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Tuvalu - Pacific Small Islands in Copenhagen
The following blog post is from local Burlington, VT attorney, Brian Dunkiel. Brian recently attended the UN's International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen as part of a team, organized by the non-profit Islands First, of diplomats, scientists, and lawyers who helped to represent the interests of Palau, a small Pacific island nation. Small island nations are among the first to be threatened by the impacts of global warming. Seventh Generation helped underwrite Brian's expenses in Copenhagen. In addition to Brian's blog post, you can read more about his role in a Burlington Free Press article published before the conference: The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15 and CMP5, officially) was held from December 7-18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. For the small island countries of the Pacific (known as the PSIDS - Pacific Small Island Developing States) and their allies in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) it was not the outcome many were hoping for or will soon forget. While climate change is characterized as an energy and economic issue for many rich countries, or one of food security and drought for poorer ones, for the PSIDS the issue comes down to a single word: survival. With nowhere else to go, rising sea levels will literally mean the disappearance of these countries and the necessary relocation of their inhabitants. It is with the backdrop of this stark reality that the PSIDS and AOSIS took center stage in Copenhagen to raise the voices of the most vulnerable and set the bar for what constitutes an acceptable response of the international community. Despite the many setbacks in the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen and coordinated efforts to lower expectations for the conference's outcomes, the first week of the Conference was somewhat successful from the PSIDS' perspective. First, the Africa Group joined the AOSIS call for limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialized levels. This target, along with the James Hansen-supported and NGO-popularized goal of stabilizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at 350 parts per million, are what the most vulnerable countries see as giving them the best hope of surviving the oncoming climate changes this century. With the additional support of a number of Central and South American countries also announced at Copenhagen, the AOSIS climate change target garnered the support of more than half of the UN member countries for the first time in history. The support for the islands was also seen early on in the negotiations when many developing countries supported Tuvalu's efforts to amend the Kyoto Protocol to reflect their climate change target, an effort strongly opposed by China, OPEC, and most developed countries. This led to a stalemate in the negotiations, but also a "Ray of the Day" award for Tuvalu and a recognition of their leadership by the Climate Action Network and it's NGO allies. On December 11th, the mid-point of the negotiations, AOSIS released what could have been the Copenhagen game-changer: a proposal to extend the Kyoto Protocol and create a separate Copenhagen Protocol that would lead the world to climate stabilization. The proposal called for a peaking of global emissions by 2015 and a reduction of developed countries' emissions by 45 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. This was radically tougher language than other draft texts circulating around Copenhagen, most notably from Denmark and the BASIC bloc (Brazil, South Africa, China and India) In a hastily arranged press conference following the release of the AOSIS proposal, climate activist Bill McKibben of hailed it as "the first truly rational attempt to grapple with what the science of climate change tells us." Yet despite the support of many environmental organizations and previous alliances with other least developed countries, AOSIS was unable to maintain its coalition of climate victims during the ministerial meetings in the second week of the conference. With a strong push from the BASIC bloc, the AOSIS proposed text was dropped in favour of much weaker negotiating texts put forward by the chairs of the ad hoc working groups on long-term cooperative action and the Kyoto Protocol. This proved only the beginning of the slide away from the science-based targets that AOSIS was championing. When the ministers of countries were unable to agree on the draft language of the negotiating texts when the Heads of State arrived in Copenhagen, the negotiations moved from the open and transparent plenary sessions to the backrooms. The Copenhagen Accord, as it came to be known, was not the product of any consultations with AOSIS but rather US President Obama agreeing with the BASIC countries on the minimum amount each country was prepared to commit to, which legally was nothing. This was then sold to the rest of the world as the best deal possible, even though it removed any reference to a peak year for global emissions, any target for atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide or even a mid-century emissions reductions goal. The best AOSIS was to achieve in the final stages of the negotiations was their hard-fought victory to maintain a reference to the 1.5 degrees goal, though this is only to be part of a "consideration of strengthening the long-term goal" of 2 degrees, which review need not be completed until 2015 (the same year AOSIS hoped for global emissions to peak, and possibly past the point of achieving the 1.5 degree goal). With Copenhagen now behind us, small islands countries are now forced to take stock of the process that 17 years after the Rio Conference committed all countries of the world in 1992 to "avoid dangerous climate change" appears to have locked in that very outcome. The G-77 bloc looks to be a relic of past negotiations as it is clear that the interests of the "BASIC" countries no longer align with those most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Though it is still too soon to accurately predict what new alliances will form and alternative strategies will develop, the vocal role played by AOSIS in Copenhagen does at a minimum ensure that the world has not heard the last from these countries on the climate crisis. Though like the proverbial canary in the mine shaft, our collective survival may depend our ability to start listening to them. photo: Stefan Lins