Weekly Mulch: Was Cancun Climate Conference a Success?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The United Nations-led Climate Conference at Cancun was not a diplomatic disaster, but for climate activists and grassroots groups, it wasn’t a success either. Representatives sent from around the globe to hammer out an agreement on climate change were unresponsive to grassroots concerns about how to lower carbon emissions quickly, and how to ensure fairness in the process.

“Some grassroots groups are losing their faith in the U.N.’s capacity to produce meaningful results,” Madeline Ostrader reported for Yes! Magazine. “After the United Nations expelled Native American leader Tom Goldtooth from the meeting last week, the Indigenous Environmental Network called the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘the WTO of the sky.’”

While gloomy reports before the conference worried that international negotiations could veer entirely off course, the representatives at the conference did come up with an agreement that fleshed out last year’s Copenhagen Accord. It became clearer, though, that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process will not ultimately guard the interests of less powerful players.

Climbing over a low bar

Although diplomats congratulated themselves for their accomplishments, not everyone was so pleased,  Stephen Leahy reported at Inter Press Service.

“It’s pathetic the world community struggles so much just to climb over such a low bar,” commented [Kumi] Naidoo, [executive director of Greenpeace.] “Our only real hope is to mobilise a broad-based climate movement involving all sectors of the public and civil society before Durban.”

Indeed, this year’s conference saw a greater mobilization of outside forces than Copenhagen did. But by the end of the conference, activists were frustrated with the UN-led process, Democracy Now! reported, and began protesting in the area near the conference, under the close watch of UN guards:

When the demonstrators continued their vigil past the time allotted to them, U.N. guards moved in and dragged them towards a waiting bus. The protesters linked arms, and the scene quickly became chaotic. As they wrestled activists onto buses, U.N. guards also seized press credentials from the necks of journalists, and detained a photographer while seizing his camera.

Running REDD

There was one issue in particular, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD, a financial tool that allows countries to offset their emissions, that caused concern among climate activists. As Michelle Chen explained at ColorLines, “From a climate justice standpoint, the deal lost credibility once it was tainted with REDD, a supposed anti-deforestation initiative that indigenous communities have long decried as an assault on native people’s sovereignty and way of life.”

The program would seek to set aside forests, through financial incentives that would make it more profitable to preserve forests than to harvest them. The problem, in essence, is that the program would take away resources in developing countries, particularly in indigenous communities, in order to mitigate negative actions in developed countries.

At IPS, Stephen Leahy reported, “REDD remains very controversial. It is widely touted as a way to mobilise $10 to $30 billion annually to protect forests by selling carbon credits to industries in lieu of reductions in emissions. … Many indigenous and civil society groups reject REDD outright if it allows developed countries to avoid real emission reductions by offsetting their emissions. “

Developed vs. Developing

Balancing the interests of developing and developed countries has always been the thorny tangle at the center of climate negotiations, and the Cancun Agreement, critics say, favors developed countries.

As Tom Athanasiou writes at Earth Island Journal, “There’s an even deeper concern, that, in the words of the South Centre’s Martin Khor, ‘Cancun may be remembered in future as the place where the UNFCCC’s climate regime was changed significantly, with developed countries being treated more and more leniently, reaching a level like that of developing countries, while the developing countries are asked to increase their obligations to be more and more like developed countries.’”

REDD is an example of that sort of bargain: Developing countries have to sacrifice, too. But developed countries have, in this conference and at its predecessors, refused to make any real sacrifices. This round, it became clear that, in addition to the United States, other key countries, like Japan, would not be willing to commit to binding legal targets for carbon emissions.

Who benefits?

What’s worse, developed countries benefit, indirectly, from the financial mechanism proposed to regulate carbon, Madeline Ostrader writes.

“Many of the proposals for financing and regulating climate are designed to earn profits for the same banks that brought the global economy to its knees,” she explains. “Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have been vying for a stake in the global carbon offset trade—a proposed economic model for cutting emissions around the world.”

