“We Are All Neighbors with Joined Doors”: Climate Justice and the UNFCCC

Wednesday, December 5th: deep within the bizarre landscape of minarets, oil refineries that stretch out into the sandy horizon, and a wildly ad hoc, opulent, and strangely 1970’s-going-on-the-future skyline, the annual UNFCCC conferencemoves along in its second week. In these last days of COP 18, much still remains open and on the table. Itappears that there will be a second commitment period to the KP, but what will it look like? Progress on the Durban Platform inches forward – but will any solid groundwork be laid for the 2015 climate agreement? Overall, ambition throughout this COP has been extremely low, with only the most vulnerable nations pressing for fast and dramatic action.

But outside the dry, deadlocked negotiations at the Qatar National Convention Center, things seem more optimistic. In hallways, side events, and informal meetings, interactive idea sharing, planning, and organizing seem a world away from the excruciating stalemates between national negotiators. Especially positive are conversations about climate justice. Through this lens, climate change is an ethical issue, and human rights, the historic responsibility for climate change, and its differential impacts on different groups must be considered.

Particularly encouraging was Mary Robinson’s talk on December 2. Speaking at the Development and Climate (D & C) Days side event, the former president of Ireland, and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, focused on how guiding the COP negotiation narrative towards climate justice will create the needed action. According to her, a shift towards greater equity will come when the climate movement reaches a critical mass. But this will happen only when the movement gains a stronger climate justice focus. In other words, the status quo of national-level inaction will change when enough people become angry that those least responsible are so dangerously impacted. Human solidarity is the key.

Also at D & C days, Edward Cameron from World Resources Institute led a discussion on achieving greater equity within the UNFCCC. He called out the exclusivity of COPs, and discussed ways to address the existing mechanisms of social exclusion within the system. He suggested that the move from social exclusion to inclusion in the climate negotiations must incorporate 5 A’s: access (vulnerable populations need better access to delegations and negotiations); amplification (inclusion and influence need to spread out to those not currently represented); alternatives (spaces for conversations on global climate change cooperation need to be created outside of COPs); and  assistance and advocacy, which speak for themselves.

“Treat the Earth well”: a COP18 bottlecap gazelle.

On December 3rd, Yale students Lia Nicholson and Vivienne Caballero held an event on climate change and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). There, Dr. Michael Dorsey of Wesleyan University College of the Environment also pushed the spotlight away from the immediate UNFCCC process: the question is not about whether COP 18 will achieve much, but rather how we can reinvigorate political processes at the multilateral level to address the responsibility of polluter nations to act. As he said, working within the ICJ framework can help to push for stronger ambition before the next COPs convene.

It’s  sad – no, angering – that the world’s largest polluters are unlikely to be swayed from their weak positions at COP 18. Climate change is occurring, and developing countries are the ones most affected. As the excruciatingly slow COP process has demonstrated, developing countries alone can’t and won’t convince the big polluter countries to take effective action. But they shouldn’t have to do it alone.

“You think you are far [from neighboring countries]! No no, we are all neighbors. With joined doors”.
– Ambassador Antonio Lima, Permanent Representative of Cape Verde to the United Nations, at the ICJ panel


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  1. Pingback: Sage Magazine – Dealings from Doha: What’s Going on at COP18?

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