Reports from Cancun: The Climate Deal that Failed Us

December 13th, 2010 - by admin

Shefali Sharma / Think Forward & Medea Benjamin / CommonDreams & Shannon Biggs / Global Exchange – 2010-12-13 00:59:14

The Climate Deal That Failed Us
Shefali Sharma / Think Forward & CommonDreams

(December 12, 2010) — “History will be the judge of what has happened in Cancun.” These are the last lines of the Bolivian Government’s press release yesterday about the outcome of the climate negotiations here in Cancun. The talks ended here today after two weeks of negotiations by a 192 governments. It is a deal that will be remembered by our future generations as one that killed the climate treaty, unless we radically change course.

Witnessing standing ovations and applause in the closing hours over negotiating texts that basically kill the Kyoto Protocol and make emissions reductions voluntary for all governments fills me with a profound sense of disillusionment (you can view the final plenaries here).

Disillusionment at the utter lack of leadership exhibited by virtually every government except Bolivia and disillusionment at the role that many environmental and development groups played in legitimizing these governments’ actions.

The compromise arrived at Cancun was a coup for the United States. The US came in with nothing to offer in terms of binding commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and yet managed to effectively push for voluntary targets. The source of these targets is the “Copenhagen Accord” that President Obama negotiated by cornering a few key countries in a back room in the last hours of the climate negotiations a year ago.

“There is only one way to measure the success of a climate agreement, and that is based on whether or not it will effectively reduce emissions to prevent runaway climate change. This text clearly fails, as it could allow global temperatures to increase by more than 4 degrees, a level disastrous for humanity,” says Bolivia.

Sadly, Bolivia was set up as the scapegoat at the meeting — portrayed as the only country standing in the way of multilateralism and progress on a climate deal. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” they said.

Manufacturing Consensus
This scapegoating is nothing new. I have witnessed it in the WTO where governments, under great pressure by powerful countries like the United States and the EU, are too afraid to speak out or too keen to be seen as constructive actors on the geopolitical theater. And theater it was last night — as country after country — applauded the President of the COP, for her “open and transparent” process and a successful outcome.

Yet in reality, we all knew that the deal had been negotiated behind closed doors by a handful of countries. At times, there were 50 countries in a room somewhere in the conference complex.

But we did not know where and we did not know what they were negotiating. Civil society, unlike other UN negotiations, was not allowed in any of the drafting groups. And what governments drafted did not even seem to appear in the texts crafted by the Chairs of the two negotiating tracks of the climate talks. 

In the closing hours of the COP, Bolivia made strong statements that it did not agree to the outcome and that there was no consensus.

In the UN, all countries must agree and have “consensus” before a treaty or a deal is adopted. In Cancun, the deal was ceremoniously gaveled as agreed.

For civil society organizations, Cancun must be a wake up call for serious reflection.

How have we been complicit in an outcome that has ultimately not respected the science of global warming? Worse still, some have applauded an outcome that lets industrialized countries off the hook from legally binding and mandatory targets to reduce GHGs — something they agreed to when they signed the Kyoto Protocol.

The 20th anniversary of the birth of the Climate Treaty is 2012 and the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Let’s ensure that by the time we get there, we have managed to shift the fundamental elements of what was agreed here in Cancun towards a much more accountable framework to address climate change.

Shefali Sharma is Senior Program Officer at IATP and blogged from Cancun the day after the UN climate talks concluded.

Reading the Coca Leaves:
Climate Change, Cancun and Bolivia

Medea Benjamin / CommonDreams

CANCUN (December 11, 2010) — On the way to participate in a rally organized by the international peasant group Via Campesina in Cancun, a Bolivian indigenous farmer took some coca leaves out of his hand-woven satchel and pressed them into my hand.

