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Fossil fuels and Pole dancing at Warsaw climate talks

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When the Olympic Games finally opened itself up to corporate sponsorship in 1996 in Atlanta,  the XXVI Olympiad, one of its principal partners was Coca-Cola, whose main product is probably the antithesis of what a finely tuned athlete should be consuming.

And so it is with the UN climate change talks. In Warsaw, the 19th Conference of the Parties - the first to be held in a football stadium – has become the first to openly embrace corporate sponsors. And they are, for the most part, a group of fossil fuel donors, the antithesis of a low carbon diet that the world needs if it is to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The logos of the likes of Polish oil companies Lotos, and brown coal producer PGE, are prominent. Maybe not quite so prominent as the bright red Emirates bean bags scattered around the corridors of this curious building – a veritable rabbit warren of staircases, corridors, escalators and doorways that house delegation offices, meeting rooms and exhibits and side events – but highly visible all the same.  Their sponsorship was crucial for the construction of temporary buildings that sit on the main pitch, surrounded by an empty arena.

And this is a very weird CoP. The host nation, which has done much to disrupt more ambitious climate action by the EU, greets attendees with the message that “climate changes are natural phenomena, which occurred many times on Earth”. And on Monday, as the first of 150 ministers begin to fly in for the crunch part of the two week-session, the Polish government will host the start of a two day summit of the World Coal Association. The Poles want the Coal summit’s communiqué included in the final CoP statement.

The Poles have previously used the host web site to celebrate the melting of Arctic ice, saying that it would allow ships to cut their journey and open opportunities for building new drilling platforms. Even the United National Environmental Program was preparing to release a report on Monday highlighting the  huge possibilities of extracting billions of tonnes of “methane hydrates” from the ocean floor beneath the Arctic Ocean, before it was pulled at the last minute. “We need to look at the report again,” said a spokesman by email.

The ministers arriving this week (with the notable exception of Australia) will have much to do, because inside the negotiating rooms things did not go well in the first week. Some progress was made in items such as defining market mechanisms for forest protection, but others such as loss and damage (payments made to vulnerable countries for damage caused by climate change) and MRV (a mechanism to verify emission reductions), ran into a brick wall, or were left turning in circles.

But these issues are merely proxies for what is happening on the broader level. These talks have been dominated by the impact of Typhoon Haiyan and the backtracking on emissions targets by many of the world’s developed nations, at least those outside the EU. Japan’s decision to slash its emissions reduction targets, Australia’s apparent backing off from its higher range engagement, and the cheering of these developments by Canada, have widened the gulf in negotations.

“I do not have any words to describe my dismay at Japan’s decision,” Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei told reporters on Friday after Japan reduced its target from a 25 per cent reduction to a 3.8 per cent reduction, blaming the closure of nuclear reactors cause by the Fukushima disaster. However, analyst group Climate Action Tracker said even replacing all nuclear with coal would only account for one third of this change.

Australia, meanwhile,  is being blamed for obstructionism at nearly every level of the talks. It has won four “fossil of the day” awards – a prize awarded daily be environmental groups to the country doing most to derail progress. It’s an unprecedented collection in the first week of the talks.

Australia got its first for its refusal to commit to climate finance, a second for one its move to repeal the carbon price and its apparent backing away from a 5-25% emission reduction target range. The last two have come from getting a “gold star” in obtrusiveness – firstly for attaching conditions on various streams of negotiations and listing things they would not talk about, and the second was its statement on Friday that climate finance is “not welfare”.

The Australian NGOs and BiNGOs (business types) that are attending the summit and associated side events are being bombarded with the same questions: What the hell is going on down there! Observers say the big issue for the Australian delegation seems to be about intellectual property. There is still no indication yet whether Australia will renew its commitment to the 5-25 range or not.

“It’s a grim situation,” said one observor. Another noted that even the United States was appearing as a moderate, even though it had not substantially changed its position, although its efforts on controlling coal pollution are widely noted as a key step.

It seems though that the Umbrella Group, of which Australia, Japan, Canada, Russia, New Zealand and the US form a major part, are losing faith in the UN process, and are looking once again at finding a solution in another forum, the Major Economies Forum – where they think a solution can be found away from politics of the UN meeting, the demands of minor countries and the scrutiny of NGOs.

