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MONTREAL—A small group of the wealthiest and largest carbon-polluting nations will use this summer’s G8 and G20 summits to advance an unjust global climate deal through unrepresentative, anti-democratic channels, say climate campaigners, Indigenous groups and representatives of nations in the global South.
According to documents released in February by the G20 Research Group—associated with the Munk Centre for International Studies—the European Union (EU) wants to “pursue a new deal on global warming through the G20, since the December 2009 Copenhagen conference of nearly 200 countries led to unwieldy negotiations that accomplished little.”
“This speaks to the inability of rich countries to recognize [their] climate debt, and speaks to their rejection of the UNFCCC process and a move to a much more undemocratic process,” said Andrea Harden, Climate and Energy Campaigner for the Council of Canadians.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established in 1992 and has met regularly since 1995 to create solutions to climate change. With 192 countries now party to the Convention, it is considered by many nations and civil society groups as the most democratic international forum for reaching an effective global climate treaty.
In Copenhagen, the “Circle of Commitment”—a group of wealthy nations, including the US and the UK—secretly circulated a document known as the Danish Text. It recommended consolidating climate negotiating power in wealthy nations, and placing control of climate financing under the purview of the World Bank. The result of the summit was the Copenhagen Accord, a US-backed, non-binding agreement that was similar in scope to the Danish Text. While supporting the UNFCCC as a forum for international negotiations, many nations and climate campaigners are reluctant to support the Accord.
“The Copenhagen Accord is a weak document that is not going to address the issue of climate change in any meaningful way,” said Harden. “The lack of any mandatory emissions targets means that whole countries will be facing dire consequences thanks to our government’s inaction.”
Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s chief envoy to the United Nations, told The Dominion such big power manoeuvring would undermine a just global response to climate change.
“Bolivia believes that on an issue that affects the whole of humanity, we cannot make decisions in small unrepresentative forums, whether it is a group of 20 nations or in secret dinners behind the UN facade as we saw in Copenhagen,” said Solon. “That is why we are calling for climate change to be brought back into the full UNFCCC process, and are supporting just, effective proposals put on the table by civil society organizations.”
While Canada and US politicians have refused to publicly acknowledge their policy shift, critics argue their statements about the UNFCCC processes indicate as much.
In the weeks after Copenhagen, head US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing stated “it is...impossible to imagine a negotiation of enormous complexity where you have a table of 192 countries involved in all the detail.”
Critics’ speculation that the Copenhagen Accord would be used to undermine the UNFCCC was confirmed in early April 2010 at the Bonn intersessional meeting. The United States announced that nations refusing to sign the Accord would be ineligible for financial aid to developing nations to mitigate climate change.
“The US is acting like a bully, strong-arming the most vulnerable countries to get them to sign onto an ineffective and unfair deal that will not move the world closer to a just climate agreement,” said Kate Horner of Friends of the Earth in a statement to the media.
“This is in their rights, but unfair and clearly an attempt to punish Bolivia,” said Solon. “What kind of negotiation is it where you lose money if you disagree?” He said Bolivia’s negotiating positions would not change because of such threats. “We are a country with dignity and sovereignty and will maintain our position.”
Canada’s Environment Minister Jim Prentice denied rich countries would prefer to work outside the UNFCCC. When asked by The Dominion, he also pledged support for the Copenhagen Accord.
“Close to 90 per cent of the world’s emissions are now governed under the Copenhagen Accord,” Prentice said. “The [government’s] intent is to proceed through a multilateral process to turn that accord into a treaty. It may be discussed but the focus will be the multilateral process to turn this into a binding treaty, and that is not the role of the G8 or G20.”
For representatives of Indigenous communities, drowning island nations and nations of the global South, the Copenhagen Accord represents a step in the wrong direction.
“The Copenhagen Accord has no legal standing—it is a declaration of defeat by nations determined to avoid their responsibilities for climate change,” said Solon.
Canada has come under fire as a major destabilizing force in international climate politics, and recently lowered its emissions targets to meet those of the United States.
“Our economies are integrated to the point where it makes absolutely no sense to proceed without harmonizing and aligning a range of principles, policies, regulations and standards with respect to combating climate change,” said Tracy Lacroix-Wilson of Environment Canada.
