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Hope and Pessimism Converge in Cancun

Kanya D'Almeida

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2010 (IPS) - On Nov. 29, the 190-member Conference of Parties (COP) will flock to the Moon Palace Hotel, an all-inclusive luxury coastal resort in Cancún, Mexico, to discuss governments’ progress on climate change.

The 16th COP session comes barely a year after the 2009 December meeting in Copenhagen, now widely considered a massive diplomatic failure.

Amidst mounting global panic over states’ consistent inability to forge an adequate alternative to the nearly- expired Kyoto Protocol, the meeting in Cancún is foreshadowed by a deep pessimism after what transpired in Denmark last year.

Nigel Purvis, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, blasted the feeble “Copenhagen Accord” which has no power to hold countries accountable to their never-ending, yet largely empty promises on Green Funds and donations to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

“Global climate talks have begun to resemble a bad soap opera,” Purvis said, in an essay entitled ‘Cancún and the End of Climate Diplomacy’. “They seem to never end, yet seldom change and at times bear little resemblance to reality. This is why climate diplomacy as we know it has lost its relevance.”

Earlier this month, the U.N. secretary-general’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing released its annual report, which stated unequivocally that a minimum of $100 billion annually must be mobilised towards climate actions in developing countries.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, one of the report’s co-authors, stressed that, “Climate finance is not about funding, but about burden sharing.” He reiterated that without solid agreements from member states, climate action will stagnate, particularly in the LDCs.

Speaking on behalf of the African member-states, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi chastised wealthy countries for shying away from binding agreements, adding that Africa can no longer afford, nor tolerate, to bear the brunt of climate-caused disasters that they have done the least to cause.

“This report can be used for an ambitious deal, or a miserly one,” Zenawi told the press. “It might even be abandoned on the desk of a bureaucrat. But we, as Africans, refuse to give up.”

While the heated debate blazes on, climate-caused catastrophes continue to proliferate into every political and economic realm imaginable.

On Nov. 11, the permanent mission of the Marshall Islands hosted an informal discussion on the particular threat of climate change for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

John Silk, minister of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands, reminded the audience that SIDS’ unique condition must be studied not only by those directly affected but by the whole world, for it poses broad questions about existence, security and statehood.

Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law, was also present at the discussion. At the behest of the mission of the Marshall Islands, Gerrard, along with his colleagues at the Columbia Law School, are hosting a conference in 2011 on the severe legal implications of climate-displaced people of island nations due to rising sea levels.

Among the issues to be covered, according to Gerrard, are statelessness; maritime governance in the event of statelessness (for example: regulation of fishing rights); the legal condition of displaced people who are resettled; the practicalities of resettlement; and the applicability of existing legal theories and institutions to their plight.

Gerrard also stressed that while many countries have ceased to exist due to wars, or political agreements, no country has ever disappeared entirely because all of its territory ceased to exist above the waters.

“The existing international agreements are clearly not adequate to mitigate climate change to the extent necessary,” Gerrard told IPS, “or to cope with the disasters that climate change will cause.”

“Had a comprehensive agreement been reached in Copenhagen, the world might have made substantial progress in the direction of necessary action,” he added.

Gerrard also highlighted the dangers of the fusion between political imperatives and corporate incentives.

“The United States, for example, once opened its borders to those fleeing religious and political persecution,” he told IPS. “In recent years, however, the U.S. has become much less receptive to immigration. An international agreement for resettling climate-displaced people, in which each major emitting country agreed to take in a share, could improve matters, but even that is no guarantee of success.”

“Law in the United States is becoming more and more amenable to corporate campaigns,” he added.

While the Columbia Law School struggles to find a mere $50,000 conference budget, millions are being spent on “climate denial” campaigns, emphasising Gerrard’s observations on corporate influence.

According to a report released by Greenpeace International earlier this year, the little-known private corporation Koch Industries has been fuelling a propaganda movement denying the scientific basis of climate change. According to the report, a staggering $30 million has been spent on the campaign every year.

At a press briefing on COP 16 earlier this week, Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy planning in Cancún, dismissed the idea that the climate denial campaign is a force to be reckoned with.

“The notion that climate change is not happening or not caused by human behaviour has no basis in science,” Orr said, “and the secretary-general has taken a firm stand on this from the start.”

“We have asked the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] to really tighten up its systems such that questions about the science cannot be asked in the future,” he added.

Regardless of these somewhat negligible details, the impending crisis looms over Mexico. If Copenhagen was billed as the “last chance to save the planet”, many worry that Cancún’s rating is fated to be even worse.

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