Lethal symmetry: the Durban climate outcome

Posted December 15, 2011 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from Kincuri.

Daniel Reifsnyder (center) is U.S. chair of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action.

The chief U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, explained to the delegates at the Conference of Parties (COP) at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that the United States sought “legal symmetry” among all parties. The New York Times dutifully reported the U.S. position, together with the U.S. view that China and India were blocking the “modernization” of the UNFCCC by not agreeing to assume the same obligations as developed countries in the new “legal framework” (in the U.S. phrasing), in effect would replace the UNFCCC and its foundational principles. The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Changte, Todd Stern, said that the U.S. was fully satisfied with the outcome of the “Durban Platform” and implicitly with the replacement of the UNFCCC’s foundational principles with the U.S. principle of “legal symmetry.”

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The “deal” in Durban: What happened on agriculture at the climate talks?

Posted December 13, 2011 by Doreen Stabinsky   

Used under creative commons license from adopt a negotiator.

Tension ran high as the climate talks came to a close on December 11.

There is little doubt that agriculture is both affected by and directly affects climate change. Exactly how to address agriculture within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UFCCC), however, is not easy to answer. Before Durban, negotiating text had been circulating since before the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, virtually unchanged for two years.

How could agriculture be so controversial, one might wonder? One of the main sticking points for agreement over the agriculture text was the legal context in which negotiations were set. Agriculture was being considered under a mitigation workstream in the Bali Action Plan called “Cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions.” The framing constraints imposed on the negotiations by a mitigation context made many countries unhappy. Most developing countries, for example, are much more concerned about impacts of climate change on agricultural production and adaptation challenges, and felt no need to agree on how to cooperate on mitigation within the sector. The two weeks of negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 were taken up convincing developed countries to insert language on adaptation, food security and small farmers, but in the end no agreement on the complete text was reached.

Paragraphs on trade were also inserted at that time, insisting that nothing agreed to in those talks could be used to create barriers to international trade. This proved the most important issue blocking progress on the agriculture text in these intervening two years, including at negotiations in Cancún in December 2010. Countries such as Argentina and Brazil were adamant that no text would go ahead without those paragraphs; New Zealand, the United States and other developed countries insisted against them. Cancún ended as it began, in deadlock over an essentially unchanged text.

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IATP at Durban

Posted December 9, 2011 by Colleen Borgendale   

Used under creative commons license from UNclimatechange.

 The COP17 climate talks are wrapping up and IATP staff are on their way home from Durban, South Africa. Throughout the 10-day summit, IATP met with media representatives, delegates and NGO partners on a range of issues related to agriculture and climate change. We’ve prepared a summary of press coverage from Durban and a compilation of materials that the IATP team produced during the summit. A post-conference report will be available as soon as staff have returned.

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Wearing blinders: The UNFCCC and agriculture's adaptation challenge

Posted December 7, 2011 by Doreen Stabinsky   

Used under creative commons license from littlemoresunshine.

Boquillas Canyon Trail at Big Bend National Park, Texas. The drought in Texas is one example of the impact of climate change on agriculture.

Doreen Stabinsky is blogging for IATP from the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

One of the major issues being considered here at COP17 is adaptation. 

Adaptation is the term used for any type of effort taken to adapt systems to changing climates. In agriculture, adaptation could mean building irrigation systems, improving soil water–holding capacity by adding manures or compost, or reducing post-harvest losses, which in turn could reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate impacts.

In the context of climate change negotiations, adaptation gets lost in the morass of acronyms and institutional mechanisms. At this particular meeting, developing country frustration with inaction and a lack of sufficient funding permeated the multiple agenda items dealing with adaptation: the Nairobi work program review, discussion of modalities and guidelines for development of National Adaptation Plans, a work program on loss and damage, the establishment of an Adaptation Committee, and the Adaptation Fund.

