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Category: Climate Change (page 1 of 2)

The Paris Agreement Lost Its Way

Under grey-blue skies in Paris, a day after the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, was initially scheduled to end, the intense two-week negotiations ended in backslapping and hugs and much self-congratulation. Nearly 200 countries adopted an agreement that could ostensibly save the world from disastrous climate change.

Whether it will succeed, how it will succeed, and who exactly will have to pay for this ambition hides under the veneer of nice-sounding words and crafty side-steps. Somewhere in there, science, history, equity, and decisions based on hard reality seem to have gone completely missing.

Here’s how the operative part of the final, much-lauded text shakes down:

“…Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;…”

What does this really mean? A temperature target must necessarily correspond to a carbon budget. That is, how much carbon headroom do we have before the average temperature increase hits 1.5 degrees Celsius? And who will use how much of that headroom? By when?

The developed countries have used up their budget, even overdrawn on it. But there is no mention of correcting or balancing this historical inequity in favour of developing countries.

Moreover, the current plans of nations – the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – puts the world on course to warming well above 3 degrees Celsius. A telling infographic by carbonbrief.org  shows us how many years of current levels of emissions will use up this carbon budget. The final text, however, does not seem to base itself on this science.

Infographic from Carbonbrief.org

Infographic from Carbonbrief.org

Onus on developing countries

To contain warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will take an inordinate amount of investment by developing countries. Here’s how the text proposes to offer finance to developing countries:

“This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”

The Centre for Science and Environment, located in India, points out that this differentiation becomes weak when left to “capabilities” and with no reference to “historic responsibilities.”

The developed countries were to make available $100 billion per year to enable developing countries to mitigate and adapt to the disastrous effects of climate change. In the final agreement, however, this number figures only in the preamble but not in the operative, legally binding section.

Under this agreement, small island states and coastal areas already suffering severe losses because of rising sea levels and extreme weather, not to mention farmers and fishermen facing the brunt of droughts and floods, cannot claim anything from the developed world for liability and compensation. In other words, the big historical polluters essentially walked away from Paris having washed their hands of any responsibility for the damage they have already caused.

That the small island states who were so vocal in the run-up to these talks capitulated and signed on to this agreement gives one an idea of what went on behind closed doors. For an idea of how the spirit of the text changed over the second week, here is a telling example: The draft that was presented by the Platform for Enhanced Action to COP21 had these words in the important Article 2, the “purpose”:

[This Agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, and in accordance with the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances, and on the basis of respect for human rights and the promotion of gender equality and the right of peoples under occupation]

All of it was bracketed, which meant that it was under review and discussion. (The run up to the final day of any COP is all about what “is bracketed” and what is “now out of brackets” or “completely gone.”)

Here’s the bit that made the final text:

“This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”

In other words, “equity,” “science,” “human rights,” “gender equality” and the “rights of peoples under occupation” were all sacrificed in the Purpose.

kenya1

Traditional knowledge

There were indigenous people from around the world at the conference fighting to get their rights heard, to have those key clauses “put back” into Article 2, but to no avail.

In passionate press conferences – a refreshing change from the clinical insipid conferences held by non-governmental organisations and government lackeys – the indigenous people spoke of protecting freshwater ecosystems, the land, wild fruit, medicinal plants, food security, and land integrity. They spoke of the violation of collective land rights, and of the “double discrimination” their women face from being, firstly, women and then indigenous to boot.

Indigenous women are at the short end of the stick when it comes to climate change. They are the ones that build houses, find fuel to cook and energy to run their homes, they fetch the water, they produce the food.

Speaking at the women’s caucus one early morning at COP21, Edna Kaptoyo, a Pokot woman from Kenya, said, “We had a culture where we preserved wild fruits for when we didn’t have enough food and grains. My mother did this for our family. But today, these fruits have disappeared. Our rivers are rain-fed. But now, they are drying out – something that has never happened before.”

Coming from the Arctic north, Mataali Okalik, an Inuit Youth Council leader dressed in a sealskin skirt and reeling from jet lag, said, “We have been seeing the impacts of climate change for many years. Our elders have been saying for decades that these impacts are detrimental to not only our people but for the rest of the world. But traditional knowledge is not deemed important. If it had been, we would have been steps ahead.”

These indigenous people expected COP21 to recognise their rights, and to respect their traditional knowledge as sustainable and valid. Frank Ettawageshik, representing the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, said in his address to the Closing Plenary on December 12:

“It is essential that the rights of indigenous peoples be recognised, protected and respected within a broad human rights framework. We sought such assurance in the operative section of the Agreement. We are keenly disappointed that the Parties did not see fit to accommodate this request in which we joined with a broad constituency.

“We … came seeking recognition, respect for, and use of our traditional knowledge, with our free, prior, and informed consent.  We appreciate that a provision appears in the operative section under adaptation, but it should apply everywhere in the Agreement and Decision without the qualification “where appropriate”.”

How nations negotiate their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and what, if anything, will balance equity and rights in this new, but-not-really-new, regime remains to be seen.

