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COP is Dead, Long live the COP

Published December 8, 2010

by jmedalye

The Conference of the Parties, as the pluralistic democratic space for halting climate change, is dead. Long live the new Conference of the Parties, in which the autocratic, top-down institutions we are all so familiar with, will instruct us on how climate change is a reality to be adapted to and if we get on board, profited from.

We have been in Cancun since Saturday navigating the spaces for NGO-Governmental cross-communication and the halls are empty. At any given moment it feels like 100 people are in the space of Cancunmesse. Information booths are abandoned with only the occasional lone NGO delegate standing on duty. Side events have been cancelled throughout the daily schedule at Cancunmesse. There have been no internal protests by official NGOs, no sit ins, no coalitions walking out of negotiations in protest, and almost no media circulating the NGO center. It seems as though the delegates who remain at Cancunmesse are only doing so because they were unfortunate enough to get stuck at the kiddie table while the adults have caught the no. 9 biofueled bus to the Moon Palace. From what we can gather on the ground, most NGOs here are so dispersed across Cancun and the southerly town of Puerto Morales that there is no one center for civil society to congregate on. This would have been critical to fostering the important dialogue between critical and mainstream NGOs, as well as dialogue between these actors and national delegates. Reports from Democracy Now! suggest that the Moon Palace media center is also empty. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reported on Monday that they were shocked to find only 3 reporters in the media center and only one person to interview (another reporter). No one seems to be in the common spaces of the Moon Palace either. Only national delegates are to be found running in and out of the negotiations which are locked behind closed doors. Rumors inside Cancunmesse suggest that the Climate Village has also been poorly attended and is also totally dead, except at night time when locals come for the free government sponsored concerts. The dispersion of COP16 over 5 massive segregated spaces has left us, appropriately, with an oceanic feeling of drift. Unlike COP15, where it felt as if the world had descended on the Bella Center, this year it feels like no one bothered to show up.

Can this emptiness and lack of dialogue be explained simply by the spatial reconstruction we wrote of in our last post? We wish it was that simple. This would mean that the failure to achieve critical mass here in Cancun was simply a function of organization. We (hypothetically) could do better next time. Unfortunately, the issue is related to a much deeper problem rooted in the negotiations themselves. Put simply, without any real chance of deal to halt climate change, the new metric for success at COP has been downgraded to anything but the complete implosion of the process itself. But what is left of this process? What we find in the news bulletins is a continued tension between developed and developing countries. Suspicions that developed countries will not commit to new targets in post-Kyoto period, and that the Kyoto Protocol may be abandoned altogether, have emerged throughout the co-corridors of COP16. NGOs are confined to watching presentations in which we find developed countries are emphasizing low carbon development for developing countries. It is argued that low carbon growth for developing nations can be made through a new climate fund- the Green Fund. Negotiations of the text around a Green Fund are continuing throughout the week. The Fund is expected to provide mitigation and adaptation finance for developing countries. Developed countries are advocating that the World Bank act as the trustee of this fund. Developing countries are concerned not only about the World Bank’s role in this fund, but also in the amount of funds, and the allocation of funds towards mitigation instead of adaptation. The limit of NGO engagement and comment on this has been confined to a statement by Oxfam and a petition signed by 210 other civil society actors. Likewise, today the World Bank announced a plan to extend climate mitigation markets to select emerging economies including India, Mexico, and Brazil. Meanwhile, the environmental ministers from various developing countries throughout the weekend and early part of this week have stressed that they are already impacted by climate change and that they need funding to adapt. Various exhibits showcase the plans of national governments for adaptation in the hopes of gaining international funding and support for these plans through multilateral donors, traditional development agencies, and private partners.

In other words, the failure at Copenhagen last year to come to a global agreement on how to halt climate change has left us with an intractable situation between developed and developing countries who will now squabble over how best to deal with a reality that no one seems able to come to grips with. And the means for resolving this squabble will be the COP, but a COP process which is designed to remove official NGOs, civil society, and any dissenting voices from the negotiation spaces.


Posted in: Blogs | Turning Up the Heat