Agriculture enters specifically into the negotiations primarily as a sector, with an equal or lesser status with water, coastal and marine ecosystems, mountain ecosystems and forests, among others. That adaptation in agricultural systems could have such contested priority, given the centrality of the sector to the livelihoods of so many, is a bit hard to understand. But given the paucity of resources to go around, developing countries squabble over what little there is, and in the adaptation debate that squabbling manifests itself in contests over whose pet sector will be prioritized this year. This year, water has won, at least in the debate over the next phase of work in the Nairobi work program.

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The Durban pantomime

Posted December 7, 2011 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from bbcworldservice.

Climate negotiations are underway in Durban, South Africa.

IATP’s Steve Suppan is blogging from the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

The high-level session on Wednesday changes the scenery of what one observer called the negotiations pantomime. Many of the more than a thousand observer organizations (NGOs, farmers, private sector, etc.) in Durban have worked in alliances to boil down their policy briefs into a page or less of suggested negotiating text bullet points. Security guards permitting, we try to hand these lobbying documents to the delegates as they enter rooms to negotiate texts to hand over to their bosses. The Heads of State and other higher-level officials will make political decisions about the texts thus far negotiated.

In a theatrical pantomime, gestures, not words, convey the story. In a negotiations pantomime, positions taken on the dozens of agenda items before the negotiators become the gestures. Some of the gestures mean what they mime, some are empty placeholders that may or may not be given concrete meaning by the political decision-makers in the negotiations endgame.

IATP has worked to cover three agenda topics: agriculture, "new market mechanisms" for reducing greenhouse gases ("mitigation"), and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to finance developing country projects to adapt to and mitigate climate change. This blog will reflect on the GCF and new market mechanisms’ pantomimes.

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Stakes are high for agriculture at climate talks

Posted December 5, 2011 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from adopt a negotiator.

As the COP17 talks continue in Durban, the stakes remain high for agriculture.

 IATP’s Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Climate chaos seems to be increasing all over the world. In my home in Virginia, we experienced a hurricane in August that knocked out power in many communities up the East Coast, and several days of record-breaking temperatures in November. While this kind of weather is mostly an inconvenience or a pleasant surprise for us, erratic weather patterns in other, more fragile environments can be devastating.

I met with farmers from Mozambique, Mali and the Gambia at the C17 Peoples’ Space, parallel to the official climate talks in Durban. They were part of a delegation from La Via Campesina, a global movement of small-scale farmers. One by one, they told us of rains that now come too early, too late or not at all. Corn they plant after early rains gets burned by the scorching sun. Seeds they plant later get washed away in late rainstorms. Rivers have disappeared, lakes have dried up. One young woman has listened to elders in her community talk of regular planting seasons, but she has never seen them in her lifetime.

We discussed proposals to cope with climate change, starting with projects designed to capture carbon in trees or the soil for sale in carbon markets. IATP has worked with allies in Kenya to track a pilot program designed to create a new market for soil carbon. While the project has led to improvements in soil quality, it is premised on sales to a non-existent market for soil carbon. This could distract attention from the need for reliable support for agricultural adaptation, and even divert much needed resources at the national level to setting up these programs. One participant commented that when elephants fight, the grass (in this case, farmers) gets trampled.

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The water, energy and food nexus

Posted December 2, 2011 by Shiney Varghese   

As I flew back from Bonn last week, on my way back from the Bonn 2011 Nexus Conference (16–18 November), one thing was clear to me. Corporate environmentalism is entrenching itself firmly in the corridors of global governance, and challenging its advance will require new strategies. The "in-your-face" approach of yesterday is being replaced with a softer, albeit more dangerous "corporate responsibility" garb. This softer path also seeks to ensure that civil society stakeholders are seen as party to the decisions.

The Bonn Nexus conference is symptomatic of the way that corporate environmentalism is developing. "The water, energy and food security nexus, Solutions for the Green Economy," as it is called, is an initiative of the federal government of Germany to develop specific contributions to the Rio+20 Conference. It is an important event because this is the first of several nexus conferences being planned to gain political support for advancing the green economy at Rio+20. The next follow-up conference is being organized by World Economic Forum and will be held in January 2012.