Still, agreement among the nations that contribute 80 per cent of emissions will not be easy. Last week, Brazil presented a proposal to create a methodology to calculate each country’s responsibility for causing global warming, based on historical emissions going back to 1850. It would probably force developed countries to cease emitting anytime soon. Or they could wait until the end of the decade. By then, the historical emissions of the developing countries will likely have overtaken the historical emissions of the developed world.

“We seem to in the middle of the Carbon COP. We have a Coal Summit, we have Australia spending over $7 billion getting rid of its climate legislation, Japan reversing its pledge to reduce its emissions and now we have a supposed UNEP report look at how to add a further 1600 GtC (ca5,900 GtCO2e) of methane hydrates to the available reserves or resources..  and all this only weeks after the IPCC told us we can only burn about 270 GtC to stay under 2oC,” said Bill Hare, of the Climate Action Network.

“Words fail me.”

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  • Keith

    The whole world is creating a crisis that humankind may not be able to cope with, so perhaps we are having our dinosaur moment (except that in the case of the dinosaurs it was not self-caused).

    National Geographic commentary on theories of dinosaur extinction indicates that the end processes are pretty similar to the world that we are creating for ourselves.
    http://science.nationalgeographic.com.au/science/prehistoric-world/dinosaur-extinction/
    “Scientists tend to huddle around one of two hypotheses that may explain the Cretaceous extinction: an extraterrestrial impact, such as an asteroid or comet, or a massive bout of volcanism. Either scenario would have choked the skies with debris that starved the Earth of the sun’s energy, throwing a wrench in photosynthesis and sending destruction up and down the food chain. Once the dust settled, greenhouse gases locked in the atmosphere would have caused the temperature to soar, a swift climate swing to topple much of the life that survived the prolonged darkness.”

    • suthnsun

      Hard to keep being sanguine ..
      Transformation will have to rise from the grass roots, comprehensive solutions from individual and local community initiatives must get noticed in the mainstream eventually, will it be too late??

  • mikehaseler

    The only reason they keep these conferences going is to con the environmentalists.

    The reality it that almost no countries are going to continue cutting CO2 emissions – I guess the world governments are hoping that by the environmentalists finally realise this that they will have moved on to another scare.

  • http://www.trongdong.weebly.com/ Nhan

    how much effort to make, my energy initiatives have not been met,then this issue no need debated ha ha

  • Rob Campbell

    It’s all starting to sound way to familiar. Why to the humans in this world say “never let that happen again” and let it happen again. World War One was the war to end all wars wasn’t it? What we have now is a repeat of Vietnam, looking in the context of international politics. I’m no climate denier but must concede that the small amount of reductions, even at the high end of what we had from Kyoto are going to do jack s**t to reduce the planets temperature. Looking at the revised coastline profiles that Uncle Nigel brought to my attention last week, and the fact that I was in China at the time, I came to wonder, if 50% of China’s population will be displaced by sea level rise what weaponry they will have to combat this? Perhaps the Yanks and their allies are right, lets not have another police action like Vietnam, lets avoid the controversy and just hope the Nth Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge aren’t as nasty as we make them out to be. After all they probably got more angrier because we interfered.
    The whole issue is being lost in this piddling amount carbon reductions we are squabbling about, it may be a significant natural phenomena, that we are helping along, but doesn’t it make sense that rather than trying to deny it’s our fault, why don’t we realize that we are staring down the barrel of huge challenge for humanity. The timing is varied, but it’s not far away but all reckoning, so it’s not who is to blame it’s a huge risk that we need to deal with quickly. What can we do now? Well some say put sulphur back in fuel, that’ll reflect the sun the only problem is it will stop us breathing. There is a way (or ways) the world can produce energy without screwing up the atmosphere with gases, it can also give us the energy to try to fend ourselves off from what appears to be inevitable. I wonder, when the world can no longer sustain a population of 10+ billion, who will decide who gets culled, I’d be willing to bet it’s the ignorant gooses who ignored the problem to begin with.