Skip to main content

What can go wrong in Lima? On getting the conceptualization of fairness right

Idil Boran
From Lima, Peru

As this update was being composed last night, the negotiations had been proceeding intensely throughout Friday, December 12, 2014. The ADP Co-Chairs and COP Presidency worked through Friday night. They proposed a new draft text at about 2:30 am, and convened the contact group at 3 am. The negotiation meeting reconvened this morning, Saturday December 13, at 10 am.

It may be worth giving some context to understand where the negotiations are at this Saturday morning. In a nutshell, the talks went quite badly since Thursday, to say the least. Late Thursday night, the ADP Co-Chairs decided to work on a new proposed ADP draft text. Mainly, the text had gotten overly
 bloated by Thursday night. It contained an unworkable number of options for multiple paragraphs, giving rise to a whopping 50-page document. The bloated nature of the draft text was making it prone to interminable disputes between parties, bickering over options, and hairsplitting. To overcome these problems and to facilitate more productive a negotiation process on the official final day of the COP (Friday Dec. 12), the ADP Co-Chairs worked
through the late hours of Thursday evening and proposed a streamlined text. Negotiations throughout Friday proved that a second round of revisions might be needed. To facilitate timely completion of the negotiations, and a meaningful outcome, the Co-Chairs and the presidency worked through the night and came up with a new proposed text, to be negotiated on Saturday on extended time.

There are various points over which deep disagreements arise. But one that is worth bringing up here is the contention over the difference between 'fairness' and
'equity' in the language of the draft text.

Those who, like myself, come from the world of professional philosophy, recognize that 'fairness' and 'equity' are, at the end of the day, somewhat coextensive concepts. On an appropriate construal, and with adequate specification, they could be used alternatingly. For example, if a discussion became too stuffy and confusing over claims about equity, we – philosophers – would be willing to start over, reformulating and clarifying the issues by referring to 'fairness', instead, if it makes it clearer. Most of us would feel comfortable with this move because we are cognizant that, regardless of whether one uses 'fairness' or 'equity', the concept as such does not have a fully formed and prepackaged content, as if it were an immutable “thing” that that one would have to either accept or reject wholesale. Rather, the concept would need to be defined and worked out in the first place. Its scope, limits, and content would have to be specified carefully. So, the task is not that of choosing between prepackaged concepts, but rather about doing a decent job of specifying the concept, and then working with it. This is, after all, what we mean – typically – when we talk about developing a “normative framework”.

So, why then is the distinction between fairness and equity so inflammatory at the negotiations over the global climate effort?

It is because representatives of the negotiating block, known as G-77+China,
 insist on including an "equity" language in the draft text. The negotiating block regards 'equity', implicitly and explicitly, as having a fixed and immutable content. On this view, equity is inherently associated with Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). G77+China is highly invested in the idea of securing a system of differentiated responsibilities through the negotiation process. The concept of equity serves as vehicle for this notion, as far as G77+China is concerned, at the negotiations in Lima.

The problem is that the 
whole point of the newly negotiated agreement leading up to Paris 2015 is to move away 
from CBDR, and to have a more flexible and inclusive system of international
cooperation. This is what the INDCs have been developed for. But G-77+China just doesn't want to
let go of the CBDR. G77+China regards CBDR as a necessary component of international cooperation that satisfies the requirements of justice. They regard the use of “fairness” in the language of the draft as watering down of ideals of justice. This is a very unfortunate situation, and could potentially jeopardize the entire process.

Ultimately, there 
are many ways in which, within an agreement, fair terms of cooperation can be established. Not only different normative frameworks are possible, but they also vary in their appropriateness. And so, the question is to find the most appropriate normative framework for the architecture of a global climate regime that is effective, durable, and just. To insist on CBDR to be negotiated and imposed by a treaty top down, as the only option for a fair climate agreement, is to work with a overly narrow and rigid concept of fairness (or equity for that matter.) In fact, with imagination, ingenuity, and good will, it may be possible to structure the architecture of a new agreement on something other than CBDR, and advance the interests of developing countries to a far greater measure than through a rigid adherence to CBDR.

