and vulnerable individuals and groups, including those whose ways of life are inextricably linked to the environment.’ (my italics).
It seems they were not heeded. In the language of the Advanced Durban Platform decision text it appears that preambular language referencing “human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples” has been removed.
COP PROCESS, HISTORY
I have attended COP13 in Bali, COP14 in Poznań, COP15 in Copenhagen, COP17 in Durban, COP18 in Doha, COP19 in Warsaw and will hopefully attend COP21 next year in Paris. I truly hope that the UNFCCC will be able to achieve a global, legally binding climate deal next year but I have reservations.
COP15 in Copenhagen should have been a turning point. It was a unique opportunity to set the world on the right path to avoid catastrophic climate change. For two days, most of the world’s leaders congregated under one roof for a common purpose. Attended by 119 Heads of State, COP15 was the largest gathering of its kind held outside of the annual UN General Assembly in New York. The highlight was the attendance of US President Obama.
The two weeks of meetings, extending late into the night, marked the culmination of two years of intensive negotiations. The conference was the focus of unprecedented public and media attention. And yet, the result – the Copenhagen Accord – was a shameful compromise.
The words “legally binding” were conspicuously absent from the three-page text of the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord was merely “politically binding” for those countries that chose to sign up to it. Furthermore, it did not set emissions reduction targets for either 2020 or 2050, nor did it set a deadline by which the action points should become legally binding.
The French newspaper Liberation lamented the speed and commitment to saving the planet compared with saving the global financial system: “We must make the bitter observation: when it comes to rescuing the banking system, the dialogue has been far more effective and determined. It is clearly easier to save finance, than it is to save the planet.” Since COP15 expectations have been declining steadily with each conference. At COP20, they are at an all-time low.
After having seen the discussions in the Plenary this morning, I wonder how much we’ve learned since Copenhagen.
2014 will probably end up being the hottest year since records began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We have already matched 1998’s temperatures, previously the warmest year on record. Time is running out. Inaction will lead to severe and irreversible damage.
Climate change will affect everyone, everywhere, in every nation and in every echelon of society in the developing and developed world. We will all suffer the catastrophic consequences of: rising sea levels, desertification, food and water scarcity and political unrest. But some of the most vulnerable communities in the world are bearing a disproportionate burden of the harm without having significantly contributed to the cause. This is a terrible injustice.
Hearing delegates’ responses to the ADP text this morning, reinforced my opinion that there is a bias and injustice inherent in these negotiations. Failure to acknowledge different countries’ different responsibilities can only end in failure. A comprehensive, legally binding, global climate deal must make provision for the rights of all and acknowledge that some countries are more responsible for climate change than others. We must achieve Climate Justice, a recognition that climate change will disproportionately affect people who have less ability to prevent, adapt or otherwise respond to increasingly extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increasing resource scarcity.
The COP has always drawn lines drawn between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, between so-called ‘developing countries’ and the developed world, between the ‘global north’ and ‘global south.’ The climate talks are often fraught with bias and discrimination towards the global south, women, indigenous people and the poor as well as protesters. Their voices and that of civil society are often ignored in negotiations.
Sometimes even freedom of expression is curtailed at the COP, as we have seen here this week.
COP rules require protesters to submit their banners and slogans for approval, and prohibit the mention of specific names, officials and projects. Alyssa Johnson Kurts, with the US youth delegation SustainUS told Democracy Now, “We tried to submit a banner that would have an arrow with Keystone XL in one direction and a liveable future in the other direction, and they rejected that proposal,” she says.
In contrast, very few restrictions are placed on the fossil fuel companies that come to the COP. Corporations and fossil fuel companies have always had a presence at the negotiations. Yesterday, December 12th, 350.org delivered a petition with 53,000 signatures to the COP organisers, calling for fossil fuel corporations and their lobbyists to be banned from the negotiations.
