Beyond the US vs China on climate

Food & climate change article written on the 07 Dec 2010

Photo: Oxfam

The world’s governments are gathering in Cancun, Mexico, for the next round of global climate negotiations amid much apathy and disenchantment with the process. People who hoped to see a fair, ambitious and binding global deal in Copenhagen a year ago left there sorely disappointed. Some are questioning the viability of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to deliver. Others have seized their chance to manufacture doubt over the scientific basis for action.

But now is not the time to walk away from the UN process. Cancun will not see governments cross the finishing line but they can make vital steps to bring that line back into sight. For millions of poor people around the world – those hit first and worst by a crisis they did least to cause – a fair and safe deal to tackle climate change is needed now more than ever.

Oxfam is at the Cancun talks to push governments to take the steps necessary to achieve effective global action (you can stay up to date with the negotiations via our UN Climate Tracker project).  These talks follow on from the disappointing conference hosted in Copenhagen this time last year.

While we are not expecting a fully fledged climate treaty to be agreed to in Cancun, policy experts who follow the meetings closely have identifed a number of areas where progress can be made. 2010 has sent enough reminders about why a fair and safe deal is still so urgent. The year 2010 will be one of the warmest ever, climaxing a record-breaking decade, the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says at global climate talks.

“2010 is almost certain to be in the top three warmest years on record. It is probably the warmest one up to October-November. The decade from 2001 to 2010 has set a new record, it will be the warmest decade ever since we have records.”
– WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud

Poor women farmers from Bangladesh to Malawi do not need scientists to tell them their weather is becoming more unpredictable or that their seasons are shifting. They are already struggling to cope with the consequences of not knowing when and what crops to sow.

Communities around the world have not lost sight of the need for progress in the UNFCCC. This year there have been climate hearings, including in Brazil and India, and international caravans of smallholder farmers and indigenous people and supporters heading for Cancun. The energy to tackle climate change is burning brighter than ever. Only a deal done under UN auspices can deliver for those that need it most.

The Major Economies Forum and the G20 talk about climate change, but so far have taken no real decisions, and – with only a handful of rich or powerful players at the table – they cannot decide on all the issues that matter. These issues include all the support, including new finance, that poor people need to adapt to climate impacts and that poor countries need to pursue low-carbon development. They include sufficiently ambitious and legally-binding emissions targets for rich countries. If progress can be painfully slow and ambition at times dangerously low, then it is the politics in rich countries that we must question and challenge, not the process in the UN.

International attention has focused on the US and China this year – over the global economy as much as the fight against climate change – but Cancun is about much more than a G2 world. Despite what you might read – the climate change debate is about much more than the US vs. China.

With that in mind, here’s some breakdown of some of the unusual suspects to watch in Cancun.  Countries to keep your eye on – big and small, rich and poor.

Bangladesh. With rising sea levels already affecting vast areas of the country and extreme weather events becoming increasingly severe, Bangladesh speaks from experience on the frontline of climate change. At a recent climate negotiations in Tianjin, Bangladesh stressed, “women farmers in Bangladesh know more about adaptation [to climate change] than the negotiators in this room”.

Bolivia. In recent years, Bolivia has markedly increased its engagement with the UN climate talks. It became widely known both for its opposition to the hastily-drafted Copenhagen Accord and for its sponsorship of the ‘World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.’ Bolivia is also a staunch defender of the Kyoto Protocol.

Brazil. After President Lula’s inspired speech in Copenhagen, more was hoped for from Brazil, but over the last 12 months, National elections have dragged attention away from the international talks. Expectations are now high of new President Dilma Rousseff to follow in Lula’s footsteps and position Brazil as a global leader in the fight against climate change.

South Africa. With an eye on their presidency of the 2011 climate summit in Durban next year, the South African delegation has plenty of interest in ensuring a positive outcome in Cancun.

China: China has shown it is ready to do serious business in tackling climate change.  They have pledged to reduce carbon intensity domestically by 40-45%, and they are the world’s largest investor in wind power. All this starts to position China as a leader in the race to the low-carbon and climate resilient future.

Kiribati: Kiribati has championed the need to put gender concerns at the heart of the climate change response.  Anne Kautu, head of the government’s Women’s Unit, said, “We must include women’s ideas, roles and responsibilities […] if we are to succeed.  In Kiribati we know the impacts will fall hard on many people—but hardest on women and girls.”

Mexico: As President of this meeting, Mexico has a major responsibility for steering the talks towards an outcome that puts poor people first.  But the question now is whether it will settle for a lowest common denominator agreement or push Parties towards a more ambitious conclusion.

Pakistan: Following the most devastating floods in their history, Pakistan will speak in Cancun with undeniable moral authority about the urgency of action to protect vulnerable communities from savage climate impacts, and the scale of the challenge.

You can check out Oxfam’s full briefing on the Cancun climate talks for a more detailed breakdown.

The search for effective solutions to the climate crisis cannot be just about a handful of countries, no matter how powerful. Cancun will not deliver everything that a global response to climate change should. But it can deliver outcomes that will have tangible benefits for poor people – including the establishment of a fair global climate fund – and can help rebuild trust between countries. This would help put climate talks back on track.

What you can do:

  • Ask Climate Change Minister Greg Combet to support a global climate fund that would deliver finance to help poor communities avoid the worst effects of climate change
  • Stay up to date with the latest info coming out of Cancun with our UN Climate Trackers project
  • Add your message to our ‘Message in a Bottle’ campaign, which will deliver your thoughts directly to the negotiators in Cancun
  • Get involved in the climate conversation on our discussion site A Climate For Change