The Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) commenced its 25th meeting this week. The conference, which was initially billed to hold in Santiago in Chile, got shifted to Madrid, Spain when popular protests made it impossible for the government to go on with hosting the event at home. The logo of the conference announces it as COP25, Chile, Madrid 2019. Interesting.
In the build-up to the COP, the UNFCCC had vigorously tried to build optimism around the processes, but these do not appear to have lit any fires. The theme declares “Time for Action”, but there is no sign that nations are ready to act in a way that is in consonance with science and the social realities of the people.
The COP venue is generally languid, although actions by civil society groups stir some excitement and bring up strong statements. On the whole, delegates and observers are pessimistic that the COP will come through with such meaningful action that would stop the rising tide of climate emergency in its tracks.
Just before the doors of the conference opened, The Pope sent a message to the world that the church was considering adding ecological sins to its doctrine. Polluters and climate deniers certainly would not applaud such an engagement of the church in what they consider purely secular matters. However, we cannot but accept that irreversible ecological damage or ecocide, is not only a crime against humanity but also affects our spiritual wellbeing.
In a letter written to leaders at COP25, the Pope expressed his view that four years after the Paris Agreement, the urgency needed to tackle the climate emergency does not appear to have caught on with governments. He also stated that there is no clarity on how the costs of tackling the menace will be distributed. He wondered if there was the needed political will to face this crisis. There are very weighty comments that cannot be ignored.
One of the sticky items being negotiated at the COP is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This article deals with what is called cooperative approaches among Parties, and includes the use of market and non-market mechanisms. The rules for the implementation of this article was to have been adopted at COP24 in Poland but an agreement could not be reached on its interpretation. Article 6 has thus become difficult, contentious and complex with Parties having different understandings on how the mechanisms are to be implemented.
It is hoped that this agenda item will be completed in Madrid. The market-based means of tackling climate change tilts towards carbon offsets that do not translate to cutting of emissions. There are also strenuous efforts towards changing the overall narrative to hide intentions and thereby lull resistance to contentious mechanisms such as Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).
Speaking on Article 6, the Chair of the Group of 77 said that negotiations on this matter “are difficult, contentious and complex, this agenda item should be concluded in a manner that ensures that there is a balanced outcome under Articles 6(2) and 6(4) as well as 6(8) that reflect the diversity of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), ensures environmental integrity, avoids double counting, promotes sustainable development, provides adequate and predictable funds for adaptation, and enables future cooperative arrangements among Parties through the nationally appropriate use of both market and non-market approaches”.
He also added that the Group of 77 viewed “the cynicism shown by major partners towards multilateralism and the international rules-based order as a whole as a serious challenge that could undermine our collective efforts and interests…we have an obligation to act responsibly and to be guided by our joint interests and the science. Unilateralism, isolationism, and pseudo-science threaten our efforts and we have a responsibility to ensure that they do not hijack our ongoing efforts.”
Those were strong words. It could not be otherwise. During COP24 an official of one of the top oil companies in the world had boasted that they had helped frame the wordings of parts of the contentious Article. This has reinforced the basis for calling for the exclusion of polluters from the COP because they have only bad influence on the process.
We must remind ourselves that capitalist development since the 19th century has been powered by coal, oil and gas. We must keep in view that fossil fuels account for nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. It is also known that of the almost 2 trillion barrels of known crude oil reserves, two-thirds of that must remain unburned if the earth is not to warm beyond acceptable limits. Of the known reserves of almost 200 trillion cubic metres of gas and 900,000 million tons of coal, two-thirds must be left unburned.
The UNFCCC has so far avoided taking on the need to keep fossils in the ground even though its own reports show that there must be a phase out of the dirty fuels. Civil society groups led by Oilwatch International have called for fossils to be left in the ground right from late 1990s. At COP 21 and again at COP25, the group proposed that communities, territories and nations that keep fossils in the ground should be classed under Annex zero, in counterpoise to industrialized and transition economies countries called as Annex I and II countries of the Kyoto Protocol.
The proposal suggests that the Annex Zero countries or communities should be supported with a series of international incentives and recognitions based on solidarity, technological exchanges, and the payment of an ecological or climate debt. The creation of Annex 0 will also incentivise new commitments and tackle climate change at source.
Considering that powerful nations have the tendency to ignore historical and current climate obligations and are even ready to walk away from global commitments, it is time to applaud and encourage those that leave the fossils in the ground as a clear climate action. Their sacrifices could also possibly pay for the ecological sins of repentant eco-devourers. Their actions could also help bring climate outlaws to book.
Nnimmo Bassey is Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)