Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | February 4, 2012

Durban Climate Summit legacy is the great “difaqane”

Durban – South Africa’s failed stand on Climate Change resembled the last stand of the first Peoples…

Something like the last stand at Alamo, or Thermopylae, without the braves sacrificing their lives but full of technocrats and civil servants, and diplomats, and PR choir boys, and business lackeys, all in a strange carnival, negotiating away and sacrificing the lives of countless others. Because sacrificing nameless and faceless others and especially the unborn is easy. Not much thought is required when doing it. And apparently there’s no guilt either.

So welcome to the great “difaqane” (forced climate migration)…

The present day destruction, mirrors that of the early 19th century which saw a time of immense upheaval and forced migrations of native populations in Africa. Yet today’s climate refugees throughout Africa are not relating to the Zulu Kingdom but rather to the industrialized countries doing business as usual and our willingness to maintain our errors at any cost. The difaqane (“forced migration”); or as the Zulu-speakers call it the mfecane (“crushing”) happened rather quickly back then and was the result of nation ascendance. But today’s difaqanes (“forced migrations”) are related to simple lack of food and water. Todays’ climate migrations are the result of a warmer planet and the diminishing state of the land’s life giving and victual producing capacity. Somewhat of the last stand, has taken place now in South Africa’s first native populations, as they have given up traditional ground for good and are presumed dead… and branded voiceless. Something we know of Politics is that without representation, you are presumed dead…

And although the full causes of the original “difaqane” remain obscure — certain environmental factors stand out. Because in the early 19th century, there was a severe drought and the whole of Natal began to shift…   Much like today that the whole of Africa shifts.

Back then, Shaka Zulu unified his tribes under a blood regime and moved out in search of fresh water and lush terrain to feed his people. In their path to a promised land, they forced all other peoples in the path of the desperate Zulu armies to move out of his way, becoming in their turn aggressors against their other neighbours and so on… This concentric circle waves of displacement spread throughout Southern Africa and beyond into the whole of the continent. Somewhat like what happens today with the Horn of Africa refugees streaming out and pushing all others to the brink.

And now it’s our turn, because after the failed Durban climate summit, we can either step back and review the carnage or hustle and move on. Yet it’s good to be quiet now and reflect… Because in quiet we can literally hear the displaced people asking:

Why?

Because we all got together and fought the good fight, but not a single tonne of carbon was saved or projected to be saved and taken out of the atmosphere. Instead a lot was wasted and emitted due to thousands of people flying from all corners of the earth to get there and back without any remorse.

And for all the talk, the planet will benefit not one jot. At the Environmental Parliament we are calling the Durban talks, a straight criminal sell-out and  betrayal of both science and humanity. But most importantly, it’s a sinister play aimed at the world’s poor and it uses the rich people to make them the enemies of their brethren. Kinda like divide and conquer in PR spreading the BS all alike.

Yet the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, which took place late last December, did rewrite the rule book for fighting climate change in one way. It forced major developing nations like China, Brazil and South Africa to accept some of their own baggage. It made them at least emotionally responsive to the principle of future binding targets on their greenhouse gas emissions for the first time.  Chris Huhne, the UK’s climate change secretary, hailed the token shift which came after three overnight negotiating sessions and a 36-hour conference overrun. “This is the first time we have seen major economies commit to take action demanded by the science,” he said.

The conference agreed that by 2015 governments would finalise a “protocol, legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” that would impose targets on all major emitters, rich and poor. It will probably enter into force by 2020, when existing voluntary targets end, though that is not part of the official deal.

The bad news is that the deal is a post-dated cheque and an empty one at that. A rubber cheque at best. It won’t do anything to help the climate in the next decade – a decade that scientists say is critical to arresting global warming and turning the world’s energy infrastructure towards low-carbon sources. Every year, countries spend about a trillion dollars on energy infrastructure, and right now coal is still the fuel of choice.

It is also far from clear what the promised binding targets will be, since that question went undiscussed in Durban. Most people and climate delegates and negotiators accept that the poorest nations will not face absolute cuts to their emissions. Instead, they will cut their “carbon intensity”: the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, a reflection of how dirty their industries are.

But China may be asked to do more. It held out longest against mentioning legal provisions in the Durban text. By 2020 it will be responsible for a quarter of the world’s emissions and will probably have per-capita emissions as high as Europe. It’s domestic consumption emission rates are already higher than those of the US and set to rise to unprecedented levels…

But with the legal targets not due to kick in till 2020 at the earliest, a key question is what will happen during the next decade. Are we letting the Titanic sink and then hope to film it?  Or are we allowing the nastiest behaviour in history continue unchecked because of our preoccupation with growth?