The real danger is to try to integrate “differentiated responsibilities” into a system of INDCs. Putting these two together creates much confusion. It would make the end result of the newly negotiated agreement incoherent, making four years of hard work done under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action largely redundant. In other words, imbuing INDCs with “differentiated responsibilities” would defeat the purpose of going through the burden of negotiating a new international agreement. If
 the U.S. and the EU together show leadership, the problems may be resolved, but it's easier said than done.

Let’s hope a 
deadlock can be averted this weekend.

Stay tuned for further updates.

UN Climate negotiations in Lima, Peru

Idil Boran
from Lima, Peru


The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has convened on Monday, December 1, 2014, in Lima, Peru.

COP 20 is of critical importance as the international community is currently working on a new climate agreement. As noted in previous updates from Warsaw in November in 2013, and from Bonn in June 2014, the negotiations are being conducted within a specific timetable known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. This phase is expected to come to a close at COP 21 in Paris next December. Put another way, COP 20 in Lima is the penultimate annual meeting of the parties before Paris. For this reason, it is considered to be an important step. It is the meeting that will set the tone for the future of the global climate regime. To be more precise, it is in Lima that the text of the new agreement is to be fully drafted.

In this opening update from Lima, my focus will be on some general reflections on the multilateral process on climate change. The updates from Lima will be thematically organized and, altogether, they will catalogue some of the main issues arising from Lima, while assessing their merits and shortcomings. My goal, today, is to reflect on the multilateral process in general, in an effort to carve out an appropriate framework for understanding the progression of political decision-making. In short, what exactly should we expect from the negotiations?

First, the pace of the meetings during the two-week conference is, inevitably, going to be slow. At times, the discussions become highly technical and give the appearance of being focused merely on minutia. The reality is that every detail has to be taken into account and negotiated. For this reason, the multilateral process is bound to frustrate those who look for quick fixes, easy answers, and grand solutions. But those who are familiar with the intricacies of collective decision-making understand that it is not reasonable to expect policy to simply pop-up into existence. They need to be carefully thought through, taking into account the diversity of positions and standings. This is no different for a global climate regime.

Second, what is being negotiated is unambiguously multifaceted. The agreement that is currently being negotiated includes both mitigation and adaptation components. These form the two pillars of negotiations. This structure distinguishes itself significantly from the previous era of climate agreements, which was focused solely on mitigation. Today, there is an understanding that mitigation and adaptation strategies must work in tandem. Any agreement on a specific issue – such as an agreement on finance, or transfer of technology, or loss and damage – has to be consistent with all the aspects of the overall agreement under the Convention. Given the deep differences between negotiating blocks, it is expected that the discussions will be highly focused, as opposed to being diffused and broad. Moreover, the language of the text is of great importance. Each word, or turn of phrase, needs be selected carefully to accurately reflect the nuances of what is agreed upon.

Third, the decisions to be made in the current phase set the tone for the next stage ahead. What this means is that the various aspects of the agreement are open to be reconsidered and reworked in the future in light of new information, as well as lessons learned. The goal of the multilateral process, overall, is to set the building blocks of an effective and durable agreement, which also satisfies the requirements of fairness. What is important, then, is to reach the goals that are set for a given phase, and then move on to the next steps. Critics often disregard this feature of negotiations. They often assume that if a solution is not found and implemented at once, then the process is failing. Unfortunately, this assumption provides poor guidance. It frames the thinking within a highly restrictive box.

Indeed, many are inclined to think that the focus on details, the technicality and tenuousness of the discussions are an indication of dysfunction. Some go as far as saying that not much gets done at the UN climate talks, and that the whole enterprise is futile. They are too precipitate in this judgment. Treaties and global agreements develop overtime and refine themselves through a process of rethinking and reconsideration. It is for this reason that the formal multilateral platform is of great importance. The formal platform provides an institutional architecture that sets, systematically and transparently, the conditions and methods for collective public deliberation and decision-making to take place.

