Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Canada taking on illegitimate role in Durban

I've gotten used to Canada being atop the podium of the sarcastic "Fossil Awards" at the UNFCCC. The umbrella group of non-governmental organizations, Climate Action Network, awarads fossils to countries that are most obstructive to multi-lateral agreement at the climate change talks. At COP17, however, Canada is clearly seen by countries and NGOs as the main obstacle to agreement. If the Kyoto Protocol is murdered in Durban, Canada will be seen as the prime suspect.

Yesterday, Canada won two fossil awards for two statements by Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of Environment. In one of these statements, Kent said that the Kyoto Protocol is outdated and needs to be replaced by a binding agreement that involves more of the large emitting countries, such as China. It is widely reported that Canada will formally withdraw from the Protocol on Dec 23rd, 2011. In another statement, Kent said Canada came to Durban to "play hardball" with developing countries that were using historical guilt to bully countries like Canada into paying most of the cost of GHG emission reduction.

One of the big decisions to come out of Durban will be whether or not the global community decides to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire at the end of 2012 unless a firm agreement is secured for its continuation. The vast majority of countries favour this, as the Kyoto Protocol is the only rule-based mechanism that mandates GHG emission cuts. By contrast, the Cancun agreement is only notional, suggesting the types of emission reductions that countries pledge to make.

There may be a role for a country that is willing to "play hardball" in Durban to push for more inclusive binding agreements. But I argue that Canada has absolutely no legitimacy to take on this role. Yes, it signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, yet has done virtually nothing to meet its obligations. Given the way that the federal and provincial governments tussle over environmental and resource policy, it would take real political will to have real action in Canada. Yes, Canada says that they want concerted action by all large emitters to reduce climate change, but at the end of the day it really seems that Canada sees nothing wrong with global climate change. Yes, there will be a few more extreme weather events, but it will open up the north to resource development and make the long winters a bit more bearable. Peter Kent is willing to play hardball with developing countries in Durban, but not show real leadership on the issue back home. The hypocrasy is amazing.

What the COP Negotiators are Reading . . .

The work of the negotiators kicked off today with the opening sessions of the Ad Hoc Working Groups for the Kyoto Protocol and LongTerm Cooperative Action. The opening statements that groups of countries made served to clarify the main points of disagreement that will occupy negotiators' time here in Durban.

An interesting element of these statements was the recurrent references to three reports that have recently made headline news. If you want to read what the negotiators read, try these for bedtime reading this week:

UNEP Emissons Gap Report. This report shows that the commitments made in Copenhagen are not nearly enough to reduce emissions to the levels needed to ensure that average global warming is no more the target agreed last year in Cancun, 2 degree C. The report identifies cost effective ways to address the gaps. (google unep emissions gap report)

The International Energy Associations report, World Energy Outlook 2011. This shows that 2010 saw the highest increase in global GHG emissions, despite the global economic showdown. The report raises concern about investments being made in high emission energy sources and high subsidies on fossil fuels. (http://www.iea.org/WEO

IPCC Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. The IPCC is virtually certain that climate change is already having an impact in many parts of the world on the frequency, severity and location of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts and flash floods. (ipcc.wg2.gove/SREX).

These reports, by reputable scientific organizations, stack up to an inevitable conclusion for most parties: figure out ways to enforce emission reductions now or really screw up the global climate for generations to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

17 Reasons Why I’m Going to COP17 in Durban, South Africa

On Friday of this week (November 25th, 2011), I will begin my flight from Edmonton to Durban, via London and Johannesburg. It is a long way to go, so a legitimate question is why am I going to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)? Lots of reasons, I think that I can come up with 17 of them, one to match each COP.

1. Especially since 2007, most of my research has focused on the potential for land use, forestry and agriculture to mitigate climate change. If I’m interested in climate change, what better place to be than a global meeting on climate change?

