‘Ducking the solution’ in Paris
When you enter the venue for the Paris Climate Summit, you arrive at a broad passage that leads to the array of halls and meeting rooms. The passage is baptized by the French hosts as ‘Champs-Elysees’, the world famous avenue located at the heart of Paris.
One of the NGOs, CARE International, was on that passage giving away small papier mache ducks to the delegates from more than 150 countries that have gathered here for the UN Climate summit. The aim is to seal a legally-binding global deal that would make the world decarbonized by the end of this century. A deal is needed to keep the global temperature from rising below a potentially disastrous two degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era.
A strikingly effective campaign, CARE called it “ducking the solution”. It awakens us to a new reality and the new norms of adapting to climate change. CARE has been supporting Bangladeshi families to start businesses in rearing ducks in place of poultry. Ducks, unlike hens, flourish in rising floodwaters around their houses to adapt to climate change. These families, thus, are making more money with duck-raring than poultry - an opportunity to improve their lives by adapting to climate change!
As the climate summit enters the second week of negotiations, it is, unfortunately, becoming clearer that world community will have to focus more on ‘ducking the solutions’. Keeping on the annual performance of wordy diplomacy and harping with two-decade old tunes of legally binding targets, conditions of technology transfer, finances and pointing fingers is not helping to mitigate the onslaught of climate change.
The “Obamian” and “Modian” political speeches and even sincere discourses of Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are proving to be intermittent moments of inspiration. Finally, at a UN meeting, what happens is an insane repetition of history.
Though the Paris negotiations have reached midway, substance-wise, they are farther behind. There is no sign of convergence in the approaches of rich and poor countries.
The 55-page negotiating document with which the meeting began on November 30 has now been reduced, after one week of negotiations, to 43-pages after which it was handed over to the French presidency for final negotiations. The document is now titled ‘draft Paris outcome’ with all important issues yet to be negotiated.
They include a financial commitment by the developed countries, technology transfer, capacity building, pre-2020 targets by developed countries, compensation on loss and damage, and legally binding targets post-2015. All of these are still ‘bracketed’, which means that such points are currently undergoing negotiations at the high-level, ministerial segment that began on Monday.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, on December 5, set the framework for the final week of negotiations. It included the first two days of informal and formal consultations led by ministers, to make progress and arrive at compromises. These consultations will be followed by high-level ministerial negotiations.
The consultations, which started on Sunday, are seen by many as simply an exercise in buying time. Most of the questions posed by the facilitators have either been responded to in earlier negotiations or clearly spelled out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
While the negotiations continue without any deal in sight, the impacts related to climate change are raising havoc all over the world with increased frequency and intensity.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about climate justice at the opening of the summit, Chennai was reeling under rains and floods never seen in the last 100 years. The rains claimed nearly 300 lives as against 130 lives lost to Paris terror attacks. Suffice to say, world leaders gathered at the Paris climate summit had condemned the terror attack.
When US President Barack Obama was talking about the urgency of climate actions, California, America’s food bowl, is entering into its fifth year of severe drought. The state has not experienced such a long period of drought in many years. When President Xi Jinping was speaking about China’s plans to reduce the use of fossil fuels, Beijing was cast with a visible curtain of ‘red-line’ air pollution that made most of its sky invisible.
The United Nations office for Disaster Risk reduction (UNISDR) stated last month that 90 percent of major disasters in the last two decades have been caused by nearly 6,500 recorded floods, storms, heat waves, droughts and other weather-related events. India, with 288 such disasters, is among the top five countries in the world that have been most affected, more than countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.
Since the first Climate Change Conference (COP-1) in 1995, nearly 600,000 lives have been lost and 4.1 billion people have been affected, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters. The resulting economic losses are close to $2 trillion. Swiss Re, a reinsurance company based in Zurich, says only a small part of these losses have been insured in the developing countries. Living with disasters and adapting to suffering has become the new norm side-by-side with old norms of negotiating the same issues at annual UN climate meetings.
‘Ducking the solutions’ is certainly another new norm. What more, such new norms are now helping the poor to weather future storms through sustainable living. As for future generations, they too have learned to ‘duck’ the solutions. A new generation in Bangladesh, with new norms of entrepreneurship, has arrived, thanks to the archaic way of global climate negotiations.
(Rajendra Shende is the Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and former Director of UNEP. The views expressed are strictly personal)