Climate change gaps in “ambition” … and in credibility

Believe it or not, yet another series of “informal climate talks” under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has just concluded in Bangkok.

According to the September 5 Press Release issued by the “United Nations Climate Change Secretariat”:

Bangkok climate talks make concrete progress on key issues ahead of Doha

(Bangkok, 5 September 2012) – A week of informal climate talks in Bangkok ended today with concrete progress on key issues across all three negotiating groups, setting a firmer base for decisions that will be made at the UN Climate Change Conference this year, in Doha.

“The investment in Bangkok has paid off. Government negotiators have pushed forward key issues further than many had expected and raised the prospects for a next successful step in Doha,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“There are still some tough political decisions ahead, but we now have a positive momentum and a greater sense of convergence that will stimulate higher-level political discussions ahead of Doha and set a faster pace of work once this year’s conference begins,” she said.
[...]

Yet, for some strange reason, David Thorpe, News Editor of the U.K. Energy & Environmental Management blog had a somewhat different impression of the outcome of these talks [h/t GWPF via Twitter]:

Bangkok climate talks make little progress

The UN climate talks featuring delegates from 190 nations, that have been ongoing for the last week in Bangkok, Thailand, and which conclude today, have produced few concrete results.

The talks were happening against a backdrop of record Arctic ice melt, recent flooding in the Philippines, Asam and other areas, recent drought in the US, and an ongoing food crisis in the Sahel.

[...]

However, after one week of talks in Thailand, not a single country has made a fresh commitment, and US negotiators stunned delegates by calling for any new treaty to be ‘flexible’ and ‘dynamic’ rather than legally binding, representing a complete U-turn on its previous position.

[...]

At the summit, the UN released a report showing that several rich nations will not even meet their existing pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade, made at Copenhagen in 2009.

These nations include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and the US.

The report, from the UN Environment Program, adds that even if all nations do meet their existing pledges, emissions of greenhouse gases will still reach between 50 and 55bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, that is 11bn tonnes, or 20%, more than what is needed to try to keep temperature increases below 2°C.

“It’s still possible to meet a 2°C pathway, if there is sufficient political will,” commented Niklas Hoehne, and author of the report on Tuesday. “We’re not facing a participation gap here – it’s an ambition gap.

Meanwhile, developed countries want the industrialised developing countries such as India, China and Brazil, to take more responsibility for cutting their emissions.

They say that if this was resolved, it would allow the issues of technology, finance, intellectual property lies and emissions from aviation and shipping, which are stymied, to be set aside while the responsibilities of the emerging economies are increased in the short and long-term and the rich countries take stronger action after 2020.

But this is unlikely to happen without further commitments from developed countries. Depressingly, it seems the stalemate continues.

Perhaps Thorpe got his story from a different Press Release?! But his article gives no indication of his source(s).

But back to the word according to the UNFCCC … It may (or may not) be worth noting that this particular press release is prefaced by the following:

For use of the media only

and that in lieu of the customary “For further information contact …” details, one finds (my bold):

About the UNFCCC

With 195 Parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 193 of the UNFCCC Parties. Under the Protocol, 37 States, consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy, have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

See also: <http://unfccc.int/press/items/2794.php>
Follow UNFCCC on Twitter: @UN_ClimateTalks
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on Twitter: @CFigueres
UNFCCC on Facebook: facebook.com/UNclimatechange

Oh, my! Look how au courant with communication technology they’ve become! The only hyperlinked item in the above, btw, goes to another UNFCCC page called “Press News”. There one finds a link to a Final press release (also prefaced by “For use of the media only”). It seems to be all about … finance. Just in case you missed it the first time, this “Final” press release, is actually about the:

Transparent, interactive UNFCCC workshop on long-term climate change finance Bonn, 9-11 July

Governments, private sector and civil society work towards developing common understanding of how to scale up mobilization of long-term climate finance

Some excerpts from this three-day July Bonn meeting press release (my emphasis):

The three-day event, which ended today, was the first of two transparent, interactive UNFCCC workshops on long-term climate change finance this year. They were requested by governments as part of a work programme on long-term climate finance agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban at the end of 2011 (COP 17/ CMP 7).

“It is clear that we cannot continue to tackle climate change with old solutions, and that no one single source is going to be appropriate or sufficient to mobilize climate finance at a speed and scale that would allow people in developing countries to build their own climate-resilient futures. This event has allowed all stakeholders to think outside the box, to explore options in highly creative ways, and to pave
the way for stronger climate action,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.
[...]
The event was made accessible to all interested stakeholders with the help of live webcast, social media and an online platform on the UNFCCC website by which stakeholders could send in material and put questions to the two Chairs. More than 1,000 messages, comments and questions relating to the workshop were sent via Twitter using the #LTFchat hashtag or posted on Facebook.

