Tearing away the umbrella (and stomping on it!!!)

Today, Canada’s negotiator discussed two countries taking strong positions in very different terms. Japan has come out against the Kyoto Protocol. Meanwhile, Bolivia is blocking a near-unanimous agreement for creating a market system for forest protection. According to the negotiator, the former position constituted a principled position that had to be respected, whereas the latter was obstructionist. This statement belies Canada’s genuine disinterest in fighting climate change and respecting indigenous rights.

Japan’s announced opposition to a post-2012 phase of the Kyoto Protocol has perhaps been the most discouraging step by any party to the negotiations. Japan has serenaded Canada saying, You can stand under my umbrella, ella, ella, allowing Canada to hide its opposition to Kyoto renewal behind respect for Japanese opposition. Many developing countries and NGOs believe Japan could be convinced to change its mind, but Canada prefers to publicly “respect” Japan’s principled line in the sand.

Despite its failure to curb emissions in its first phase, the Kyoto Protocol is the blueprint document for an eventual legally-binding global structure to protect the atmosphere. Canada and Japan are promoting the Copenhagen Accord as an alternative since it includes the United States. More crucially, though, they like it because it is not legally binding and its emissions reductions targets are ‘modest’ – another word for suicidal, since limited reductions would almost certainly condemn the world to runaway warming.

That the Kyoto Protocol does not include all the major emitters is a clear problem, but its framework remains the best structure available for controlling greenhouse gases, and there is no institutional obstruction for integrating more states. Without a Kyoto Protocol renewal, the world will no longer have any compulsory structure for restricting global emissions in 2012.

Bolivian opposition to the growing ‘global consensus’ for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD+ as it is known in UNFCCC circles, is perhaps a more complex issue. REDD+ aims overall to finance the protection of tropical forests through a market mechanism. Almost 20% of global greenhouse gases come from deforestation and land degradation.

Carbon offsets are supposed to allow a country or business to cancel-out their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing emissions from another source or helping to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Once there is pricing or limits on carbon emissions, offsetting will become crucial for polluters to reduce their emissions’ costs. In essence, forest protection will become available as a carbon offset. Companies and countries that pollute will be able to pay tropical countries to preserve their forests in a large market, if REDD+ is established as currently proposed.

Many developing countries support REDD+ as a means of generating economic development while protecting the environment. Developed countries see it as an effective means for protecting forests while generating economic opportunities through offsetting. Bolivia, however, is led by an indigenous President, Evo Morales, and possible impacts on indigenous peoples’ rights are the dirty underbelly of the REDD+ programme.

Tropical forests are home to most of the world’s indigenous people. They are areas where indigenous cultures remain vibrant and protected by relative isolation from the world economy. REDD+ provides no protection for indigenous people. It could thrust communities into the global economy, taking away access to traditional lands and livelihoods. Without major protections, the threat to indigenous peoples is undeniable.

Canada recently ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after years of delay. Canadian delegates are denouncing Bolivian opposition as based on Marxist opposition to the markets. Contrary to the views of Canadian delegates, Bolivia’s position appears much more ‘principled’ than Japan’s.

Both these issues should not be intractable. According to many developing countries and NGOs, Japan could be convinced to back down on its Kyoto position, particularly if given an ‘honourable’ means to do so. This  assessment appears a little naive though – why would Japan have declared such a strong position only to back-step from it with a little coaxing? With respect to REDD+, integrating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into the text would help. Furthermore, the UNFCCC should negotiate with indigenous peoples sincerely to create a framework that respects and honours their role as stewards of the land. REDD+ could certainly be much improved.

Hopefully Canada will be proven wrong with respect to Japan and Bolivia. Negotiators are aware that positions are not intractable and that they must compromise. Canada’s negotiators are certainly aware of this, but they believe that the public is not.

Tonight, the Japanese umbrella has been taken away. The COP’s Mexican hosts have publicly noted that Canada is opposing a new post-2012 phase for the Kyoto Protocol behind closed doors. Their position had already been clear in our meetings with them, but not explicitly enough to be quoted. Canada has been caught red handed in opposition to probably the most urgent component of the climate negotiations. Expect more fossils for Canada pronto.

I believe the government cares about the futures of their children, like anyone. I hope they come to their senses soon.

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