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CLIMATE CHANGE: “The Intelligence We Lacked”*

Claudia Ciobanu - IPS/TerraViva**

COPENHAGEN, Dec 18 2009 (IPS) - World leaders speaking in Copenhagen on Friday, the last day of negotiations for a deal on climate change, retreated into their national positions.

Members of Friends of the Earth not allowed into the Bella Center. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Members of Friends of the Earth not allowed into the Bella Center. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

US President Barack Obama and his peers could not have been further from the call to “cooperate internationally to ensure respect for human rights everywhere in the world” contained in the People’s Declaration issued by NGOs working at the KlimaForum09 alternative summit.

While leaders of a group of several hundred NGOs were trying to submit a People’s Declaration to the UN in the Bella Center – the site of negotiations during the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – world leaders speaking inside the conference venue showed one more time why a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty cannot be agreed on today.

Leaders of the two major polluters, China and the US, both insisted that their countries will go on working on meeting their announced commitments, regardless of whether an international agreement is reached here in Copenhagen or not.

“We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, and we will do what we say,” said Obama. The president reiterated the pledge made yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the US would contribute to a global fund of 100 billion dollars by 2020 to help developing countries deal with climate change.

But he insisted that the US would contribute this money “if and only if it is a part of a broader accord that includes mitigation and transparency.”

Developing countries have repeatedly asked for unconditional aid for adaptation to climate change.

Obama’s speech showed that the US took no heed of this call. And the insistence on transparency was a direct reference to one of the major bones of contention here in Copenhagen – the US demand that China’s emission reduction efforts are monitored internationally.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, in his turn, similarly said that his country would stick to its announced commitments regardless of whether a deal is reached in Copenhagen or not. Jiabao said that China would reduce its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reminded, in a similar vein, that his country has adopted and started to implement a national action plan “relying on our own resources” and that the country would reduce energy intensity by 20 percent by 2020 on 2005 levels “regardless of the outcome of this conference.”

Singh added that committing to a document that means reduced expectations “would be wrong.” His statement echoed the warning issued by Friends of the Earth at the outset of the summit that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

One of the few voices to bring some emotion into the series of official speeches was Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva, who started his speech by saying that he was feeling frustrated and that the negotiations in Copenhagen reminded him of his times when he was fighting business leaders as a trade unionist.

Lula bitterly commented on the inappropriateness of leaving the Copenhagen talks to the last minute discussions of heads of state. “I am not sure if such an angel or wise man will come down to this plenary and put in our minds the intelligence that we lacked,” he said.

Early in the afternoon on Friday, the choice seemed to be more and more one between a weak political agreement and no deal at all.

From the perspective of Friday’s country positions, the demands of civil society groups present here in Copenhagen to push for a fair deal on climate change seem catapulted from the moon.

The People’s Declaration, issued by participants in KlimaForum calls for “a complete abandonment of fossil fuels within the next 30 years; recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt by developed to developing countries; a rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centered false and dangerous solutions (such as nuclear energy, agro-fuels and carbon-capture and storage); and real solutions to the climate crisis based on safe, clean and renewable energy and the transition to food, energy, land and water sovereignty.”

World leaders speaking Friday in Copenhagen were far from one another and far from the calls of citizen groups. The national mitigation plans of developed and large developing countries, that leaders promised to implement no matter what the outcome in Copenhagen is, are certainly market and technology oriented.

Speaking on Thursday in Copenhagen, US Congressmen Henry Waxman and Edward Markey (who give their names to the climate legislation recently passed by the US Congress) anticipated a “green technology revolution” that would help the world keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, even if a treaty sets the target only at a 2 degree rise. They insisted that competition between countries would ensure that better technology is developed and that mitigation efforts are thus increasingly successful.

Yet Copenhagen was not supposed to set the stage for competition. It was supposed to be based on international collaboration among all countries, which face the common threat of climate change.

In the corridors of the Bella Center, nothing is left of the enthusiasm of the first days. The NGOs have been excluded from the center ever since the high-level representatives started coming in on Tuesday. The People’s Declaration will never be submitted to world leaders, who will rush off to their planes and head home this evening.

The only people hanging around the corridors are journalists and lower-ranking members of the delegations, all reduced to listening to the speeches of the heads of state. There is nothing left to do in Copenhagen.

But, as Caetano Juanca, a peasant from Peru, said the other day: “We will continue to fight until they listen to us. Our struggle does not end here.”

*Stephen Leahy contributed to this report.

**This story appears in the IPS TerraViva online daily published for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

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