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Day 3 in Copenhagen: Ban Re-asserts Control over the Negotiations

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is reasserting control over the negotiations after a leaked document raised what he called “trust issues” between developed and developing countries. The UN’s top climate diplomat says the document is just one informal proposal and he real work will be done at the negotiating table.

For a look at exactly what these “trust issues” are all about, Abishek Nayak summarizes the differences between the so-called “Danish text” and a counter-proposal put forward by the BASIC bloc (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China). Developing countries feel that the Danish text weakens the principles of the Kyoto treaty which place special responsibility on the developed world for tackling climate change. For example, the Danish text calls for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system for all climate mitigation projects, whereas the BASIC draft calls for MRV only on those projects that rely on financing or technology from the developed world. The Danish text calls for developing countries to specify a year at which their CO2 emissions will peak. The BASIC proposal rejects that option.

Another major sticking point is that the Danish text gives more power to the World Bank, which is controlled by developed countries, at the expense of the UN where developing countries have more pull.

Angelica Navarro, the Chief Climate Negotiator for Bolivia, stressed in a radio interview that developing countries are not “begging for aid.” On the contrary, she argues, the global north emits most of the carbon dioxide and therefore owes the global south reparations for the damages it has inflicted.

The chair of the negotiating bloc of developing nations known as the G-77, Lumumba Di-Aping, said the proposed $10 billion in emergency aid to the developing world is “not enough to buy us coffins.”

As the developed world squares off against BASIC, a parallel rift is developing within the bloc of developing nations known as the G-77. Negotiations came to a halt today at the request of the island nation of Tuvalu. Tuvalu asked for the break after conference president Connie Hedegaard declined to advance its proposal for tougher, legally-binding steps.

Developing countries wanted time to hash out their differences behind the scenes. A rift is emerging between the most vulnerable nations and the industrializing giants of the BASIC bloc. Small island states and poor African countries want a tough new protocol that goes beyond the Kyoto agreement, holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and capping carbon concentrations at 350 parts per million. The richer developing countries oppose these measures which they believe they would stunt their developing economies.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson got a standing ovation at a closed-door briefing with environmentalist groups and other non-profits last night. They were cheering becaues the EPA announced on Monday that carbon dioxide is a public health hazard and will therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Jackson is in Copenhagen as part of an Obama administration “charm offensive” featuring daily events with Cabinet secretaries. Today, Jackson pledged that President Obama would work with Congress to “make up for lost time” on the climate issue. Her remarks seemed calculated to reassure American lawmakers that the executive branch wasn’t planning to do an end run around them on emissions.

Of course, Lobbyists from the oil, gas, and alternative energy industry are flaking in Copenhagen. NGOs and activist organizations are also on hand. This evening activists from a group calling itself Young Clean Energy Advocates crashed a presentation sponsored by Americans For Prosperity, a U.S. corporate-funded advocacy group that opposes American action on climate change. 

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New Ugandan Legislation Includes Death Sentence for Active Homosexuals

The Ugandan government is currently debating a new law against homosexuality. Regular homosexuality is punishable by seven years in prison. Being HIV positive and having gay sex – even with a condom – would be punishable by death. I don’t think it is culturally insensitive to say that this is a very bad law.


And that’s not all. The law will also criminalize anyone “who acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality”, and a person in authority who “aids, abets, councils or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality”.

Anti-gay sentiment has been building in Uganda for a long time. Homosexuality is seen as against Ugandan traditions – a dirty practice brought to the country by outsiders. It has been a polarizing issue among those who work on HIV issues, and the subject of many editorials in the Ugandan media and blogosphere. It’s not surprising that things have gotten to this point, but it is depressing.

There is also some ugly irony at work here. Homosexuality is not an outside influence on Uganda, but homophobia actually is. Several American conservative Christian leaders visited Uganda in March to hold a seminar on exposing the homosexual agenda. They’re backing away from this new legislation, bt it’s hard to avoid the idea that they helped to bring it about.


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China’s Copenhagen Committment: Significant?

“The Chinese commitment target is a strong one by any measure. No developing country in economic history—other than post-Mao China—has cut its energy-related greenhouse gas emissions growth so deeply for so long. For a developing country to legally bind itself to achieve such a target is surprising, and reflects China’s fear of climate change,” says William Chandler of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  Chandler further argues that from a diplomatic standpoint, it makes sense to sieze on China’s determination to reach a deal in Copenhagen — a “strike while the iron is hot,” sort of thing. 

It seems to me to be a compelling argument.  What do you think?  


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Behind-the-scenes at COP 15: BASIC responds to the Danish Draft

As Aaron noted earlier,  the Guardian reported on a leaked Danish draft agreement that has seriously miffed the developing world. This draft, being called the ‘Danish text’, squarely ignores some of the most frequently quoted demands of the developing countries and would therefore be unacceptable to the G77.

The draft was circulated among some of the key countries (both developed and developing) last week and leaders from developing countries have spoken vociferously in public against it. A G-77 negotiator from the African bloc said, “In effect, the Danish proposal amends the whole UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) balance of obligations and could eventually kill Kyoto (Protocol). The draft creates obligations for developing nations as well for mitigation and adaptation,”

The draft was made on 27th November and it is not known what the latest version looks like. But most of the fundamental principles would probably still remain.

