'A cry from the heart' report from COP18

La Trobe Institute for Social and Environmental Sustainability

Blog No.14 – Day 13, COP18. Doha, Qatar.  Saturday 8 December

By Professor Simon Molesworth

A cry from the heart unheeded in the context of the most serious predictions.

An emotionally charged intervention by Mr Naderev M. Saño, Philippine Head of Delegation to COP18 and Commissioner of their Climate Change Commission, on Thursday morning was delivered to the closing plenary of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol.  The speech by Mr Sano received sustained applause, louder and longer than any other delegate had received. Widely reported across the world, the speech was particularly poignant as it coincided with yet more reports of an ever increasing death toll from the devastating Cyclone Bohpa that had ravaged the Philippines during the week.

Although many of my readers will have read snippets of Mr Sano’s speech, I encourage you to read the full text.

“Thank you for giving me the floor. I wish to make a statement on behalf of my own country.  I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, its 7,100 islands, and 100 million people. I also speak on behalf of the hundreds who have perished in the tragedy back home. …..
Let me also take this opportunity to thank the many Parties, organizations from civil society, individuals, friends and colleagues, and youth organizations who have expressed solidarity for the Philippines in this very trying times for my country. I wish to specially thank the youth organizations who have profoundly touched our hearts for standing with us.
We are deeply concerned about where we stand now. Have we done enough? Have we managed to give justice to what the world demands of us? Have we honoured the package we got out of Durban? Do we see a glass half full? A glass half empty? Or an empty glass altogether?
While we have seen substantial progress in the development of the text we have in front of us, this text remains reflective of a wide divergence among Parties, especially still fraught with options that fail to respond to the realities that we face. Developing countries have put forward concrete proposals, and have painstakingly worked on arriving at a common ground on many issues, including the ambition mechanism, carry-over of surplus AAUs, eligibility, provisional application, and numbers, in the earnest endeavour to make the 2nd commitment period a meaningful one, a 2nd commitment period that can provide the crucial basis for further enhancing global ambition.
We are likewise worried in terms of how we move progress in the work under the various negotiating fronts, most importantly on how we ensure that we pursue high level of ambition for the second commitment period of KP, and ensure means of implementation to enhance global ambition, both for mitigation and adaptation. We are worried, also because of the context of what is happening in other tracks in relation to ambition and means of implementation, especially on finance, but to include all the important issues of adaptation, technology, capacity building.
This day marks a very crucial moment. We are 25 days away from the end of the 1st commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP). But we don’t really have 25 days. We have a few precious hours left. We are at a critical juncture. The next few hours represent a crucial opportunity for us to ensure that we are on the right trajectory to address the climate crisis. KP is the linchpin of success here in Doha, and the cornerstone of ambition, if not the whole multilateral regime. Failure is simply not acceptable. We have made ourselves believe that a successful ambitious outcome in KP is within reach. Under your able guidance, and with the hard work of your Vice-Chair and your facilitators, this may be in sight. However, as we close this AWG, ambition continues to elude us.
An important backdrop for my delegation is the profound impacts of climate change that we are already confronting. As we sit here, every single hour, even as we vacillate and  procrastinate here, the death toll is rising. There is massive and widespread devastation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered without homes. And the ordeal is far from over, as Typhoon Bopha has regained some strength as it approaches another populated area in the western part of the Philippines. Madam Chair, we have never had a typhoon like Bopha, which has wreaked havoc in a part of the country that has never seen a storm like this in half a century. And heartbreaking tragedies like this are not unique to the Philippines, because the whole world, especially developing countries struggling to address poverty and achieve social and human development, confront these same realities.
Finally, Madam Chair, I speak on behalf of 100 million Filipinos, a quarter of a million of whom are eking out a living working here in Qatar. And I am making an urgent appeal, not as a negotiator, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino.
I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face. I appeal to ministers. The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people. I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want.
I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?