Look at that, folks! This was the first of “two transparent, interactive … workshops”. I wonder when they will hold the second; after all, more than “1,000 messages, comments and questions” is nothing to sneeze at! Btw, I know you will be as disappointed as I was to find that #LTFchat has only four Tweets and that <very deep sigh> “Older Tweet[s] … are unavailable”.

That’s all folks!

A quick scan of their Facebook page does not do much for the credibility of this “More than 1,000 messages …” either. OTOH, if UNFCCC head honcho, Christiana Figueres (whose 667 Tweets are still visible) can be believed, there were far more than “1,000”:

Oh, well … I suppose one must keep in mind that these Press Releases are intended “For use of the media only”. And as we have seen members of the media are not known for conducting due diligence and fact-checking. So I’m sure that such discrepancies – and missing evidence – cannot possibly matter.

Then, again, perhaps one should consider the immortal words of the University of East Anglia’s Prince of Spinners, Neil Wallis – whose June 13, 2012 “witness statement” to the U.K. Leveson Inquiry (launched on the heels of last year’s News of the World phone-hacking scandal which saw Wallis being among those arrested for their involvement) suggests that others should do as he says (but probably not as he does!) In response to the Inquiry’s exploration of:

views on the specific benefits and risks to the public interest arising from relationships between senior politicians, at a national level, and the media. What does the public stand to gain from this relationship? [...]

Wallis had opined (pp. 3 & 4):

It is essential for the public to receive a more rounded impression of those elected in their name, as distinct from the one politicians would want them to accept. This rounded impression is not derived from the PR machines assembled by the Governments and other political parties. The views promulgated by the omnipresent PR machines are highly partial and contrived. In other words, propaganda. It is through the press and media speaking directly to politicians, civil servants and party officials that the true picture is teased out and emerges. [emphasis added -hro]

On the matter of “Role in Holdinq Politicians and the Powerful to Account”, Wallis had further opined (p. 5):

Holding politicians and the powerful to account is the single most important obligation of a free press. The major obstacle to the process of holding to account is that the politicians and the powerful do not want it to happen. The press even against the background of stringent libel and privacy laws has exposed the infidelities of countless corrupt practices of MPs and members of the House of Lords, and public figures. [emphasis added -hro]

In the past month, Wallis has been quite diligently acting as his own … uh …”highly partial and contrived PR machine” via Twitter and offering up a few self-serving whines via the Huffington Post in the U.K.

He’s not very keen on answering questions pertaining to the “true picture” of his involvement in the emergence of the “Poor Phil” propaganda he and his former colleague(s) had dished up for the University of East Anglia:

No answers from Wallis … quelle surprise, eh?

Which output from which “highly partial and contrived PR machine” are we to believe?! The UNFCCC? David Thorpe and Energy & Environmental Management? Figueres’ July account of the (now sadly missing) 1496 Tweets? The jury, of course, is still out on Wallis; however, his own reluctance to be held accountable strongly suggests that his words are to be taken with a very hefty grain of salt.

Ah, well that’s “climate change”, I suppose! So much “ambition” … so many “gaps” … so little credibility … and so many unanswered questions, eh?!

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8 thoughts on “Climate change gaps in “ambition” … and in credibility

  1. Hilary. I’m amazed at your fortitude and ability to plough through stuff such as:

    “This event has allowed all stakeholders to think outside the box, to explore options in highly creative ways, and to pave the way for……………”

    Are you “fluent in biz-speak wanque-word bolleauxology, able to prattle about ‘overarching objectivity’ and ‘blue sea thought’ whilst ‘imagineering’ their ‘battle rhythm”?

    I guess someone has to do it, thanks. It’s beyond my power of comprehension. I’m a simple geologist, and very thankful for that.