Under the self-regulation measures of the Copenhagen Accord, the Conservative government has decided to harmonize its emissions targets with the United States at 17 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020.
When measured against the Kyoto Protocol’s 1990 base year, the Copenhagen Accord will only reduce emissions by three per cent. This is half of Canada’s legally binding targets under the Kyoto Implementation Act, and far below what climate scientists are calling for.
Critics point out that the Accord leaves 75 countries involved in the UNFCCC negotiations out of future climate plans, adding weight to speculations that Canada and other major polluting economies aim to undermine the UNFCCC.
“It is essentially the G20 that is holding back the international process to achieve a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate treaty,” said Kimia Ghomeshi, G8/20 Campaign Co-ordinator for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. “It is these industrialized, wealthy countries that are historically responsible for causing climate change and therefore have the greatest responsibility to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”
Gomeshi argues that without comprehensive, science-based targets enshrined in a global treaty, 76 nations “representing approximately 80 per cent of global emissions” will need to make cuts internally. Without enforcement measures, there are no forums for the most adversely affected nations to hold polluters accountable.
To address the Copenhagen Accord’s inadequacies, Bolivian Prime Minister Evo Morales convened the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in late April.
“The People’s Summit on Climate Change aimed to bring democracy and people back into decisions on climate change and our future,” said Solon.
The Council of Canadians was one of the organizations which sent civil society representatives to the Cochabamba conference. “We are excited to hear about and discuss some of the projects on the table, including the creation of a climate justice tribunal and an international referendum on a global climate treaty,” Harden told The Dominion. in the lead up to the summit.
Meanwhile, critics accuse wealthy nations of delaying innovative responses to climate change. At the G8 Foreign Minister’s meeting in Gatineau, Quebec in March, Japan’s was the only delegate to address the media on the subject of climate change.
“As we all know, the global community must address the issue of rising sea levels and rising temperatures. In order to address [climate change] there seems to be a consensus today,” said Kazuo Kodama, Japan’s Foreign Affairs press secretary. “We have to transform our society from a carbon intensive one to a low carbon society.”
According to documents obtained from the International Energy Agency (IEA), G8 and G20 leaders will likely table Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies as their main effort towards this transformation. The IEA’s 2009 CCS report to the G8 notes that “most of the major economies have announced ambitious plans (and associated funding) for large-scale CCS demonstration projects,” including a $3.5 billion investment from the Canadian government.
But a 2008 report released by Greenpeace called CCS technology a “false hope” solution that has yet to be effectively implemented by any large-scale coal-fired power plant or in the Canadian tar sands.
“Carbon Capture and Storage amounts to an expensive distraction from more meaningful actions addressing the climate crisis, like keeping fossil fuels in the ground, significant improvements in conservation and energy efficiency,” said Harden. “Even worse, emphasizing the proposed ‘potential’ of CCS masks the immediate impacts of ongoing expansion of destructive fossil fuel-based energy production, which the climate crisis demands we transition away from.”
The Toronto Community Mobilization’s G20 call-to-action included an invitation to Copenhagen to bring “climate justice” to the streets of Toronto.
“Following the collapse of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, [the G8/G20] will be discussing the global economy, development and climate change,” read the invitation. “These gatherings are about trying to fix capitalism, a system that cannot be fixed; about creating unsustainable market responses to ecological catastrophe that reinforce systems of oppression... The so-called leaders at these gatherings do not represent us.”
Organizers are looking to examples and proposals from the global South, such as those coming out of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.
“We imagine the beginnings of a people’s accord, a summary of proposals led by groups who have worked many years on these issues, which can be implemented at local, regional, national and international levels,” said Bolivia’s Solon. “And it could provide a road map for saving people and our planet.”
Cameron Fenton is an intern at The Dominion and an anthropology student at Concordia University in Montreal.
This story was published in The Dominion's special issue on the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario. We will continue to publish independent, investigative news about the G8 and G20 throughout the month of June.
For up-to-the-minute G8/G20 news from the streets of Toronto, visit the Toronto Media Co-op.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.