The movement of non-governmental groups and activists fighting to hold rich countries accountable has gained momentum in the past year. If international leaders are ever to move away from these imbalanced agreements, that movement will have to grow and convince a vocal majority of people around the world to support its calls to action. Only then will leaders feel pressure to write stronger, fairer agreements.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

For your "elections have consequences" file

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took a step toward undoing bad Bush administration policy on Thursday:

No logging or road project on tens of millions of forested acres will proceed without personal approval by the Agriculture Department's secretary for at least a year while the Obama administration decides how to handle a controversial Clinton-era roadless rule, officials said today.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is signing a directive giving himself sole power to make decisions for one year on building roads and harvesting timber on nearly all of the areas covered by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The directive can be renewed for an additional year, the department said. It covers roadless areas in Alaska but will not apply to those in Idaho, which wrote its own roadless area plan.

"This interim directive will provide consistency and clarity that will help protect our national forests until a long-term roadless policy reflecting President Obama's commitment is developed," Vilsack said in a statement.

Environmental-minded Democrats and non-profit organizations welcomed the news. The Washington Post and New York Times have more detail on what Vilsack's directive means.

Many people don't realize that the U.S. Forest Service is under the USDA's jurisdiction. (This brief history explains that the original purpose of the service was "to provide quality water and timber for the Nation's benefit.") Vilsack had little prior experience in this area, because Iowa is not one of the 44 states containing a national forest and has has only a few state forests. (Click here for more information about where the 142 U.S. national forests are located.) It's good to see him move away from the Bush approach to managing our forests.

The Obama administration's environmental record is not perfect, but Vilsack's directive is a significant step toward protecting some of our country's most pristine natural areas.

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Obama's Auto Plan Neither New Nor Bold

Cross-posted at Democratic Courage blog.

Barack Obama got huge coverageyesterday for "standing up" to the auto industry by calling on them to accept tighter fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks - and doing it in their own backyard in Detroit. Although it's encouraging anytime a candidate calls for increasing fuel economy, we have to ask:  is Obama's proposal really anything to coo about?

The core of Obama's plan is raising fuel efficiency standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2022 - and paying off American auto companies for doing this by funneling $3 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the big auto companies in exchange, primarily to alleviate their high health care costs.

Two problems: first, Obama's plan doesn't move anywhere near fast enough to address the twin challenges of global climate deterioration and reliance on oil. His plan is about the same as that proposed by the Bush administration (although the administration's plan includes huge loopholes that Obama's doesn't). The 2022 deadline is at least ten years behind what is technically feasible and at least that many years behind what is climatologically essential. The latest international climate report concludes that urgent action is needed to avoid mass extinction, melting ice caps, famine and disease. "We don't have the luxury of time," said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  What's more, research by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that currently available technology could raise fuel efficiency standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2012, while still producing net savings for consumers.

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Logging bill House floor vote this week

Now, I'm not commenting on the merits of the bill, HR 4200, the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act.

Someone at Kos is very exercised (though she/(he?) hasn't exactly caused a tidal wave of fury over there, like those Kossacks do so well).

The comments do identify as Dems (so you don't have to) around 15-20 of the 147 sponsors.

There it is...

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KIVA microlending Update II: Integrated Internet Development Policy Revisited

In my last article on this topic, I reintroduced KIVA and showed how 1.) what they do really can help create successful small businesses in East Africa and how those businesses help the community in which they exist, and 2.) how our efforts on the blogsphere have helped KIVA become so successful that they cannot keep up with the outpouring of help. But they are also bringing on the businesses in need of loans faster than ever, so jeep checking back. Congratulations to all who are making this such a success.


In this diary I want to reiterate the context in which KIVA works and how we also have to help that context. This will partly be a reiteration of diaries I have written before, explaining why I am calling for an "integrated" approach to development that we in the blogsphere can participate in. This is my vision of how you and I can change the world from the bottom up.

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Diaries

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