Like the workings of science, international negotiations on climate change within the Convention constitute an ongoing, self-correcting, and formal process, with a well-defined and stringent method. Looked at superficially and from a given time slice, it may look like little or no progress is made. Taken as a whole, it becomes clear that the overall effort moves forward, provided that the institutional structure within which it takes place is strong, transparent, and just.

Stay tuned for further updates on the progression of the negotiations at COP 20.

Idil Boran, Associate Professor
Department of Philosophy, York University.
Send inquiries to:

Lessons from the UN climate talks in Warsaw: Understanding the road ahead

Idil Boran,
York University

The negotiations at the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Warsaw November 11-22, 2013, were tumultuous. Delegates, exasperated by persistent disagreements over key issues, worked into the night of November 22 and throughout the day on Saturday November 23 to secure a reasonable agreement. In the end, Warsaw 2013 ended more constructively than expected.

Warsaw was an important step on the road to the meeting in Paris in 2015, where the international community is expected to adopt a new treaty on climate change. One important achievement coming out of Warsaw is that the international negotiations remained alive, with specific goals to meet, on the way to Paris.

The stop between Warsaw and Paris is Lima, Peru, where the 20th meeting of the Conference of Parties will take place in December of 2014. The role Lima can play is critical in many respects. Most importantly, what is to be agreed upon in Paris will need to be prepared - with its final draft being fully worked out – in Lima.

If it is well structured and intelligently run, the meeting in Lima 2014 presents great potential. But what precisely should be expected from Lima? To some extent, the answer to this question requires understanding what has and hasn’t been achieved in Warsaw.

First, Warsaw offered no magic all-encompassing formula. But this kind of easy result should not be expected in the first place. What is needed is an ongoing, structured, transparent, and inclusive conversation, for which the UNFCCC serves as platform, in order to work through the multiplicity of issues and conflicting interests between nations. In other words, the problems associated with climate change (both on the mitigation and adaptation pillars) cannot be solved in one sitting, but will probably require many COPs. In this process, Warsaw will go on record for two important agreements:

1. An agreement over a mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
2. The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts.

The issue of loss and damage dominated the debates in Warsaw and turned out to be, as expected, extremely divisive.

Some parties insist on pursuing the discussion under a new third pillar, in addition to the traditional pillars of mitigation and adaptation at the UNFCCC. It is because of this demand that this already sensitive issue became ever so contentious.

There were deep disagreements over whether a third pillar, dedicated exclusively to loss and damage as a separate issue from adaptation, is necessary. From a pragmatic perspective, a third pillar may cause an unnecessary proliferation of negotiation pillars at the COP meetings. From a normative equity perspective, it may confuse many negotiating parties into thinking about a loss and damage clause strictly as a “historical accountability” clause, preventing them from finding productive pathways for an equitable agreement. Next year’s meeting in Lima must set the normative, equity-based, framework on the international mechanism on loss and damage very carefully, so it can make progress on the issue.

Finally, what prevented the negotiations from being completely deadlocked in Warsaw was an emphasis on countries’ “contributions” to climate change policies, including mitigation, instead of the usual emphasis on “commitments”. To pessimists, this may appear to be no more than quibbling over words. But we must remember that how an issue is framed has significant influence on the results. So, if it turns out that the idea of making a “contribution” to efforts to address climate change resonates in the minds of negotiating parties as something they can all agree to, then it may well set the international community on a track toward a new generation of climate treaty come 2015.

Idil Boran, Associate Professor and Director of the Certificate Program in Practical Ethics, Department of Philosophy, York University. Professor Boran attended COP 19 in Warsaw as a York University observer delegate.
Send inquiries to:

Breakthrough agreement reached in Warsaw on reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation

Idil Boran
From Warsaw, Poland

As these lines are being written at about 11:00 am on Saturday, November 23 in Warsaw, the morning after the official end of the Conference of the Parties (COP) 19, the talks are still going on at the National Stadium. A debate between parties, which is being webcast, pertaining to finance as well as loss & damage at the President’s Stocktaking Plenary is taking place. What these discussions suggest is that divergences on the issues of finance and loss & damage prevail, causing an extension of the talks into Saturday.