Thank you Madam Chair”

The horror scenario witnessed in the Philippines over the last week, has been described as the “new normal” by the UN Secretary-General  Ban Ki-moon when he addressed the COP18 plenary last Tuesday.  It was a personal intervention on his part in an effort to break the deadlock in the negotiations, he stressed his belief, on the evidence now available, that climate change poses a threat to the survival of the human race: “No one is immune to climate change – rich or poor. It is an existential challenge for the whole human race – our way of life, our plans for the future”.   

Various reports have emerged in the course of fortnight in Qatar. Notable was that released by the World Bank: “Turn Down the Heat. Why a 4 degree C Warmer World Must be Avoided” a week before the COP. This key report was written for the Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. (See my blog #13 yesterday announcing Qatar’s new deal with Potsdam). The report concludes that the planet will warm by 4 degrees C by 2100 unless urgent action is taken to redress the impacts of climate change by adopting mitigation measures. On the basis of the pledges to limit emissions given at COP17 in Durban, even if those pledges are met there is a 20% chance the 4 degree C increase will be exceeded, but if the pledges are breached or withdrawn, then the likelihood of the exceedence will be 40%.

The foreword to this World Bank report it written by its president, Jim Jong Kim, in which he states: “It is my hope that this report shocks us in to action….. This report is a stark reminder that climate change affects everything. The solutions don’t lie only in climate finance or climate projects. The solutions lie in effective risk management and ensuring all our work, all our thinking, is designed with the threat of a 4 degree C world in mind”.  

Unfortunately, working with averages is a crude means of estimating impacts and so in countries like Australia where the “I’m alright Jack” approach might be laughingly heard, reflects a naivety. The harsh reality is that the 4 degrees C rise will be disproportionately spread across the globe – so whereas the impacts on some places might be comparatively benign, in other places it will be hell on Earth. For instance, the World Bank report identifies those countries at acute risk as including Mexico, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The report also predicts that for the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and parts of the US, the average monthly summer temperature will be 6 degrees C higher.   

Most probably likely to focus the attention of the Arab nations  attending COP18 in force, another World Bank report “Impacts of Climate Change in the Arab Region”  was released during the first week. While disturbing for the whole Middle Eastern region, the report starkly highlights the differential impacts: “While experts agree on climatic trends, the socioeconomic impacts of climate change will vary from country to country”. In short, the impacts will depend upon each country’s coping capacity which is linked to development.  Wealthier or more diverse economies are more resilient to climate change than the poorer or less diverse economies, where many people live off the land and remain among the most vulnerable to negative climate impacts.

Quoting from the Gulf Times: “The report highlights the impact on human health due to climate change in the Arab region. Higher temperatures are known to lead to increased morbidity through heat stress and indirectly to strokes and heart-related deaths”. The report goes on to examine inevitable changes to such about every aspect of society from agricultural and work practices, to health and domestic relationships – with the differential ways climate change will impact on the different roles of women and men in Arab society, especially amongst the poorer nations such as Somalia and five other Arab states categorized by the UN as amongst the global LDCs - Least Developed Countries. These Arab states are in stark contrast to Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, wherein 80-90% of their respective populations live in cities and are amongst the highest GDP per capita.

The report concluded that the Arab Countries are in for “unprecedented extreme” temperatures over the next century. The year 2010 was the warmest since the late 1800s with 19 countries setting new national temperature highs. Five of these countries were Arab countries, including Kuwait, which set a record high of 52.6 degrees C in 2010, only to be followed by 53.5 degrees C in 2011. Interestingly, in comparison to opinion in Australia, amongst the better-educated populations in these Arab countries, a 2009 survey for the World Bank report showed 90% of the people sampled agree that climate change is occurring and is largely due to human activities; and 84% accept that it is a serious challenge for their countries.

I suspect that for years to come, we will all be reminded of the day – the 6th December 2012 - when Mr Sano of the Philippines addressed the UN:

“I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?