“You will need these during the climate talks in Cancun to keep you from getting tired or hungry,” he insisted. “Pachamama — mother earth — gives us these leaves. She takes care of us if we take care of her.” Bonding as we chewed the bitter leaves together, the wizened Bolivian farmer shared his hopes that the negotiators would listen to his president, Evo Morales, and come up with an accord that would allow the world to live in harmony with nature.

The climate agreement that was ultimately hashed out in Cancun did not reflect the viewpoint of Bolivia’s indigenous community, their President Evo Morales, or Bolivia’s passionate UN negotiator, Pablo Solon. The Bolivian government and its grassroots allies wanted a binding agreement that would force significant reductions in greenhouse gases.

They wanted an agreement that respected indigenous rights. They wanted an agreement grounded in a new concept — the rights of nature — that acknowledges that she who gives us life and abundance (and coca leaves) has as much right to exist as humans.

Many mainstream environmentalists were quick to defend the Cancun agreement, insisting that that a weak agreement is better than nothing, since it allows the international process to go forward and allows activists to keep fighting for better outcomes in the future rounds, including at next year’s talks that will take place in Durban, South Africa. No agreement, they suggest, would have stopped the process cold.

But we should be clear that the minimalist agreement from Cancun is totally inadequate to address the climate crisis. It acknowledges that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required, but does not set binding targets. This is due, in large part, to the refusal of the United States — from the time of the Kyoto Accords — to agree to mandatory cuts.

The agreement sets up a much-needed Green Climate Fund to help poor nations obtain clean technologies but does not lay out clear sources of financing or how the fund will be controlled. The governments agreed to give an interim trustee role to the World Bank, a move that angered groups in the global south that have suffered at the hands of Bank and activists who have opposed the Bank on a policy level.

The agreement embraces a policy on “deforestation mitigation” known as REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. This gives polluters in the north a chance to buy carbon credits for protecting forests in the global south.

Bolivia, and most organizations on the ground and in the streets of Cancun for the past two weeks, object to REDD on the grounds that it commodifies the forests of the global South, endangers indigenous control over the forests and their right to livelihood, and allows northern polluters to keep polluting.

Bolivian negotiator Pablo Solon said handing out carbon credits for protecting forests makes it easier for industrialized nations to achieve their emissions reductions targets without taking domestic action to rein in greenhouse gases. “We want to save the forest, but not save developed countries from the responsibility to cut their emissions,” Solon said.

At the 11th hour, the negotiators — desperate for an agreement — were annoyed at what they saw as Bolivia’s obstructionism. “The experts that know about climate change know that we are right,” Solon insisted. “This agreement won’t stop temperature from rising by 4 degrees Celsius, which is just not sustainable. But they just want an agreement, any agreement, so they are pushing this through.”

While inside the confines of Cancun’s Moon Palace Bolivia was left isolated, outside Bolivia was seen as the superhero standing up for the poor, the indigenous communities, and the rights of nature.

Addressing a news conference in Cancun on December 9, Bolivian President Evo Morales — himself an indigenous former coca farmer — made some dire forecasts. “We came to Cancún to save nature, forests, planet Earth, not to convert nature into a commodity or revitalize capitalism with carbon markets.” He predicted that without strong, mandatory emissions reductions, the world’s governments would be “responsible for ecocide.”

I think Evo and my Bolivian coca farmer friend would agree that if we are to avoid ecocide, we cannot rely on government officials meeting in plush golf resorts. Instead, the solutions will come from organic farmers and social entrepreneurs.

They will come activists who confront corporate polluters. They will come from passionate environmentalists putting even more pressure on their governments. They will come from those fighting for climate justice on their communities around the globe. Ultimately, they will come from a grassroots global movement steeped in the values of mother nature.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange. See Global Exchange’s new report on the Rights of Nature at:

We Need 1,000 Cochabambas
Getting the Message from the UNFCCC:
Just Go Home… and ORGANIZE!

Shannon Biggs / Global Exchange’s Climate Justice Blog

CANCUN (December 12, 2010) — Months before civil society boarded planes or hopped on buses and bikes destined for Cancun (yes, we met up with a small contingent of cyclists arriving from West Virginia) — it was clear that we weren’t really very welcome.