However, the tensions over these two issues should not overshadow a breakthrough agreement that has been reached here in Warsaw last night. The decision secures significant emissions reductions from deforestation. Known as REDD-plus, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, plus Pro-forest Activities is a framework on which government representatives have been working since 2005.

The decision is an important step forward at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, for about a fifth of global emissions are known to be due to deforestation and forest degradation. No less significantly, the decision establishes well-defined features into the architecture of international regulations, promoting transparency, integrity, and efficiency:

1. The agreement structurally connects REDD-plus to the Green Climate Fund, and secures the financing of forest-related projects in developing countries.
2. The procedure for allocating funds is “result-based”. That is, countries will have to show tangible reduction of deforestation and forest degradation in a way that does not harm local communities, in order to qualify for funds and to receive payments.
3. The agreement establishes a set of rules for forest-related projects. In so doing, it serves a catalyzing function for achieving global standards in the treatment of forests.

Each COP is associated with advancement on a specific issue. The agreement on reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is probably what will be associated with Warsaw.

This breakthrough is not only good news but it also shows that even in highly contentious and politically charged situations positive outcomes can be achieved.

For inquiries, contact:

Highly charged questions on equity at the centre of the international climate negotiations in Warsaw

Idil Boran
From Warsaw, Poland

As this year’s climate talks in Warsaw are in their final stretch, the debates have become deeply divided. Two questions are at the centre of these morally charged debates:

(a) the need for developing countries vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change to have access to funds that will allow them to meet the costs of a changing environment.

(b) the question of whether industrialized countries should pay compensation to developing countries affected by adverse effects of climate change.

The debates in Warsaw are at a point of being deadlocked. Although there are many factors causing the seemingly intractable tension, one of them is the way these two questions are being lumped together in a two-in-one package. What purportedly brings these two questions together, in the minds of many negotiating parties, is a conception of equity. To many, and most notably to the representatives of what is called G-77 (the group of developing countries including the least developed small countries), the mechanism that is to support the costs of climate disasters is viewed as a venue to ensure that the west compensate developing countries that are in a precarious position due to the effects of climate change.

Yet, as it was mentioned in one of the consultation meetings here in Warsaw, various criteria exist to provide guidance to achieve a reasonable system of cooperation. In other words, a historical accountability outlook is not the only outlook for conceptualizing equity.

Needless to say, an exclusive focus on historical accountability puts on the table an excessively narrow reading of what an equitable allocation of costs may require. It looks like more work needs to be done to facilitate agreement over an acceptable criterion of equity. Paradoxically, as debates becomes emotionally charged, the likelihood of finding a way out of the conundrum of adversity becomes less likely.

The rationale behind the Durban Platform was to move away from a fundamental differentiation and adversarial positioning between developed and developing countries. The meeting in Warsaw, thus far, seems to have had the opposite effect, unless something pleasantly surprising comes out of this evening's deliberations.

Send inquiries to:

COP 19 in Warsaw is transitioning into its second week

Idil Boran
From Warsaw, Poland

This year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is holding the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) in Warsaw, Poland’s capital, through November 11-22, 2013.

As the conference is transitioning toward its second week, there is mounting tension on a number of issues, two of which are worth noting here.

The focus on historical emissions:
Last week, Brazil initiated a proposal to use historical emissions levels going back to mid-nineteenth century, in order to determine how much countries should be allowed to emit in the future as part of a new treaty. This proposal has been vehemently rejected both by the United States and the European Union. The proposed framework is not only proving to be highly divisive, it also brings back a principle of corrective justice as a guiding principle for negotiating the terms of cooperation on climate change. This principle uses a retrospective logic to establish fair terms of cooperation, looking back at past actions to determine who has done harm and then allocates responsibility for the future in light of this information. Those who reject this proposal, such as the U.S. and the E.U., insist that they are willing to guided by a principle of equity, but not one that consists of placing blame through retrospective moral intuitions. They seek, instead, forward-looking alternatives for setting the terms of cooperation.