Because we must act urgently and must act now if we are to prevent the great  difaqane (“forced migration”) happening all over again with catastrophic alacrity.

Voluntary action is now the only thing limiting emissions in most countries. And  levels of CO2 soared again to the highest levels ever and the highest rate of increase and speed. This year and in this time of crisis voluntary emission cuts don’t work. Emissions targets of intensity don’t work either…

And while the European Union agreed to accept a second phase of the Kyoto protocol that will limit its own emissions between now and 2020, few other industrialised nations will join in. Canada pulled out this week, joining other renegades: Russia, Japan and the US. After next year, the protocol will cover only around 15 per cent of global emissions.

That means voluntary targets will, in theory at least, have a big effect on global emissions in the coming years. In the last two rounds of annual climate talks, in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Cancún, Mexico, more than 80 countries – including major emitters not bound by the Kyoto protocol like Brazil, China, Indonesia and the US – pledged voluntary targets. Mostly, these pledges are not to cut emissions but carbon intensity.

In Durban, US chief negotiator Todd Stern said such promises were much more meaningful than the Kyoto protocol. But there are doubts.

The Environmental Parliament and many other independent modellers such as those at the Climate Analysis and the East Anglia University say the pledges are wide open to governments cooking the books.

Our analysis of the loopholes suggests global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 could soar above the widely quoted 55 billion tonnes. That is far in excess of the 44 billion tonnes that the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says is needed for a cost-effective route to staying below 2 °C of global warming.

Time is running out. However spectacularly unsuccessful Durban was, the brutal truth for climate negotiators is this: since 2001 in Rio, when a “road map” to halt warming at 2 °C was envisioned, they have spent twenty odd years on talks that have come to nothing. The plan for a deal to come into force when the Kyoto protocol expires in December 2012 sank without trace. The Durban legacy is essentially a pact to start all over again, from a clean slate – “tabula raza” – with some added text about the legal nature of the future deal.

In the final hours, European negotiators in Durban tried to address the small matter of what happens in the next decade – the so-called “ambition gap”. A working group made up of a small number of nations will now investigate ways to persuade countries to boost their voluntary pledges before 2020. It may also look for new ways of curbing emissions not currently covered by any targets, legal or otherwise – everything from international air travel and shipping, to the soot from a billion African cooking stoves. If they can muster enough political will, all is not lost. There are ways to close the ambition gap, but nations must act now.

“I can’t see anything in these negotiations that will prevent warming well beyond 2 °C,” said UNEP director Achim Steiner. “To do that will require the world’s carbon dioxide emissions to peak by 2020.” Instead, we now have an agreement to agree on emissions cuts to begin in 2020, preceded by a voluntary period where nations do what they will. Whatever the diplomatic triumph, that is the bottom line for the planet.

The problems with voluntary targets are two fold:
With meaningful UN deals proving so challenging, many argued in Durban, South Africa, that voluntary targets would be a smarter way to curb climate change. The idea gained favour at last year’s talks in Cancún, Mexico.But problems with plan B are becoming apparent. Chief among them is a lack of ground rules and the near-impossibility to police whether governments are meeting their pledges.The US, for instance, has promised to cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels, without saying what their emissions were that year. “They keep changing the data, especially for the contribution of forests and land-use changes.”
Potential impact: equivalent to 0.7 gigatonnes of CO2 (GtCO2e)China promised to cut the carbon intensity of its coal-burning economy by 45 per cent by 2020. But it hasn’t said how much it expects its economy to grow, something that will depend on imponderables of national accounting. Recent economic data suggest that by 2020 it could be emitting a billion tonnes more carbon dioxide than previously thought.
Potential impact: 1.0 GtCO2e

Brazil promised to cut emissions by 36 per cent from business-as-usual growth. But earlier this year it sharply raised its business-as-usual emissions forecast, giving it room for an extra 18 per cent of emissions. “The revision seems to be based on higher emissions from deforestation”.
Potential impact: 0.5 GtCO2e

Even the European Union‘s promises are uncertain. Its East European members have unused emissions permits left over from the first period of the Kyoto protocol. If they are allowed to keep them for the next period, the EU could carry on increasing its emissions at the same rate it is now.
Potential impact: 1.0 GtCO2e

Another danger is that carbon offsets could be counted twice, with both rich and developing nations using the same projects to meet their pledges.
Potential impact: 1.6 GtCO2e

And lastly and perhaps most importantly is the serious problem of the constant Moral hazard…

Yours,

Pano

PS:

So now we are going full circle back to Rio and waiting for the Carnivale all over again.


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