Far too few of us were even approved as credentialed NGO observers. The Moon Palace conference site was miles and miles away from the city center, and those without credentials were left out in the Cancun sun. When La Via Campesina attempted to set up their gathering site nearby, the permits were denied.

For anyone who might have thought we could ingratiate ourselves upon arrival with a heartfelt message from the people of planet Earth, those notions were quickly set straight: We were eschewed, ignored, stopped, searched, silenced, kicked out, barricaded, and banned.

Despite Bolivia’s introduction to the UNFCCC of the People’s Accord that emerged from 35,000 people gathered in Cochabamba earlier this year, it mysteriously disappeared from the negotiating table in Cancun. Police detained caravans of campesinos and internationals en route carrying messages from communities across Mexico who themselves could not come to Cancun.

When some 20 caravans finally converged for a spiritual ceremony at the ancient Mayan temple of Chichen Itza two hours west of Cancun, they were turned away at the gates.

Intense police barricades stopped the civil society march miles from the official space or the public eye. Those who dared to enter the Moon Palace to publicly opposed the market-based mechanism of the carbon trading scheme REDD were silenced, hauled away and some had their credentials revoked.

OK we get it. Go home already.

Last year’s talks in Copenhagen made it clear that the official United Nations FCCC process is based not on the root causes of environmental exploitation — but “market fixes” to the same corporate-led economic model and “endless-more” value system that have driven us to the cliff’s edge. In Cancun it has become clear that even the modest goals set forth in Kyoto can’t stand against the juggernaut of economic growth at all costs.

There were voices of reason at the table. Bolivia’s UN Ambassador and negotiator to the talks, Pablo Salon, in taking seriously the People’s Accord and Rights of Nature Declaration that came out of the Cochabamba World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth is being called an agitator stalling progress within the official negotiations.

Yesterday, Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke eloquently about the need for a radically new path forward: “In past decades, the United Nations approved human rights, then civil rights, economic and political rights, and finally a few years ago indigenous rights. In this new century, it is time to debate and discuss rights of Mother Earth. These include the right to regenerate biocapacity, the right to life without contamination.”

But the Bolivians who came to the negotiations to represent social movements and to seriously address the failure of the market to protect the planet have been isolated, sidelined and ridiculed along with the rest of us who stand outside. As Bolivia’s official statement from this morning pronounces “History will be the judge of what has happened in Cancun.”

Many came to bring the message of Cochabamba to Cancun. But where do we go from here if the lessons of Copenhagen and Cancun are that our leaders are deaf to the cries of the planet?

The UNFCCC may have it right — we should just go home. It is time to deliver the message of Cochabamba to the people who are capable of creating change, of creating 1,000 Cochabambas.

Last month with the help of Global Exchange partners the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Pittsburgh, PA became the first major US city to ban natural gas drilling while elevating community decision-making and the rights of nature over corporate “rights.” They join over 125 communities who are also taking local control of their destinies, refusing to become sacrifice zones for the good of the market and the destruction of the environment.

Along with CELDF, Global Exchange is working with dozens of communities here at home to do the same thing, from Mt. Shasta CA to Big Sur to Santa Monica. Buffalo New York. New Mexico. Maine. Washington State. Ecuador. Bolivia. In all of these places, a new set of rules is being put into place.

If we want to be heard at the UN, then we need to go home and build the revolution of change in the places where we live. That is what Global Exchange came to Cancun for — to link arms with our friends on the outside toward building a real movement for rights — for nature and for our communities.

Global Exchange, the Council of Canadians and Fundacion Pachamama’s new report for Cancun, “Does Nature have Rights? Transforming Grassroots Organizing to Protect People and the Planet” explores the grassroots movement for the rights of nature taking root. The way forward is in our own backyards.

Shannon Biggs is Director of the Community Rights program for Global Exchange.

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