    • Hector, It could be that at one time in my life I was “trilingual” … English, French & Bureaucratese … the latter two are now somewhat rusty, But I do have very acute BS detectors which are still in working order ;-)

  2. The treaty, as originally framed, set no mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual nations and contained no enforcement provisions; it is therefore considered legally non-binding. However, the treaty does include provisions for updates (called “protocols”) that set mandatory emission limits. Under the Convention, governments gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices; launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries; and cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

    • Disgusting, since it’s all based on crap science, concerning restrictions to emission of a valuable and scarce atmospheric component. Out-fracking-rageous, actually. I have vengeful visions of stuffing each of the participants in these do’s headfirst in 5′ deep holes, and filling them in.
      >:(

  3. As always, a very thorough and entertaining analysis. It’s interesting to compare the two reactions to the Bangkok talks; as a rule of thumb, I think that activists’ assessments of these events are more accurate than the bureaucrats’, the reason being that while the bureaucrats are likely to put a positive spin on things in order to keep the process going (it’s in their own interests, after all) the activists have no such constraints. (Mind you, I suppose it could be argued that it’s in the activists’ interests to put a negative spin on things, because if things were going swimmingly for the process, their own raison d’etre might be questioned.)

    As for Bureaucratese, I’m not sure whether this is always accessible outside the UK, but the BBC’s Democracy Live site has links to European Parliament debates which have some very impressive examples. Here’s a recent debate, for instance, on the role of women in tackling climate change. The whole thing is an hour long, but I find the will to live tends to diminish after mere minutes:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/europe/newsid_9714000/9714694.stm

    I was toying with the idea of transcribing some of this but someone has gone to the trouble already, which is fortunate for me, as my drinks cabinet is running rather low at the moment.

    http://tinyurl.com/bu9or6e

    We learn that “even though climate change is gender-neutral, its effects are gender-differentiated”, that the EU “supports mitigation actions through the geographic and thematic programmes of this development cooperation”, that “gender-neutral policies start with gender-balanced representation in policy definition” and that “gender perspectives must be mainstreamed into all stages of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiation process”.

    More examples:

    “The EU and Europe must lead the way when it comes to utilising the ideas, creativity and capacity for innovation of both women and men in order to deal with our climate challenges in the best way possible. The very combination of women and men is a powerful agent for change and broad participation and is one of the prerequisites for guaranteeing more justice and more comprehensive strategies.” [Yes, the human race consists of men and women - well done, EU for discovering this surprising and important fact!]

    “An improved understanding of the links between climate change and women by means of a system for the collection of gender-disaggregated data would help identify the areas where we need to take action, in order to save energy and water resources which women use in a different way to men to satisfy the needs of their families.” [Exactly what the point of this would be, and how it would work, I have no idea.]

    Hidden within the impenetrable thicket of platitudinous verbiage are probably some positive sentiments, e.g., that women’s education and empowerment are things that should be encouraged, not least in developing countries. Who would disagree? But they didn’t need a whole hour, surely, just to say that!

  4. Hilary, you will be amazed (perhaps) that the number of tweets with the #LTFchat hashtag has now increased by over 100%! Yes, five more, and most of them by UNFCCC. One of them invites readers again to take part in a discussion in that “NEW” e-forum on long-term finance for climate change. I clicked on the link and found the forum. It’s a bit… lonely right now. There are a few posts, all by “admin”, and under “Who’s Online”, there was “No registered users and 1 guest”. Guess I was the guest. They have 18 members and have had as many as 7 users ever online (at once, presumably), and that was back on Tuesday 4th Sept.

    You’d think that if well over a thousand Twitterers had expressed an interest, a few more would have showed up by now, even if they didn’t all jump in and post enthusiastic messages.

  5. Alex, thanks for those examples, particularly

    “even though climate change is gender-neutral, its effects are gender-differentiated”,

    I remember reading the leaked “draft” from Copenhagen in Dec/09 (my how time flies!) and scratching my head when I saw “gender” in the proposed text. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what gender had to do with “climate change” … I might have even commented on it in one of my early posts.

    But that was when I knew far less than I do now :-) It has cropped up in many of the UN generated docs I’ve slogged through in the intervening years!

    At this point, my view is that they’ve succeeded in building a house of word-salads which is working to their detriment (and our benefit!) because so many of the “key” words and phrases they like to fling around (e.g. “green economy”) have not been defined … as becomes quite evident when reading through minutes of various meetings that have surfaced – as well as the IISD’s dutiful reports of all the meetings!

    As for #LTFChat … the tweet list is growing by leaps and bounds (up to about 20 when I checked a little while ago!) Most, of course, are from the prolific tweeter @UNFCCC (who keeps repeating him/herself)! I had ventured into that lonely forum (might have even been on Sept. 4!) as I was gathering gleanings for this post! In fact I had originally included a para or two about it … but it ended up on the cutting room floor as I thought I might be attempting to cover too much unfamiliar ground in one post!

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