Loss and damage:
The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines created a highly emotional negotiation environment on the first week of the climate conference. The negotiations are now heavily focused on loss and damage. Recall that an agreement in principle was reached in Doha at COP 18 for addressing loss and damage. The details are yet to be worked out. This year, many developing countries insist that developed countries pay compensation whenever a developing country is experiencing a weather-related disaster. But this too is proving to be emotionally charged, politically driven, and intractably divisive. Although weather extremes are to be expected in a world affected by climatic change, associating a single event with climate change with any accuracy is not yet possible. Again, as long as the logic is that of looking at past actions and making liability claims, the negotiations are running the risk of exacerbating adversity rather than facilitating agreement.

What these two issues share in common is that both proposals follow a retrospective logic for establishing equitable terms for allocating the costs of climate change within a possible treaty. They also frame the issues in a notoriously polarizing way. What the second week will bring is yet to be discovered.

Stay tuned.

Idil Boran, Associate Professor and Director of the Certificate Program in Practical Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University. Direct inquiries to:

The Importance of ‘Listening’ in International Climate Change Conferences

This blog is cross-published and also available on the CC-RAI website:

As a graduate student from York University, I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations’ Conference of Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa this December. The experience helped me understand that climate justice is about knowing when to stop talking and start listening. It is about humility and creating institutional opportunities for the people who are most affected by climate change to voice their concerns.

During a COP17 protest, I sat down under a tree beside a group of rural women from Northern Cape, South Africa. They were tired, hungry, and thirsty from protesting all day, but they were there to fight for agricultural and land reform. I have tried to understand their cause, but I was left confused by their passion and determination for climate justice. My situation was a lot more different than theirs: I live a relatively comfortable life in Canada as a student researching climate change policies. I do not know what it means to have limited opportunities when your family goes hungry because of a shortage of food caused by climate change. I went to South Africa with a desire to better understand the Conference of Parties as a policy platform. However, I have quickly learned to stop asking pre-determined questions and just start listening. My lesson in the importance of listening can further be applied to the new ways that climate justice can be incorporated into the institutional structure of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the many programs that are part of this greater scheme.

The current market-based approach in the UNFCCC to regulate greenhouse gases is supported by some and opposed by others. An interesting aspect of COP17 was how these different opinions were concentrated in different physical locations. The physical structure of COP17 in South Africa can be divided into three main physical spaces. There was the Durban Exhibition Centre, which has over two hundred information booths from various research institutes, NGOs, and private companies; this was also the location of various panel discussions on the technicalities of UN’s programs as well as discussions on private and public involvement. The official place for governmental negotiations on international climate change initiatives was the International Conference Centre. In these two spaces there was very little opposition, with the exception of a number of civil society groups such as GreenPeace and the Canadian Youth Delegation, against a market-based approach in mitigating climate change.

The third location, a park called the “speakers corner”, became a public space where people from different parts of the world would gather to express their dissatisfaction with carbon markets and governmental inaction. The plurality of voices in this space provided different opinions on what can be considered adequate and realistic action on climate change. That said, the majority of protesters were against a profit-based approach and were either calling for more participatory, accountable, and transparent UN climate negotiations or the disposal of the current process and the establishment of a new system that would be based on peoples-solutions to climate change. I believe that there is space for both - the governmental and peoples-driven approaches to climate change - but the key to success is greater interaction between these two systems.

