Tales from Durban: Australia’s climate role and the Conference of Youth
Here's two different writers and activists over at the UN climate talks in Durban offering their take on what's happening, from Australia's role at the climate talks to the Conference of Youth where hundreds of young people talk about how to fight climate change and push governments into action ...
Here’s two different writers and activists over at the UN climate talks in Durban offering their take on what’s happening, from Australia’s role at the climate talks to the Conference of Youth where hundreds of young people talk about how to fight climate change and push governments into action …
Durban climate talks: Australia’s role in tackling climate change
Clancy Moore writes: The role of Australia in tackling climate change was in the spotlight today at the UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa.
Australia’s Ambassador for Climate Change, Louise Hand addressed the opening plenary on the recent passing of the Clean Energy Future legislation. Quoting Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet (who will be attending the second week of talks) she raised the importance of decoupling Australia’s prosperity from pollution and intergenerational equity. Upon finishing, the room broke out into a wave of applause.
This moment was a bright spot in a tense opening session around long-term approaches to tackling climate change. I listened to the EU state that current efforts to tackle climate change would only meet half the amount required to keep warming to below 2°C. African countries pleaded to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive. Grenada spoke on behalf of small island nations about the devastating impacts of extreme events such as drought and storm surges and called on rich countries to take further action to reduce emissions.
Also today, a major analysis of Australia’s climate actions was released in a project funded by Climate Analytics and Ecofys. The project studied whether current or pledged climate action is enough to limit the negative effects of climate change by holding long-term global temperature increase below 2°C. The report showed that Australia needs to do more to ensure warming stays below 2°C let alone the 1.5°C demanded by developing countries in the pacific and parts of Africa.
Australia has pledged a bipartisan unconditional, 5% reduction target by 2020 on 2000 levels. In comparison, Britain — a country which hasn’t weathered the global financial crisis as well as Australia — is aiming to reduce emissions by 50% by 2025.
While some say Australia’s commitment to reduce emissions by 5% is a big enough reduction, the IPCC suggests that rich countries need to reduce emissions by 25-40% by 2020 on 1990 levels.
Recent research by the Stockholm Environment Institute, and commissioned by Oxfam, shows that the emission reductions by emerging economies such as China, India, South Africa and Brazil are likely to be slightly greater than the combined efforts of the US, Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Russia. Indeed, the report showed that 60% of emission reductions by 2020 are likely to be made by developing countries.
Rich countries such as Australia have an opportunity and responsibility to do more at Durban. Not doing so has the potential to cast a shadow over this year’s UN Climate Summit.
Clancy Moore is blogging from the UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa (November 28 – December 9) as part of Oxfam’s UN Climate Tracker project. You can follow his blogs here.
The UN: where the real work happens
Ellen Sandell, national director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, writes: Over ten thousand people have converged on Durban, South Africa, this week for the latest instalment of the UN climate negotiations. Along with media and Government representatives, there will be a large contingent of NGOs who are there to observe, lobby and campaign.
As the leader of an NGO, each year I ask myself: is it really worth sending a team to Durban for two weeks? Given that most countries are negotiating under domestic policy constraints, is there really any room to change things at the conference itself?
I think back to the times when things have actually changed at the last minute during the talks. For example, in 2007 in Bali, when vulnerable countries emphatically told the US to “lead or get out of the way”, it led to a significant breakthrough in the Bali Road Map. Similarly, Mexico’s deft diplomacy skills in Cancun last year kept the process from being derailed.
Yet no matter how productive the actual negotiations are, there will inevitably be roadblocks created by the fact that countries have set their climate policies based on political conditions back home, and things will only change once countries can come to the negotiating table with serious stuff to offer.
We also know that while a global treaty will help raise ambition and make cooperation on climate action easier, it doesn’t magically produce action on it’s own. Only real programs and policies in each country and community will make that happen.
Unfortunately, as we learned from our many attempts to get a carbon price, domestic action is no piece of cake. It took years (if not decades) of pressure from NGOs and the public to get our carbon price passed. Fortunately, our hard work will now pay off, by injecting momentum into these negotiations, and creating space for other countries to follow our lead on domestic action. In turn, this adds more momentum to future talks. By coming to the table with serious policies under our belt, we add more momentum to the talks than any last-minute horse-trading ever could.
What this teaches us is that it cannot be the role of NGOs, academics and other observers to attend the UN climate talks and lobby during these two weeks in isolation. For too long we have thought that simply bearing witness to the lack of progress, adding our polite policy suggestions, or reporting back home on the realities of the negotiations would somehow serve to create an impetus for increased action. One thing that Copenhagen taught us was that no amount of public attention or well-mannered lobbying will change the outcomes of these talks.
The NGOs that have real influence know that working at home is far more powerful than turning up to the UN once a year.
Luckily, that’s precisely the kind of shift in thinking we have seen from many NGOs in recent years, and particularly from youth-led organisations. Each year since Montreal in 2005, youth from around the world have converged on the UN talks. The main game hasn’t been the negotiations, but a lesser-known conference during the three days before COP – the “Conference of Youth”.
This year over sixty countries were represented. With a large contingent of African youth, the energy in the room was palpable. Spontaneous cries of “Amandla! Awethu!” and the traditional resistance song “Shosholoza” rung out between the sessions on how to communicate climate change and run effective campaigns.
We shared case studies on how the US organisation 350.org led a successful campaign to send the destructive Keystone XL pipeline back to the drawing board, effectively killing a plan to export carbon from the Canadian Tar Sands to the rest of the world.
We learnt how young people from the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change brought hundreds of people from Nairobi to Durban in caravans, educating people and collecting stories of climate impacts along the way.
Young people are using the UN climate talks as a way to organise powerful movements back home. This year the conference was addressed by Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace International. A local of Durban and prominent anti-apartheid activist, Naidoo joined the anti-apartheid movement when he was just 15 and was forced to flee South Africa at 22. He reminded us that just like social movements of the past, from apartheid to abolitionism, young people will be at the forefront of the movement for climate justice.
These young people know they cannot wait to grow up before they do something about climate change. The recent World Energy Outlook report shows that we have five years in which to act, and no longer. Unless we take drastic action now, most of these young activists will not be out of their twenties before we’re locked in to more than 2 degrees of global warming.
While there may be rumours that world leaders have lost hope for a global deal, young people have not lost hope for action, and we’ll keep pushing for action to happen not just internationally, but in every country and community that we are a part of.
We are here not just to lobby our leaders for two weeks, but make sure when our leaders go home they cannot afford to get away with inaction.
A quote from Nelson Mandela has become the informal motto of the talks here in Durban: “everything always seems impossible until it is done”.
We know action at home is hard, but it has to be done. The NGOs worth their salt are the ones working to make this happen. And those who say it can’t be done, should get out of the way of those already doing it.