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Why COP15 is vital

Matelita Ragogo
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reading about the United Nations Convention on Climate Change talks on the other side of the planet, it would be easy to disassociate yourselves seeing that it is pretty much a group of senior civil servants, talking about the weather.

For some, developing a victim, finger-pointing attitude is perhaps the preferred response ("The industrialized world, and emerging economies like India and China did this to us and they must pay.") to what is becoming a losing battle for attempts by developing island nations to secure an adequate adaptation package.

For the majority, however, one imagines the 'ignorance is bliss' take with the litany of acronyms and intimidating vocabulary spilling out of the Bella Centre where 15,000 people gather daily as negotiators or to follow proceedings.

But what is it? Why should Fijians follow this meeting? Why should they appreciate the 100,000 people who marched through the streets of Copenhagen asking politicians to have the guts to move away from purely economic considerations here at Copenhagen and to root instead for the planet, not profits.

The journey to Copenhagen

COP stands for conference of parties, the main discussion within this annual meeting of the 192 countries that are signatories to the UNFCCC, which came into force in 1994. This year's meeting in Denmark's capital Copenhagen is the 15th and the culmination of negotiations.

COP meetings essentially explore through negotiations an international solution to the climate change issue. COP15 will cover five overarching issues - mitigation, adaptation, deforestation, technology transfer and of course finance - which are practical, affordable and will be effective.

For mitigation, discussions will centre on effective ways of reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by both developed and developing countries; in terms of adaptation, COP15 must end with concrete ways of how vulnerable communities can be assisted to adapt; deforestation is crippling the planet's ability to balance increased CO2 emission and a chunk of discussion has been around how can the remaining forests be protected but at the same time, host countries of these oxygen sources be appropriately compensated; and the issue of technology transfer is important because of its potential to support economic growth in an energy-efficient and environmentally-sound manner.

The last issue, financing, will make or break negotiations. Developing countries are basically asking to be compensated for the environment degradation we are presently faced with due to past unsustainable developing practices by the industrialized economies. It is estimated that developing nations will need $US400 billion per year for mitigation and $US75-100 billion per year for adaptation - the figure touted so far at the meeting is $10 billion per year until 2013.

COP03 in 1997 birthed the Kyoto Protocol which came to force in 2005 after 141 countries ratified it. The Protocol's first commitment period expires in 2012 thus the emphasis of countries which have benefitted from the Kyoto Protocol's legally-binding element for a similar document, complete with compliance mechanisms, from COP15. Negotiations are conducted in blocks; Fiji is part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which is a coalition of 43 island nations and low-lying coastal countries. They are in turn part of a larger block, the G77/China.

At 'Hopenhagen'

The Alliance of Small Island States does not deny that they have come to Copenhagen with a lot of expectations - in fact they have been accused of expecting too much.

Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands and Nauru representatives here are sticking to their mantra.

They want an increased and genuine efforts by major polluters for a package of mitigation activities that provide for long-time stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration; that global average temperatures must be limited to well below 1.5 degrees Celsius; and that parties must reduce emissions by 45 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 95 per cent come 2050. According to the UNFCCC secretariat, developed nations have stuck to emission reduction targets of a mere 16 to 23 per cent.

As would be expected in meetings of this magnitude, there are numerous sticking points. If anything, the issues that are making the talks look a little sluggish considering that more than 100 heads of states are arriving in town this week to sign an agreement, is a reflection of how cross-cutting an issue climate change is.

Leaders seem unable to agree on a ceiling for temperature increases for instance: developed countries argue for a peak of two degrees celsius and AOSISs insist on a peak of 1.5 based on scientific evidence that to exceed this translates to oceans too warm for marine life, directly impacting on our coral reefs where daily sustenance is extracted from by coastal villages.

Another sticking point is the question of should leaders agree that the most vulnerable should benefit from the adaptation fund first, who decides who is vulnerable?

Five outcomes could be 'achieved' in Copenhagen - no agreement at all; a decision or a set of decisions; COP15 could bend to USA pressure and have a 'political' agreement, not legally-binding and without compliance mechanisms; a new agreement that replaces the Kyoto Protocol, incorporating the emerging issues like adaptation or mitigation commitments by the USA or action intentions by major developing nations; and/or two protocols - an amended, improved, updated Kyoto Protocol and a new document that is specific to items from COP15.


The world's moral consciousness was aptly demonstrated when thousands walked into the night Saturday night, adding pressure to world leaders.

In Fiji, we must act now and in solidarity; start small but one must start. For as the European Commission's president Jose Manuel Barroso said in September: "If we do not sort this out, it risks becoming the longest suicide note in history."

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