“Since I last addressed the COP in 2009, I’ve been deposed in a coup, thrown into jail, and forced into exile. But almost 10 years since I was last at these climate negotiations, I must say, nothing much seems to have changed,” said Mohammad Nasheed, former President of the Maldives, adding: “We are still using the same old, dinosaur language.” He is now back again to for the negotiations at COP24 and started exploring more effective, urgent and enhanced ambitious targets.
Nsheed’s statements, in short, summed up where the climate change negotiations are going at COP24 – with just a day to go to conclude the talk.
Nasheed was just short of repeating what Einstein famously said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Even the usual optimism in such meetings had familiar and archaic language: “Window of opportunity to keep temperature rise below 1.5 C, as revealed by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is closing fast. But we still have time and we can do it”. That was the official tone of the conference.
But unofficial tone was of talk, talk and more talk.
A special report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did energise the negotiations by adding the edge to the demands of the developing countries for developed countries to move fast on their own commitment for reducing GHG emissions and fulfilling the promise of financial assistance to the developing countries. But Nasheed wondered if the developing countries should now change the narrative of their demands and instead push the developed countries to enhance their own investments in the clean renewable energy so that technology improves and the prices come down. That, as per Nasheed, would benefit the developing countries more than just asking for new and additional finances.
But even there, the developed countries are unwilling to budge. The huge wolf in the herd of the sheep was Poland itself. A day after delivering the inaugural speech at COP24, Polish President Andrzej Duda made a surprise address to coal miners in the country’s south, during their annual festival. He said that as long as he is in office, he “won’t allow for anyone to murder Polish mining”.
Duda contended that under the garb of global warming, one cannot neglect the welfare of the coal miners and ignore their needs. Poland needs coal and it would continue mining it for the sustainable development of its people, was his narrative. That must have been a shock to EU delegation to which coal king Poland belongs. EU has often been very proactive in raising the ambitions for reducing the emissions in line with the IPCC 1.5C report.
One of the Polish students in the conference stated that coal miners in reality can have a better quality life if they start working on the clean energy. Poland is quite skilled in making turbines for windmills and even exports them. But it does not invest in windmills in the country. “In reality, not only coal miners but even average citizen would lead a better life in Poland if we engage ourselves in clean and renewable energy,” he stated. Many houses in the cities and in rural areas still burn dirty coal to heat the houses and pollute the air which, in turn, harms the lives of the present and future generations. But Duda has to please the Solidarity union of the coal miners, who are literally kept in dark about the clean energy.
How can Nasheed’s suggestion on enhanced investment by the developed countries in renewables would materialize in such a political scenario?
In reality, the options before the present negotiations are limited. The fragmentation of the multilateralism is destabilising the negotiations. The oil kings — the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait — have formed another block of countries to complicate the negotiations. Even the facilitative role of United Nations Secretary General, who dashed back into the meeting after the inauguration on December 3, 2018 is unlikely to halt the fragmentation and destabilisation of the negotiations.
The final days of the negotiations have also revealed that the basic tenets of environmental diplomacy are being conveniently (or deliberately) forgotten. As early as the 1992 Rio conference on Environment and Development, the single-most tenet of environmental diplomacy has been the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. This basis of negotiations of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements is in jeopardy at COP 24. The rule book to operationalise the Paris Climate Agreement depends much on this tenet.
In words of Nasheed, carbon emissions keep “rising, and rising, and rising. And all we seem to be doing is talking and talking and talking”.
(Rajendra Shende, an IIT alumni, is Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre and a former UNEP Director. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)