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Copenhagen is over: our future in crisis?

Photo: OxfamAUS

For two years we have been talking about Copenhagen.

Two long years, campaigning for a fair, binding and ambitious deal. A real deal that would protect our planet’s environment and see justice for all humanity that depends upon it. These two years come at the end of seventeen years, since the Rio Summit, when the world established the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a framework designed to address the threat of climate change.

As I am writing this, I am in Copenhagen watching the talks in overtime. They have been running continuously for the past 48 hours as leaders scramble to produce something of substance. Before reflecting on this outcome, lets go back to the beginning of the COP-15. During the opening of the conference, Christina Ora, a youth delegate from the Pacific, spoke prophetically to the powers of this world outlining her hopes and fears. She stated:

“I am 17 years old. For my entire life, countries have been negotiating a climate agreement. My future is in front of me. In the year that I was born, amid an atmosphere of hope, the world formed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to solve the climate crisis….

In the Solomon Islands, my homeland, communities on low-lying atolls are already being displaced by rising sea levels. Communities have lived on these atolls for generations. Moving from one province to another in the Solomon Islands is not just like moving house. Your land is your identity. It is part of your culture. It is who you are.

I am scared, and so too are the people from these atolls about what this means for our culture, our communities and our identity.

Because of climate change, I am uncertain about what is to come. How can I feel that my future is safe? How can I be sure that my home village won’t disappear in 10 years’ time? How can I be sure that my community won’t have to find a new home? How can I be sure that I will be able to raise my children in the same place that my mother and father raised me? I am not sure. I am scared and worried.

For my entire life, world leaders have been negotiating a climate agreement. They cannot tell me they need more time. There is no more time. I hope world leaders realise this week that my generation’s future is in the palm of their hands.”

These inspiring and unsettling words set a tone of urgency for the Copenhagen negotiations. They reflected the fears of millions of people living on the front line of the impacts of climate change. Climate change is proceeding at an alarming rate and required urgent action.

Copenhagen did not deliver what was necessary.

Let me take you through some of the key moments which led to this outcome.

In the final two days of the conference heads of state, including our own Kevin Rudd, were set to arrive and the negotiators were supposed to hand down some final suggestions for high level negotiation and agreement. In short, the suggested text in both the treaties seemed almost as contested as it was 2 years ago. There were major disagreements and public arguments.

At the end of what was a very rushed and confusing day President Obama emerged and announced the Copenhagen Accord, a non-legally binding political agreement. Within minutes of this press conference finishing the President was being whisked back to Air Force One to return back to America.

As the dust settled from this announcement and people could look at the substance of it, anger emerged as the accord failed to include any concrete or binding measures for emissions reductions. Some scientists at the talks said it would set the world on a path to 3.5 degrees of warming by 2100, which is dangerous and unpredictable. There was some provision for adaptation and mitigation in the developing world worth 10 billion US$ per annum to 2012 scaling up to 100 billion US$ per annum by 2020. However, where this money will be sourced from is not clear, and may come out of previously committed aid budget increases.

Developing nations that had not taken part in the US-led talks responded to the text with fury, saying 25-nation accord was an affront to the consensus principle that governs these UN talks.

In response to this situation, Michiel Schaeffer of Climate Analytics said:

“It’s as though the last two years have not happened.”

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer told journalists:

“We should have done better.”

A senior European environmentalist, John Lanchbery called the accord:

“a carefully managed collapse”

US President, Obama admitted in a rushed press briefing:

“instead of taking one step forward, we may have taken two steps back”.

This is a political failure.

World leaders were able to rally last year and spend trillions to save banks, but here in Copenhagen they failed to do what was necessary.

Leaders have failed to deliver the agreement they promised, the agreement we need to avoid catastrophic climate change that affects everyone, the agreement we need to help those already facing the risks of climate change.

At best, we are now confronted with a deadly delay that means unnecessary tragedy for millions of families. The impacts will be felt in every country, and will fall particularly hard on poor people in developing countries.

The time is now past urgent. The costs of inaction are mounting day by day, costs measured in lives, not just dollars. The science is clear, and we have the means. All we are missing is the will.

My journey campaigning for strong action on climate change here over the past few weeks, and in Australia over the past few years has had its highs, and perhaps more lows. This certainly qualifies as the lowest of lows. However, in reflection there are many positives we can take away from this.

The event set new precedents.
Copenhagen was the largest international negotiation ever. Never before has civil society engaged so significantly on an international issue. Never before have members from the Global South and Global North come together so strongly to rally for the same cause.

This movement has mobilised millions of people around the globe to demand justice of our national and international leaders for the sake of the poor. It has highlighted the great inequality of our world, and cultivated passion for change.

After a few weeks of rest, we must regroup, reenergise and reemerge as a stronger movement. A movement, that despite momentary weariness, will persevere for as long as it takes to see justice come.
I for one, will be there.

Tracking for you for my last time…probably,