A recognized advantage for the majority of the world’s population during COP17, relative to other COPs, was that this conference took place on African soil. This presented an opportunity for many civil society people from Africa and Asia to be able to attend this international conference and place ‘climate justice’ on center stage by either protesting or participating in panel discussions. ‘Climate justice’ is based on the understanding that industrialized countries such as Canada and the United States are historically responsible for the current climate crises whereas ‘developing’ countries and lower-income communities (including communities in the ‘developed’ world) will be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  (1992) the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ principle was introduced to outline that both ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries needed to introduce different measures to combat climate change as per their different responsibilities and capacities. This principle is arguably being eroded by the pressures of certain big players such as United States and Canada to incorporate ‘developing’ countries into a legally-binding climate agreement while refusing to provide adequate financial support to help developing countries develop their economies sustainably. Placing a greenhouse gas emissions’ cap on certain developing countries would limit their economic development. For this reason, a number of developing countries, including India, have been very vocal about ‘equity’ and ‘right to development’ during COP17 and in future international climate negotiations. The ‘climate justice’ slogan became a common sight and chant during COP17 protests. What does ‘climate justice’ mean now after the signing of the Durban deal where countries have agreed to move forward with a legally binding agreement that will incorporate the ‘developing’ world?

‘Climate justice’ in future COPs should be about creating the right institutional opportunities for those who are currently lacking the space to voice their concerns and propose their different solutions. In short, ‘climate justice’ is about recognizing that industrialized countries have a circumstantial privilege in not only dealing with climate-change impacts but also during climate change negotiations at the United Nations level. Countries such as Canada and the United States need to learn when to stop talking and start listening. Although COP17 proved to be the fertile ground to explore the realities of many developing countries that are already being disproportionately affected by climate change, the institutional structure and negotiation climate at COP17 did not place enough emphasis on the importance of listening. The official delegates were in Durban to represent their government’s perspective and their national interests. However, it must be recognized that it is in their interests to hear what others, including the protesters, have to say about climate change. The protesting of many people from around the world on climate change was often categorized as unrealistic and unpractical opinions. But the conversations that happened at protests contain valuable information on how to approach ‘climate justice’ in international climate change policy and should inform the future development of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. ‘Climate justice’ is about meaningful dialogue between developed and developing countries, private and public sector representatives, and the national delegates and the people.


REDD at COP17: Where is the critical perspective?

On Wednesday morning, Indigenous Peoples from Bolivia, Mexico, Kenya, US, and Canada voiced their concerns against UN's climate-change program that is going to convert their forests into carbon credits.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries has received lots of attention at COP17. The REDD initiative was first proposed at COP11 as a program that will transfer money to conserve forests in developing countries and prevent the release of about 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are said to be caused by deforestation and forest degradation in the Global South. In official negotiations, REDD has become the win-win program as it would reward 'forest stewardship' in developing countries, and it would allow developed countries to bank-in carbon credits. A number of climate finance programs have been established to push forward the development and application of REDD. Some of these initiatives include: the World Bank's Forest Investment Program (FIP), World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF), Norway's Amazon Fund, Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF), and Australia's International Forest Carbon Initiative (IFCI). These funds conveniently serve the role of transferring the money that has been promised in various UNFCCC protocols and accords to help developing countries introduce climate change measures. Additionally, this money helps in the continued development of the much-praised carbon economy, which will supposedly introduce cost-effectiveness to climate change mitigation efforts while at the same time allow private and public institutions to profit via carbon capitalism.

REDD and REDD+ works by converting a piece of forest into carbon credits that could then be used by 'developed' countries to either offset their GHG emissions or sell these carbon credits for profit. The REDD+ initiative is supposed to incorporate sustainable forest management initiatives into REDD projects. A number of REDD and REDD+ projects have resulted in Indigenous and rural people being robbed of their land and their livelihoods. As noted by the Nepali Indigenous Peoples, there are a number of problems in local communities that may arise from REDD projects such as "shifting, displacement, landlessness and poverty". When a piece of land is registered as a REDD project, legal restrictions are placed on how that land may be used; this may block Indigenous Peoples' access to their land and their livelihood. The problem is that there are no specific procedures that can guarantee on a project-by-project basis that Indigenous Peoples' rights will be respected. Inside the Durban Exhibition Centre at COP17, there is a number of booths where Indigenous People support the REDD program as a way to bring money into their communities. Their support, however, is conditional on full participation of Indigenous Peoples in the development and implementation of REDD projects on their lands.