2. My colleagues and I at the University of Alberta (led by Marty Luckert) have a research project on climate change and livelihood vulnerability with Rhodes University in South Africa. Eight of the South African team members will be at the COP in Durban, so I will have a chance to review progress and plans with them.

3. I will be meeting with several scientists and directors from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), my former employer and the research organization that has so far hosted and supported four of my University of Alberta graduate students (David Kaczan, who worked in Tanzania; Caitlin Schmidt and Yvette Thompson who worked in Cameroon; Rifat Shams who is now in Bangladesh). I’m looking forward to sharing the results of the students’ work with my ICRAF colleagues and others.

4. With one exception, I have been able to attend all of the COPs since 2005. I feel that it is a privilege to be involved in these important global negotiations, even if real progress is much slower than it needs to be.

5. The area of climate change negotiation in which the international community has made most consistent progress over the past 5-6 years is Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), the area that I have been most involved with. Because of this, I have often left COP meeting with a more positive feeling that those who are focused on getting particular governments (eg Canada) to agree to binding GHG emission reduction targets. The research that my colleagues and I are doing is relevant to the operationalization of REDD+ and this is a good place to spread the word.

6. The weather forecast is for +25⁰C in Durban this coming weekend.

7. One area of the climate change negotiations where progress has been slower has been agriculture. It is widely recognized that agriculture is a major source of GHG emissions, and that changes in agricultural practices can reduce or increase those emissions. Livestock production as a source of emissions is strongly emphasized by the global NGO movement. I will attend Agriculture Day, which will try to address this myriad of issues. I hope to spread word about lessons that can be learned from Alberta’s program for agricultural offsets.

8. As an official member of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) delegation, I have the right to sit in on the formal deliberations of the SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advise) and the SBI (Subsidiary Body on Implementation). I sit way, way back in the room, and won’t stay too long, but I will still get to experience the body language and tones used by negotiators who are able to very politely tell each other off.

9. I will undoubtably get to see the Government of Canada and our Minister of Environment, the Honourable Jim Baird, receive yet another armful of “Fossil” awards for backtracking and intransigence from the Non-Governmental Organization community.

10. I will be able to attend several of the many many (certainly more than 200) side events which are organized throughout the two weeks of the COP to highlight issues, and showcase research results, that are relevant to climate change negotiations. Our colleagues at Rhodes University are co-hosting a side event on November 30th on “Gender, Justice, and Social Learning: Exploring Theory and Practice in Adaptation”.

11. The World Agroforestry Centre is hosting and co-hosting several side events, including Making climate-smart agriculture work for the poor; Climate-smart agriculture is Evergreen; and Landscape approaches: The place of agroforestry, afforestation and reforestation in REDD+. I was involved in most of these efforts before coming to the University of Alberta, so am looking forward to seeing the progress that they have made and the response that they get from conference attendees.

12. The Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has invited me to attend their Dry Forest Symposium on Thursday December 1st. The purpose of that symposium to is help CIFOR map out a research agenda for sustained use and conservation of the dry forests of Africa.

13. Beginning at COP 13 in Bali, Indonesia, CIFOR and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests have been hosting annual Forest Days in conjunction with COPs. These events have brought global attention to the crucial role of forests in climate change mitigation, as well as the challenges involved in sustainable forest management. For the first three years, I helped to draft the Forest Day declarations that were used to communicate results to the formal negotiation processes. This year I will attend Forest Day 5, focusing on understanding the latest research and policy issues related to REDD+.

14. COP meetings are often celebrity events – where else do I get a chance to attend lectures by the likes of Bill Clinton, Al Gore or the array of Nobel laureates who attend these meetings?

15. It was -25C in Edmonton last weekend, and +25C in Durban.

16. It will be fun to meet old and friends colleagues from an important past phase of my life and career.

17. Who knows, there may be a significant breakthrough in some dimension of the negotiations and I will get to witness history being made.

More from Durban!!!