With the developing country negotiators miffed with the developed nations, day two in Copenhagen suddenly looked more like Barcelona, when developing countries led by Australia and Canada first proposed scrapping the Kyoto Protocol.

On Sunday the BASIC bloc, consisting of Brazil, South Africa, India and China, responded to the ‘Danish text’ by releasing an alternate proposal to the G77 in hopes for drafting a combined proposal from the entire developing countries bloc and thus sharing a single negotiating position. Here are quick summaries of both the proposals that highlight their differences.

The Danish text:

-A new and alternate framework must be agreed upon instead of the Kyoto Protocol.

-The alternate framework would elicit from major developing countries, emission reduction targets and contribution to the climate change fund, according to their capacities. It proposes setting future CO2 peaking year for the developing countries and appointing World Bank as the institution to handle climate change funds.

-The mitigation targets for developed countries have only been represented as ‘X’ but aims to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees.

-All climate change mitigation actions by countries would be subject to an MRV (measure, report and verify) mechanism.

-According to analysts, the agreement would continue the inequity that exists between the rich and poor countries by limiting per-capita CO2 emissions of developing country citizens to 1.4 tons per year compared to 2.67 tons for a developed country citizen. It also sets a short term target of creating a USD 10bn annual fund for climate change adaptation and mitigation in ‘most vulnerable nations’.

-The text also suggests creation of a ‘most vulnerable nations’ category for the developing countries, all of which are currently referred as the non-Annex I parties by the UNFCCC.

The BASIC proposal:

-All climate change negotiations must be held under the UNFCCC framework and the Kyoto Protocol or Bali Action Plan must not be blurred.

-The developed countries will be expected to take the lead in reducing emissions and funding developing countries to adapt to climate change. The funding would have to be new and additional and not sourced from previously pledged aid funds.

-It also makes it abundantly clear that developing countries should not have to accept binding emission cuts or specify a peaking year for CO2.

-MRV (measure, report and verify) mechanism would be acceptable only for actions supported by finance or technology by developed countries.  Unsupported actions would be audited by the respective country.

The Danish text shows that perhaps not much has been achieved since Barcelona to reach a final deal. With a rift growing in the G77 as well over the BASIC proposal, there is a real danger for the Copenhagen conference to derail as disagreements on fundamental principles continue to be unresolved.

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Day 2 in Copenhagen: Climate Talks “in Disarray”?

The future of civilization hinges on the outcome of the international climate talks in Copenhagen, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters today.

If that’s the case, the prospect for human survival just took a turn for the worse.

The climate negotiations were “in disarray” today after a leaked document revealed proposals for international guidelines that representatives of developing nations said put them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the rich countries of the world. The document, known as the “Danish text” and obtained by the Guardian, is a draft text by the host Danish government that reveals fundamental differences between the wealthier and poorer nations of the world as to how the global community should tackle climate change. (See Abhishek’s post for a peek inside the developing world’s reaction.)

According to the Guardian, the document indicates that “world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.” Furthermore, it is “being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.”

But the BBC notes that the Danish text is just one of many proposals that will be submitted by individual governments to the delegates in Copenhagen. UN climate chief Yvo de Boer dismissed its importance. “This was an informal paper ahead of the conference given to a number of people for the purposes of consultations,” he said. “The only formal texts in the UN process are the ones tabled by the Chairs of this Copenhagen conference at the behest of the parties.”

The principal objection of developing countries centers on the Kyoto protocol. Representatives of poorer countries hope to see developed nations’ emissions continue to be governed by the protocol, while the Danish text proposes an entirely new agreement to mandate emissions controls for every country.

Until the dust settles, it remains unclear exactly what role the Danish text controversy will play as the negotiations progress.

But “disarray” or not, the climate talks moved forward today, with the World Meteorological Organization presenting a report to the conference that shows the past decade to be the hottest on record. The WMO says that 2009 has been the fifth-warmest year and predicts that next year will be the warmest.

Meanwhile, a senior Chinese negotiator criticized the American and European targets as insufficient. And conservative skeptics had their own line of attack, decrying the entire conference as a “circus” and an “echo chamber.”

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Nigeria Eliminates Guinea Worm

The New York Times reported yesterday that Nigeria has eliminated Guinea worm. It’s been an entire year since a worm was seen. This is a big deal. Guinea worm is a horrifying monster of a parasite; the worms can grow to three feet long and come busting out of human skin through an open sore. There is no medication for someone infected with a guinea worm. You can wait for the worm to break out of the body, or you can remove it by wrapping the worm around a stick and wrapping a little more of the live worm each day. Time Magazine has an enlightening and horrifying photo essay on Guinea worm.


You can see why we want to get rid of Guinea worm infection. The trick to Guinea worms, though, is that their infection vector lives in standing water. So eradicating the infection doesn’t happen by vaccinating people. Instead, it’s by making sure that everyone drinks filtered water and never consumes any of the water fleas that host Guinea worm larvae. If, however, we can do that, you can get rid of Guinea worms in a single year. Without the human body to digest the water flea and release the Guinea worm larvae, they have no way to reproduce.

It will take two more years for Nigeria to be certified as having eradicated Guinea worm, but seeing no worms for a year is a very, very good sign that the cycle of disease is broken.


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