Hoda Baraka, Global Communications Manager for 350.org, said ‘The fossil fuel industry is actively lobbying against climate action and standing in the way of progress. When you’re trying to burn the table down, you don’t deserve a seat at it.’
REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) was identified as a key area of focus for Lima. COP20 President, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, announced forests as a critical theme and set the goal of realising “progress made in regards to the role of forests (REDD+).” REDD+ is our opportunity to make a global commitment to forest conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
It is critical that these developments should respond to the concerns of indigenous people and guarantee full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in all processes, programmes and actions at all levels, including their access to funding mechanisms, financing and capacity building. This must include a robust and enforceable system of social, environmental and human rights safeguards.
REDD+ is beset by a fundamental difference in thinking. Some see REDD+ as an important framework that will bring both forest preservation and will benefit indigenous tribes. Rainforest Foundation Norway for example has “a rights-based approach to rainforest protection. We believe that the peoples who for generations have developed their cultures and societies in balanced interaction with the highly complex yet vulnerable ecosystems of the rainforest have fundamental rights to these areas. Legal recognition of the collective territorial and cultural rights of forest-based peoples and communities is crucial to the fulfilment of their human rights. It is also a major prerequisite for protecting the rainforest.” Unfortunately there is another school of thought, dangerous dissenters who see REDD+ only as a profit making new market that exists to be exploited.
The negotiations and decision-making should have been easy – protecting and advancing the land rights of indigenous people will advance their human rights protections and will also reduce cumulative carbon emissions through healthy and flourishing forests. But the REDD+ negotiations at COP20 collapsed. Climate justice remains a long way off.
I gave the keynote address at the REDD+ Implementation Working Group: Legal and Governance Foundations, Indigenous Peoples Rights and Safeguards on December 5th… Morale was low among the negotiators, and sure enough, negotiations reached a deadlock, or REDDLock, and came to a complete halt that Friday here in Lima.
The REDD+ talks broke down in part because there has been no agreement on guidance for the safeguards. Countries like the United States and Norway were pushing for more clarity on how these safeguards are reported, but nations like Brazil and Panama among others claimed guidance would be burdensome, slowing implementation of forest protection measures.
The REDD+ Safeguards Working Group stated as far back as Cop15, ‘No rights, no REDD.’
Shamefully, there will be no concrete outcome on forest protection at COP 20, despite this COP being held in Peru, one of the world’s largest rainforest countries. Deliberations have concluded for this session.
Once again, a critical decision regarding indigenous rights and environmental protection has been postponed until the next UNFCCC inter-sessional meeting in June 2015. Time is running out.
As I said in all the five presentations I made at COP20, forests of all kinds are essential to our future. The Amazon in particular is home to about a third of our planet’s terrestrial life forms, cycles nearly a quarter of the Earth’s freshwater, absorbs around 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year and plays a vital role in moderating the climate.
More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food, water, fuel, medicines, traditional cultures and livelihoods. Forests support up to 80% of biodiversity on earth and play a vital role in safeguarding the climate by naturally sequestering carbon.
Globally, deforestation accounts for up to 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, or roughly 5.8 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent released into the atmosphere, each year. This is more than global transport and aviation combined. According to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, reducing deforestation is the “single largest opportunity for cost-effective and immediate reductions of carbon emissions.”
The organisation I founded and Chair, the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF) and I are committed to forest conservation. That is why, in 2012, I became IUCN Ambassador for the Bonn Challenge, the largest restoration initiative the world has ever seen. The objective of the Bonn Challenge is to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land across the world by 2020. There are 2 billion hectares of degraded and deforested land across the world with potential for restoration. Restoring 150 million hectares would capture 47 Gigatonnes of CO2, and reduce the emissions gap by 17%. Forest restoration is invaluable in the race to tackle climate change.
Already more than 51 million hectares of land have been committed to the Bonn Challenge, from the following countries: United States, Rwanda, El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Brazilian Mata Atlantica Restoration Pact, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Niger, Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND THE FORESTS