When the Olympic Games finally opened itself up to corporate sponsorship in 1996 in Atlanta, the XXVI Olympiad, one of its principal partners was Coca-Cola, whose main product is probably the antithesis of what a finely tuned athlete should be consuming.
And so it is with the UN climate change talks. In Warsaw, the 19th Conference of the Parties – the first to be held in a football stadium – has become the first to openly embrace corporate sponsors. And they are, for the most part, a group of fossil fuel donors, the antithesis of a low carbon diet that the world needs if it is to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The logos of the likes of Polish oil companies Lotos, and brown coal producer PGE, are prominent. Maybe not quite so prominent as the bright red Emirates bean bags scattered around the corridors of this curious building – a veritable rabbit warren of staircases, corridors, escalators and doorways that house delegation offices, meeting rooms and exhibits and side events – but highly visible all the same. Their sponsorship was crucial for the construction of temporary buildings that sit on the main pitch, surrounded by an empty arena.
And this is a very weird CoP. The host nation, which has done much to disrupt more ambitious climate action by the EU, greets attendees with the message that “climate changes are natural phenomena, which occurred many times on Earth”. And on Monday, as the first of 150 ministers begin to fly in for the crunch part of the two week-session, the Polish government will host the start of a two day summit of the World Coal Association. The Poles want the Coal summit’s communiqué included in the final CoP statement.
The Poles have previously used the host web site to celebrate the melting of Arctic ice, saying that it would allow ships to cut their journey and open opportunities for building new drilling platforms. Even the United National Environmental Program was preparing to release a report on Monday highlighting the huge possibilities of extracting billions of tonnes of “methane hydrates” from the ocean floor beneath the Arctic Ocean, before it was pulled at the last minute. “We need to look at the report again,” said a spokesman by email.
The ministers arriving this week (with the notable exception of Australia) will have much to do, because inside the negotiating rooms things did not go well in the first week. Some progress was made in items such as defining market mechanisms for forest protection, but others such as loss and damage (payments made to vulnerable countries for damage caused by climate change) and MRV (a mechanism to verify emission reductions), ran into a brick wall, or were left turning in circles.
But these issues are merely proxies for what is happening on the broader level. These talks have been dominated by the impact of Typhoon Haiyan and the backtracking on emissions targets by many of the world’s developed nations, at least those outside the EU. Japan’s decision to slash its emissions reduction targets, Australia’s apparent backing off from its higher range engagement, and the cheering of these developments by Canada, have widened the gulf in negotations.
“I do not have any words to describe my dismay at Japan’s decision,” Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei told reporters on Friday after Japan reduced its target from a 25 per cent reduction to a 3.8 per cent reduction, blaming the closure of nuclear reactors cause by the Fukushima disaster. However, analyst group Climate Action Tracker said even replacing all nuclear with coal would only account for one third of this change.
Australia, meanwhile, is being blamed for obstructionism at nearly every level of the talks. It has won four “fossil of the day” awards – a prize awarded daily be environmental groups to the country doing most to derail progress. It’s an unprecedented collection in the first week of the talks.
Australia got its first for its refusal to commit to climate finance, a second for one its move to repeal the carbon price and its apparent backing away from a 5-25% emission reduction target range. The last two have come from getting a “gold star” in obtrusiveness – firstly for attaching conditions on various streams of negotiations and listing things they would not talk about, and the second was its statement on Friday that climate finance is “not welfare”.
The Australian NGOs and BiNGOs (business types) that are attending the summit and associated side events are being bombarded with the same questions: What the hell is going on down there! Observers say the big issue for the Australian delegation seems to be about intellectual property. There is still no indication yet whether Australia will renew its commitment to the 5-25 range or not.
“It’s a grim situation,” said one observor. Another noted that even the United States was appearing as a moderate, even though it had not substantially changed its position, although its efforts on controlling coal pollution are widely noted as a key step.
It seems though that the Umbrella Group, of which Australia, Japan, Canada, Russia, New Zealand and the US form a major part, are losing faith in the UN process, and are looking once again at finding a solution in another forum, the Major Economies Forum – where they think a solution can be found away from politics of the UN meeting, the demands of minor countries and the scrutiny of NGOs.
Still, agreement among the nations that contribute 80 per cent of emissions will not be easy. Last week, Brazil presented a proposal to create a methodology to calculate each country’s responsibility for causing global warming, based on historical emissions going back to 1850. It would probably force developed countries to cease emitting anytime soon. Or they could wait until the end of the decade. By then, the historical emissions of the developing countries will likely have overtaken the historical emissions of the developed world.
“We seem to in the middle of the Carbon COP. We have a Coal Summit, we have Australia spending over $7 billion getting rid of its climate legislation, Japan reversing its pledge to reduce its emissions and now we have a supposed UNEP report look at how to add a further 1600 GtC (ca5,900 GtCO2e) of methane hydrates to the available reserves or resources.. and all this only weeks after the IPCC told us we can only burn about 270 GtC to stay under 2oC,” said Bill Hare, of the Climate Action Network.
“Words fail me.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.