This is the most recent in a series of guest posts by leading climate scientists, science writers, policy makers and others involved in the ongoing debate about climate policy. We’ll be hearing from these guests regularly leading up to COP15 in December.
A deal in Copenhagen cannot happen without political intervention…by you.
by Keya Chatterjee
Last week in Bonn, Germany, at a United Nations climate meeting, I had the privilege of sitting down with a small U.S. Congressional staff delegation and ambassador Masao Nakayama from Micronesia. Ambassador Nakayama, a soft spoken, distinguished man who speaks deliberately with slightly accented but otherwise perfect English, opened the meeting by making sure we understood that his people lived on low lying islands that were experiencing devastating impacts of climate change. But his main objective was to convey why this fact was so important to the United States. “Micronesia has a special relationship with the U.S.,” he told us. Apparently under the Compact with the United States, Micronesia has agreed that unless the United States was consulted, the only military that could be based in Micronesia’s territory was the U.S. military. Including water, that means that an area the size of the continental United States is now securely navigable by the U.S. military. But as islands become uninhabitable due to climate change, Micronesia’s territory (and hence U.S. military presence) will start to shrink because uninhabited islands cannot claim coastal waters as part of their territory. This means that climate change will directly impact the U.S. military’s ability to maintain a presence in the Pacific.
What made the ambassador’s testimony so surprising was that it was put in terms of what the U.S. military stood to lose, rather than focusing on what must surely be more dear to his heart–loss of lives, human suffering, and the devastation of Micronesia’s geography, cultures, and languages. He simply said, “The U.S. will benefit from our survival in military terms, so we ask for your help in assuring that our nation will survive.”
These stories always come to mind as I talk to friends here at home about whether the $0.40 per day tag of the U.S. climate legislation is too high for them…
Sadly, this testimony and others like it about the impacts of climate change happened mostly in the side meetings of the UN climate meeting in Bonn, that we were all attending. The stories that we heard every day over lunch conveyed an urgency that stood in stark contrast to the pace of the negotiations to finalize a new UN treaty in Copenhagen this December. Here in the United States, that urgency stands in even starker contrast to the pace and ambition of the US Senate in securing support for action on climate change.
That said, there has been positive movement both in the United States and internationally in the past months, and there is reason to believe that the pace of action will increase. The buzz around Copenhagen is palpable throughout the climate community, and anticipation of this global meeting has been one of the major forces driving the timetable for US Congressional action on climate change.
The pressure to deliver a climate deal in Copenhagen is also evident in the UN process. Last week’s meeting in Bonn, was the third meeting of its kind in 6 months. The formal meetings were focused on consolidating the nearly 200-page document that will need to be cut by an order of magnitude between now and Copenhagen. The process is painstakingly slow, but it is moving, and the facilitators of the sessions are starting to boil down each chapter into a readable text.
Beyond consolidating text, there were other successes at Bonn:
- More countries than ever before now accept that the outcome of Copenhagen must be a legally binding treaty
- There is increased agreement on aviation and shipping, which were left out of the Kyoto Protocol. The proposal being discussed now would both reduce greenhouse gas emissions from those sectors and raise resources to help the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems prepare for the impacts of climate change.
The positive outcomes are still too few and far between, however, and the chairs and facilitators must work to get permission to continue negotiating text changes in the next month and a half, ahead of the next meeting in Bangkok. The discussions to make the text clearer will also shed more light on some of the buried conflicts, involving things like Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), and Assigned Amount Units (AAUs).
To navigate these thorny acronyms and coded arguments, we have to rely on the political will of heads of state, finance ministers, and ministers of foreign affairs. After a side meeting about the G-20 and finance, for example, it became clear that more push is needed from political leaders in order to break the deadlock on climate finance. On the other hand, a side meeting on the topic of deforestation (which accounts for nearly 20% of global CO2 emissions) was more successful thanks to strong signals from the U.S. House of Representatives that there will be support for parties who wish to reduce deforestation dramatically. Because the U.S. Congressional support included support above and beyond ‘offsets,’ countries had confidence that their actions domestically would not reduce the amount of action happening in the United States, which was especially important.
As evidenced by our conversations with Micronesia’s ambassador, the voices of the vulnerable countries provided the most clear and compelling clarion call throughout the meeting. In the closing plenary of the meeting, Bangladesh made a plea to negotiators to shorten the negotiating text, so that a deal could be struck in December and Bangladesh could have a chance for survival.
Bangladesh’s statement was clear: The next four months will decide our place in history books and whether we can ensure the survival of the most vulnerable communities in every country of the world.
The readers of this web site all know that an international agreement that curbs emissions and prepares for climate change impacts will help our global economy and secure a better future for generations to come. In the United States, it will start to reverse the trend of larger, more devastating fires in the West, increased drought in the Southeast, and increased storm intensity on the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard. Finally, it will have key elements that will help us prepare for the impacts that we are already experiencing.
Those of us who understand all of this cannot afford to be silent. A deal in Copenhagen is at stake, and the future of the planet is at risk. It’s time for all of us to tell our politicians to act now, and to talk to our friends and neighbors and ask them to do the same. To paraphrase the ambassador from Micronesia: I ask for your help in assuring that the planet will survive.
Keya Chatterjee, Deputy Director, Climate Change, World Wildlife Foundation – Ms. Chatterjee is part of WWF’s climate team, working on every level to bring awareness about climate change to the public and to faciliate progress at the highest levels of government toward a new global climate treaty.