A number of COP17 side-events have focused on improving the technicalities of the REDD initiative in order to introduce more transparency and consistency in forest commodification. COP17 is said to be the place where more guidelines will be introduced to improve REDD. That said, I have not seen any side-events that provided a critical perspective on the implications of commodifying forests in the Global South. Additionally, I was not able to find an Indigenous Peoples’ booth in the Durban Exhibition Centre that openly opposes the REDD initiative. As noted by Tom Goldtooth from the Indigenous Environmental Network, "there is marginalization of Indigenous Peoples that oppose the REDD program". The UNFCCC needs to maintain a spotless public campaign of Indigenous Peoples' support for REDD initiatives. However, there are some well-funded NGOs, such as Greenpeace International, that have openly opposed carbon capitalism.

As voiced in the protest outside the official COP17 negotiations, there are many Indigenous Peoples that oppose the conversion of their lands for private profit. The issue here is the application of carbon capitalism to Indigenous Peoples’ land as well as natural ecosystems. Carbon capitalism is a system where capitalists can utilize climate change as an opportunity to make profit. At the Wednesday's protest, Indigenous Peoples made a strong statement that they will not allow their forests to be converted into a money-making business. Their message to the national delegates at COP 17 is "Respect the Indigenous Peoples; Respect their rights; Respect their lands". What is interesting here is that while forests in the developing world have become the centre-piece of cost-effective climate change action, little attention is paid to the economic pressure that is placed on developing countries to cut down their forests.  What if we were to limit consumerism in industrialized countries?  What if we  were to look at what is currently happening in the forested lands of the ‘developed’ world? Industrialized countries such as Canada should focus on re-evaluating their (clear-cut) logging practices and monoculture reforestation programs. Thus, the question is once again, why is it that in COP17 the emphasis remains on limiting the ability of developing countries to pursue economic development while developed countries, responsible for today’s climate crises, can continue with business-as-usual?

COP17 First Impressions – The Good and the Bad

With the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) taking place in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 until December 9, the world is watching. As a member of the York University delegation for the second week of the conference, I am midway through a week of side events, interviews, information booths, and a COP-crazy Durban. This is my first time attending a Conference of the Parties. My first day of the conference was Monday, December 5. Below are some of my first impressions from my first day of COP – the good and the bad.

The Good

Overall, the conference seems rather sophisticated, with most of the action split between the Durban Exhibition Centre (DEC) and the International Conference Centre (ICC), located right next to one another in the heart of downtown Durban. Most of my time here is spent in the DEC, which is home to approximately 200 information booths set up by a variety of institutions and organizations (including the York University / Inuit Youth Delegation headquarters – booth 197). The information booths include pamphlets and other organization publications, as well as games and other giveaways, and allow for an effective use of time in between other events. The DEC contains several side event rooms with open delegate access, a media area, a computer centre with computers provided, and an area designed for bloggers to blog on their laptops.

Aside from additional side events and presentations not open for general delegate access, the ICC is also home to various information areas and transportation / travel information for delegates from out of town.

Furthermore, I have found the staff and volunteers at COP17 to be very helpful and friendly. They do a good job of keeping things running smoothly with their hard work.

The Bad

I, and several co-delegates, were perplexed by how difficult it can be to get a straight forward list of the day’s side events. There is a printed list of the day’s side events (complete with time and room) located in the DEC, but otherwise delegates are expected to get the day’s information on one of the CCTV screens located in the DEC and ICC. The screens contain a rolling list, requiring delegates to stand by and wait for the events of interest to appear so the time and room information can be recorded before it disappears. Daily programmes are printed and distributed at the publications counters in the DEC and ICC, yet these printouts include mainly a list of key international representatives and a limited side events list (inconveniently excluding the open events). Why not include the full event listing? I am at a loss. Highlighted on one of the programmes is a list containing some of the day’s open events, while omitting the times the events take place. Again I am baffled.

While not a huge impediment, I was struck by an irony regarding registration. Durban is packed with posters, banners and other advertising for COP17, from the airport to the downtown cityscape. Yet, there appeared to be very little advertising for where to register for the conference. I walked all around the demarcated conference grounds until finally coming to the registration/entrance tent.

