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CLIMATE CHANGE: Legislators Seek to Influence Cancun

Daniela Pastrana*

MEXICO CITY, Dec 6 2010 (IPS) - “And what about after 2012?”, when the Kyoto Protocol climate change treaty’s first period of commitments ends, was the question floating around an international meeting of legislators held over the weekend in the Mexican capital.

The members of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) do not want to be mere spectators, but are seeking an active role in the construction of an architecture for a post-2012 agreement that would serve as a bridge between the two positions that have prevailed so far in the battle against global warming.

On one hand is the stance taken by industrialised nations, whose commitments fall short, and on the other hand is the developing world’s insistence on its right to grow and develop, and its complaints about limits imposed by the planet’s powerful nations.

The vice president of GLOBE, British member of parliament Barry Gardiner, explained why the meeting was held in the Mexican Congress rather than in the resort town of Cancún where the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is running Nov. 29-Dec. 10.

“We’re politicians,” said Gardiner, who added that when the climate change talks were at the point of collapse at COP15, held late last year in Copenhagen, it was government leaders who reached key decisions.

“That’s the role of legislators, to hold governments accountable, to promote our legislative principles for climate change legislation at national level,” he said. “We have a key role in ratifying any accord, navigating over political realities in the countries.”

GLOBE, which represents lawmakers from the 16 major economies — the members of the G8 most powerful countries, the European Parliament, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea — was created in 1989 to facilitate dialogue on key environmental issues, especially climate change.

Delegations from Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and the European Parliament met Saturday and Sunday in the Mexican Congress to discuss the challenges of reaching a new climate change agreement.

On the first day of debate, there was heavy criticism of the lack of environmental commitment by the United States, whose legislators did not show up for the GLOBE meeting.

“The United States has an unavoidable responsibility,” Brazilian Senator Serys Slhessarenko told IPS, referring to the world’s biggest polluter, which is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol.

“What can be done about that? The public has to demand it, create a major social movement and make governments understand that they must make a commitment,” she said.

With respect to the talks in Cancún, GLOBE proposes a way forward that would be “politically acceptable” to the major economies: an agreement to keep the increase in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius, and a post-Kyoto second commitment period involving quantified targets and commitments of financial and technological assistance to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation.

The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997 in the Japanese city that gave the treaty its name and in force since 2005, obliges the industrialised nations that have ratified it to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012, from a 1990 baseline.

The GLOBE document presented by the legislators in Mexico also suggests a parallel agreement that would impose legally binding commitments by the leading developing countries, like China, India and Brazil, and would involve a key role for parliaments in overseeing, verifying and setting national and regional norms.

Mexican Senator Yeidckol Polevnsky praised the delegates from China for “committing themselves to pushing for actions aimed at cutting emissions and to supporting the economies of other countries,” although she clarified that this is not the position of the government.

Polevnsky, of the left-wing opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), complained that legislators were not accredited to take part in COP16.

“There is accreditation for government functionaries and civil society organisations, but the COPs should provide a space for legislators, who are neither part of the executive branch nor civil society,” she told IPS.

“Everything governments want to do goes through the legislatures. No commitments are of any use unless they become part of a legislative agreement,” she said.

Slhessarenko, meanwhile, stressed that GLOBE is trying to build solid alternative solutions for an agreement on climate change that would protect life on the planet.

“There is a steadily growing understanding among countries with regard to the environment and the need for agreements among nations and for each country to live up to its commitments,” she told IPS.

The debate among the parliamentarians over the weekend focused on financing for scientific projects and the development of technologies to face the challenges of climate change and on a kind of bridge between international commitments and the design of national and regional laws.

The representatives from Germany said their government is willing to commit funds to that initiative and invited other governments to do the same. They stressed that it is the role of political leaders to make sure the financing reaches those who need it.

Other issues discussed were how to restore forests on degraded lands and the use of renewable technologies.

In the opening session, PRD Congressman Porfirio Muñoz, the chair of the international relations committee in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, said the United Nations’ ability to reach binding international decisions has long been weak in many areas.

“The major political revelation in terms of climate change is the lack of global governance,” he said.

“In the climate change discussions in Cancún, not all the chips are on the table,” said Muñoz. “And these chips are the questions of disarmament, a new international financial architecture, and a new energy mix. If all of these things were resolved, we wouldn’t be tormented with the struggle to find funds to fight climate change.”

He also said the international Inter-Parliamentary Union has been working on a climate change document sponsored by the U.N. and backed by 155 parliaments, which will be presented to the ministers this week.

The legislators concurred that Cancún would not be a disaster like COP15 in Copenhagen, and said the flame would be kept alive and that progress would be made towards national and regional commitments that, although not binding, would be replicable and verifiable.

Wang Hungju, a member of the Environment and Resources Protection Committee in China’s parliament, said increased international cooperation and constructive policies were needed.

He said China’s legislators support all agreements aimed at reducing emissions and facilitating the financing of developing countries to that end.

As one Mexican legislator remarked to his fellow party members during a break in the meeting, “the economic model forgot about the environment, and now it has remembered, but it doesn’t know what to do with it.”

(*This story appears in the IPS TerraViva online published for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Cancún.)

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