Durban Platform: Using broken ideas to fix the climate crisis
25 January 2012
The Durban UN climate talks saw a repetition of the pattern of injustice and inaction of previous climate talks, with rich countries protecting their own interests and those of multinational industries over those of people.
The Durban climate talks were my third experience of what has increasingly become a farcical annual event in the arena of international politics. Throughout two humid, wretched weeks, rich industrialised countries dedicated themselves to protecting economic elites and polluting industries over the survival of people and the planet. Each year, I have seen bullying and bribery tactics become more ingrained into the process, and the drive to ensure the forum becomes a space where the interests of corporations are ranked higher than the well being of humanity becoming ever stronger, as rich countries desperately struggle to protect the status quo by avoiding the key question: how are global emission cuts to be reached?
With the talks held in Africa, the need for action was starkly apparent. Sixty-five percent of the total global increase in climate-related hunger is predicted to be in Africa, and somewhere between 75 and 250 million people will face severe water shortages. In Durban, on the night before the talks began, a freak storm led to the death of 12 people. This was seen by many as an omen that politicians needed to sit up and listen. Unfortunately, they failed.
Take it or leave it
With the future of the Kyoto Protocol in the balance, and strong expectations for a much needed new Green Climate Fund, the stakes were high in Durban, even if optimism was low.
Over the two chaotic weeks, we saw the same private ‘green room’ discussions that took place in the WTO being institutionalised into the process by coopting a local Zulu term ‘indaba’ in an attempt to make the sidelining of the UN process by rich countries acceptable. Bribery was rife, with offers of aid money being made to poor countries to align their positions with those of the rich industrialised countries. Essentially the game being played was for each country to push as hard as possible for others to take action, whilst holding out for as long as they could before committing themselves to anything. The irony of the conference process is that the more economic power a country has and the greater their emissions have been, the more bargaining power they hold because everyone needs them on board. This was clear in the last session, where the only changes to the final text allowed were those suggested by the EU.
After two weeks of stalling, the talks dragged over for an unprecedented 36 hours after they were due to have been completed. People were exhausted, especially the developing countries’ negotiating ‘teams’, some of whom were only one person compared to the hundreds-strong EU team. Many developed countries, including the EU, came with a fixed ‘take it or leave it’ position and the pressure on developing countries to agree at whatever cost was immense.
Right up until the final hours, Indian negotiator Jayanthi Natarajan struggled to keep the concept of ‘equity’ in the future of the climate talks. “Why,” she demanded, “should India agree upfront to join a protocol when the content of that protocol is not yet known? We are not talking about changing lifestyles, but about the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers.” But following a closed huddle between India, the EU and the US, India stood down and the concept of ‘equity’ was removed from the text. Not long after, negotiators finally accepted a weak ‘Durban Platform’ to lay out the basis for future discussions, making the struggle for climate justice a much harder task.
So, what does the ‘Durban Platform’ mean in real terms? Essentially, it is a decision to set up a new round of talks in order to reach an agreement not due to come into force until 2020. In essence, this will now supersede the outcome painstakingly laid out at the Bali talks four years ago, the Bali Roadmap, a roadmap on which rich countries lost their way and shamelessly failed to follow through what they had agreed. In the past four years, following a global financial crisis, rich countries have become much less prepared to do what was necessary to tackle climate change or provide the necessary funds. In short, the Durban Platform renders this decade, perhaps the most critical for stopping runaway climate change, as the decade of inaction on emissions cuts.
Meanwhile, the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding framework in which rich industrialised countries are required to take the lead, became a zombie – supposedly still alive, but in reality shares little more than its name with its former incarnation. With Canada, Russia and Japan having dropped out, the US having never joined, and Australia and New Zealand taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, the protocal now only covers the EU, has lost its legally binding status and is now no more than a series of voluntary pledges that have repeatedly been shown to fail to lead to meaningful action. What’s more, the same flawed carbon markets that had always undermined meaningful action under the Kyoto Protocol were kept alive with room to grow.
The design of the Green Climate Fund was also agreed. WDM, along with many other organisations from the Climate Justice Now network have long campaigned for this fund as an alternative to the World Bank. But the inclusion of a ‘private sector facility’ led campaigners to rename the it the Greedy Corporate Fund during the talks. A pet project for the UK government, this addition enables multinational corporations and financiers to directly access tax funds to back up risky projects, instead of ensuring funds are delivered to the world’s poorest people. It will enable the same polluting power companies that caused the crisis, to use tax money to back up risky projects. It could also allow the type of catastrophic project such as the one I visited in Oaxaca, Mexico last year: where UK aid money was being channelled through energy giant EDF to move indigenous people off their farmland, in order to build a windfarm that would provide power exclusively to Wal-Mart, while failing to address the energy needs of the local population.
However, alongside the talks, the movement for climate justice was strengthened. Outside the talks, people met, demonstrated and discussed real solutions. Occupy COP17 emerged, highlighting that the same ‘1%’ profiting from the financial crisis are also profiting from climate change. In fact, less than 1 percent of the global population is responsible for 50 percent of emissions. Inside the talks, on what was supposed to be the final day, an unexpected alliance was formed between wide ranging civil society groups for a occpy style 'mike check' action outside the room where the final plenary was taking place. Chants of ‘World Bank out’ and ‘save the people not the polluters’ reverberated around the building as the space was occupied for over two hours, before people were physically removed from the building.
Piece by piece, the picture is becoming clearer to people around the world: the climate crisis has emerged from the same broken system that caused the financial crisis, and yet world leaders are still looking to the same broken ideas in order to fix it. People everywhere are realising that they can no longer sit back and expect governments to act in their interests. A new kind of democracy is being demanded, where people can take back power and hold those who have grown wealthy by causing misery to account. It perhaps is in the area of climate change that this needs to happen most urgently.