One problem with so many side events occurring simultaneously is that neighbouring speakers are always clearly and loudly audible in any given side event room. This becomes a distraction and makes the speakers harder to fully hear and follow. Perhaps this is something that simply cannot be avoided.

Lastly, there is a significant shortage of chairs in the computer centre and blogger’s loft, as well as in eating areas. When things are especially busy, one can watch ordinary delegates degenerate (somewhat understandably) into sneaky, selfish chair seekers. Again, this is an issue perhaps not easily avoidable, given the huge number of delegates and the finite amount of conference space.

Concluding Remarks

On the whole, I am thus far impressed with COP17, aside from a few snags here and there. The conference itself (as a physical space) seems an overall success. Whether or not the conference will be a success in terms of making any progress toward any kind of climate justice is another issue – we will have a better sense of that before long. Unfortunately, few have high hopes.

‘Equity’ and ‘right to development’ in climate change talks

As climate change talks in Durban continue to be submerged in self-interest and bureaucracy, Indian panel re-emphasizes the importance of equity and fairness for an effective climate agreement.

The continued controversial topic in COP17 is how 'developing' countries should be included in a post-Kyoto agreement. There is a number of very powerful developed countries, including the United States and Canada, that will not sign a legally binding agreement until developing countries (especially emerging economies such as India, China, and Brazil) are forced to limit their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is supported by the argument that due to the global nature of GHGs, the actions of Annex I (developed) countries in limiting their GHG emissions will be offset by the emissions of developing countries as their economies grow. This definitely has some standing. However, the proposed as well as existing national climate change policies presented here in COP17 by developing countries show that the developing world is already taking action on climate change proportional to their political and economic realities.

Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests and Centre for Science and Environment side event at COP 17: The imperative of equity for an effective climate agreement. Monday, December 5, 2011

Developing countries want to take action on climate change, but they also want to make sure that any kind of (binding or voluntary) agreement that comes out of Durban will adequately incorporate equity and justice. The historical perspective on climate change is that 'developed' countries have contributed most to the present day crises: with less than 20% of the world's population, developed countries are responsible for 75% of global GHG emissions (UNFCCC 2009). The people most vulnerable to climate change impacts, however, are the undernourished communities in developing countries as well as climate-change refugees that will be displaced by sea-level rises and natural disasters. Yet, these people have not received the economic benefits that developed countries gained from industrial, carbon-intense development. Additionally, some developing countries were/are disadvantaged by industrial, and now, capitalistic development. In the name of climate-change action, how can we (the higher-income countries) now refuse developing countries their 'right to development'? Placing GHG emission targets on developing countries means limiting their economic growth.

A reality check for climate change negotiations is recognizing the different economic and political capacities of countries to introduce climate change mitigation measures. By allowing voluntary measures in the Cancun Agreement for both developed and developing countries, the financial burden for climate change action has shifted to developing countries. The Cancun Agreement moved away from the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' of developed and developing countries that was introduced in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The issue here is that while the developed world does not want to pay for climate change measures via GHG limits to capitalistic growth, developing countries cannot afford to pay for climate change action. Additionally, the Global South should not have to pay for something that they are not responsible for creating. If we want developing countries to economically grow in a sustainable manner, a lot of money will be required to decouple their economic growth from GHG emissions.

Reflecting on the COP17 side-events' schedule and coverage, it becomes clear that the discussion has shifted to financial-support instruments for developing countries and voluntary commitments for both the developed and the developing worlds. The idea of a second-commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol or an altogether new legally binding Durban Protocol seems to have been abandoned. But nothing is certain until the end of the negotiation talks. Presently, the side-events discussion has centered on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as well as marked-based initiatives such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). The continued discussion on the transfer of finances from the developed world is a welcomed initiative. But if we are talking about equity and justice in climate change negotiations, financial initiatives should not replace the necessary actions that developed countries should take as part of their responsibility for releasing GHG emissions.