In its recognition of a "nexus," these conferences could be seen as a step forward. Two years ago, when we published a report on the need for integrated solutions for the water, climate and food crises, the idea of connections between these three sectors was simply not on any official agenda.

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Agriculture and the Green Climate Fund: Two U.S. bargaining chips at the climate talks

Posted December 1, 2011 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from UNclimatechange.

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

IATP’s Steve Suppan is blogging from the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

A bargaining chip is usually something withheld to get consent for something bigger, not smaller. The United States (and Saudi Arabia) blocked consensus on establishing a Green Climate Fund (GCF) for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change at an October 18 meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. The U.S. would not agree to establish a financial mechanism for the $100 billion in climate change project investments promised at the 2009 UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) until a long laundry list of demands were met. 

Chief among the demands was that the UNFCCC not have oversight of the GCF and that there be a private sector facility for corporations to access public money for use in projects that would not have to be approved by the countries where the projects would be carried out. The end of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires developed country parties to commit to binding reductions in greenhouse gases, is also among the bigger goals the U.S. seeks to achieve in Durban, South Africa. Therefore, withholding approval of the GCF, and money to operationalize it, are key U.S. bargaining chips.

In response, IATP and other civil society leaders helped draft a letter, signed by over 160 organizations and released earlier today, exposing the U.S. government’s obstructionist role in the negotiations over the GCF. A backgrounder issued earlier this week, outlines IATP and other civil society organization’s concerns about efforts to replace the Kyoto Protocal.

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Civil society in Durban: "Reject carbon markets for agriculture"

Posted November 29, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Meraj Chhaya.

IATP joined more than 100 civil society organizations in calling for countries to reject efforts to place agricultural soils within a carbon market.

As the global climate talks began this week in Durban, South Africa, IATP joined more than 100 civil society organizations in calling for countries to reject efforts to place agricultural soils within a carbon market. In Durban, negotiators will consider whether to approve a separate agriculture and climate work plan. Such a program “would lead to agricultural soils and agroecological practices being turned into commodities to be sold on carbon markets, or used as sinks to enable industrialized countries to continue to avoid reducing emissions,” the groups wrote in a letter to negotiators. Instead, the groups called for developed countries to fulfill their commitments for climate finance with direct annual contributions to the U.N.’s Adaptation Fund. You can read the full letter and the press release.

A big question in Durban is whether countries will build on the Kyoto Protocol and its series of binding commitments for greenhouse gas reductions, or replace Kyoto with a system of voluntary pledges pushed by the United States. IATP and eight civil society groups analyze this question in a new fact sheet titled: At Stake in Durban: A Climate Deal for the 1% or the 99%?
IATP’s Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Steve Suppan and Doreen Stabinsky will be reporting on the climate change negotiations in Durban. Stay tuned.

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Workshop in Kenya on the politics of agriculture in the climate talks

Posted November 16, 2011 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from CGIAR Climate.

According to IATP analysis of project cost and benefit estimates, the carbon payments are negligible in the Kenya Agricultural Soil Carbon Project: at most a little over $1 per farmer per year for 20 years.

The Africa Biodiversity Network, ActionAid Kenya, the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance and IATP held a workshop in Thika, Kenya in late October to discuss what is at stake for food producers and African agriculture as African governments head to the global climate talks in Durban in a few weeks to decide whether to launch an agriculture work program. Representatives of 55 civil society organizations including farmers organizations such as the Network of Ecofarming in Africa (NECOFA), the East African Farmers Federation, the NGOMA campaign (a food security campaign of smallholder maize and dairy farmers), and community- and faith-based development organizations such as the Anglican Church of Kenya-Western Region Christian Community Services,  came together to discuss the politics of agriculture within the climate talks, the notions of “climate-smart agriculture” and what soil carbon offsets could mean for Kenyan agriculture and its food producers. 

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