The preamble of the Paris Agreement seems to have its heart in the right place. The operative text, however, seems to have sold its soul to the highest bidder. Some insist it is a start, that there is now something on the table – but to hail it as the saviour the world was waiting for is anything but the truth. This is no “get out of jail free” card.

But wait. It is exactly that for some.

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<This work was produced in Paris for COP21 where the author was hosted by UN Women as part of their Climate Change & Gender capacity building initiative. It was first published on December 15, 2015 in Scroll.in >

Enduring the drought

“I’ll see you at your house in the evening,” I said to Mahendra on the phone as I was driving from Pune to Dhawalpuri.

“No,” he said, we have moved. Not staying at our usual place. Come into the village and call my cousin. He will bring you to our camp”.

Two weeks ago, I was in Pune and decided to visit Mahendra and catch up with him after a gap of about nine months. As I drove past the dry arid areas of Ahmednagar district, I noticed something peculiar: although the fields along the highway had been ploughed, not a single one had been planted with a crop. Abhishek, my driver, pointed out that people had abandoned farming this season due to lack of rains.

India is going though a fourth consecutive year of drought, and this year might be the worst.  According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), 42% of India is rainfall deficient this season, with the south-west monsoon having failed.

The districts of Beed, Osmanabad and Latur in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra are facing the worst ever drought in 100 years, and people in the area get drinking water only once a week. Eighty-seven per cent of Marathwada depends on these seasonal rains for agriculture.

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How much water do we have?

According to a report in Down To Earth, not enough. India’s reservoirs are 40% deficit and monsoon is retreating.

Availability of water in country’s 91 major reservoirs fell to 95.313 billion cubic metres or 60 per cent of the total storage capacity, as on September 23, according to an official release.

“This storage is 75 per cent of the storage of corresponding period of last year and 77 per cent of storage of average of last ten years,” says the release by the Ministry of Water Resources.

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Who speaks for the Sundarbans?

The 2015 UNEP Champion Of The Earth‬ (Policy Leadership) award has gone to Bangladesh‘s PM Sheikh Hasina.

With a population of 140 million, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populated countries. It is also one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Cyclones, floods and droughts have long been part of the country’s history but they have intensified in recent years. Her vision is to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed one by 2041 through implementing environmentally aware policies.

The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009 made Bangladesh the first developing country to frame such a coordinated action plan. Bangladesh is also the first country to set up its own Climate Change Trust Fund supported by nearly US$300 million of domestic resources from 2009-2012.

Her government earmarks 6-7 per cent of its annual budget on climate change adaptation.

In addition, the Bangladesh Constitution was amended in 2011 to include protection of the environment and safeguarding natural resources for current and future generations. Prioritized in the constitution along with wetlands and wildlife, the forestry policies initiative by Prime Minister Hasina has provided a natural barrier from some extreme weather events and the country’s forests cover has increased by almost 10 per cent.

Here’s the irony.

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A parched Karnataka

It will be a tough dry season ahead for large parts of Karnataka, in southern India. A hundred and thirty-five taluks have received less rainfall than normal, classifying them officially as “drought-hit.” Most of these areas are primarily agrarian and crop losses are yet to be estimated.

The failure of monsoon rains is said to be the worst in forty years.

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What happens when there’s no water

Mother Jones finds a California town without running water.

“They take “showers” with water from a bucket, use paper plates to avoid washing dishes, eat sandwiches instead of spaghetti so there’s no need to boil water, and collect water used for cooking and showers to pour in the toilet or on the trees outside.”

The clincher:

“Juana Garcia, a 49-year-old mother of five, lost water two years ago—in some ways, her living conditions remind her of those she left behind in Mexico when she moved to East Porterville in 1988.”

Feels familiar.

H2 whoa

Why the idea of ocean cities is back:

“Today all the technologies that we need — local wastewater treatment, floating platforms, rainwater harvesting — they all exist.”

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin

Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart.”

Barack Obama, President of the United States, in his speech unveiling a plan to combat climate change

A series of semaphores I’ve come across on climate change in the last few weeks and months put me in the mind of collecting a few into a blog post. Many of them were moving maps which showed clearly the climate-change strikes against us. This map, for example, that Obama was speaking of:

From the National Geographic Atlas

From the National Geographic Atlas

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Why rivers meander

Have you ever wondered why rivers in their lower courses — in the plains — meander? This video is a fantastic primer for the intercourse of land and river.

This mid 20th century map traces the course of the Mississippi as it floods its plains, silts, up, carves new channels, makes ox-bow lakes, all the while meandering at will through the years. (Mississippi River Meander Belt: Cape Giradeau, MO–Donaldsonville, LA,” from Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River, by Harold N. Fisk, 1944).

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Of shrimp and storms and carbon sinks, of mangroves and slaves …

Mangroves are murky, beautiful worlds of shifting margins. They’re neither land nor water. Neither river nor sea. They’re everything at once, yet not any one thing at any time. And these silty fringes of green are more important in the fight against climate change than any other ecosystem.

Mangroves sequester as much as 50 times more carbon than do tropical forests of the same area.

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