COP18 Blog: Expectations.

La Trobe Institute for Social and Environmental Sustainability

Blog No.10 – Day 9, COP18. Doha, Qatar. Tuesday, 4 December

By Professor Simon Molesworth


As we head in to the second week of COP18, expectations are slowly rising, but not at the tempo which was so palpable at the three previous COPs I’ve attended. Clearly we’ll probably never again have the atmosphere that was so electric at Copenhagen’s COP15. It is generally agreed around the corridors that we should all lower expectations for an outcome of great significance, rather this is a COP where the nuts and bolts are being worked out on matters of detail arising out of COP17’s Durban Platform as we move forward to 2015. The term being used around the Australian Delegation is it is a “procedural COP”. However, with the High Level segment of the COP commencing this afternoon, we are seeing many more delegates at ministerial level arrive. Although national leaders from some countries have arrived, for instance I’ve noticed in the press Ethiopia, Ukraine and Kuwait, in this second week the vast majority will be represented by their Ministers for the Environment. In the first week most nations were represented by their ambassadors - as in Australia’s case by His Excellency Justin Lee, Ambassador for Climate


Reflecting on this description of a “procedural COP”, it is not unreasonable to have predicted such a circumstance when one acknowledges that the Durban Platform did set 2015 as the operative date to work towards and that necessarily means that all the detail of global agreement in the differing areas of negotiation must be put in place. However, let there be no misconceptions, this is a UN conference of nation parties where nearly 200 nations have sent ministers. There may not be so many Presidents or Prime Ministers as in previous recent COPs, nevertheless the world is treating these negotiations seriously.  

Non Party Participation – 1. Taiwan

One interesting aspect of the representations that are seen in the COP18 Side Event auditoriums is the presence of non-parties which have been given status as observers. Particularly evident around the corridors and in the exhibition halls has been Taiwan. Taiwan is not a member of UN and so cannot be a party to the UNFCCC, nevertheless they are here with “bells on”. More than one Taiwanese University is present, as are a number civil society organisations, such as the Taiwanese Environmental Quality Protection Foundation, which is occupying a brightly decorated exhibition booth across the corridor from the INTO booth. There have been a number of Side Event seminars hosted by Taiwanese institutions.      
In a rather dramatic step, a whole half of the front page of the main daily Qatari newspaper, the Gulf Times, was occupied today by a paid advertisement attracting attention with a large coloured globe of the world, melting in to the pages. The text of the advertisement in bold large print states: “WHEN ALL HANDS NEED TO BE ON DECK Taiwan: Ready, Willing and Able”.   Detailed text then follows: “Global warming affects every corner of or world. Dealing with it effectively requires the concerted effort of every member of the international community. Taiwan is a green-energy industry pioneer with abundant technical expertise it can bring to international efforts to mitigate global climate change. With robust domestic energy conservation policies of its own, Taiwan has expressed its determination to be part of the international solution. There should be no barriers to Taiwan’s participation in international discussions on global warming under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – because this is a challenge requiring all hands on deck.  Then in bold red banner text across the bottom of the page: “Taiwan’s participation in the UNFCCC initiatives benefits the world”.   

Non Party Participation – 2. Palestine

Just 3 days after the UN General Assembly voted to grant Palestine non-member observer status, I attended a Side Event hosted by “The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature” (APN). I had noted their exhibition booth during the first week of the COP, which displayed a few posters about tree planting and had a range of leaflets available as hand-outs in a number of languages. Most were in Arabic so l was unable to read them. Only after arriving at this Side Event did I understand that APN is a Palestinian organisation.
I was attracted to the Side Event as it was promoted as being about Climate Justice and Civil Rights, and I am a QC vitally interested in such matters. Most of the presenters spoke in Arabic, so I used the interpretation service which is available at all such UN meetings whereby one obtains a simultaneous translation as the speaker presents. I could not but notice that the emotion of the presenters on stage was high, to say the least, with their presentations, albeit extremely professional, being delivered with an assertiveness and volume that indicated great earnestness. Unfortunately, as I’ve often found with simultaneous translations at UN meetings, the “punch” of the delivery can be lost as the translator can never speak with the same emphasis and match the energy of the speaker. This was especially so in the case of this Side Event as I seemed to get a male translator when a female speaker was presenting and then vice versa, a female translator with the male speakers!  
With a brief summary, I can’t do justice to all the presentations which extended over ninety minutes. In order to give a perspective of the matters addressed and without passing comment, I will simply quote from the APN leaflet that was distributed. “APN is an independent non-profit organisation. APN aims to build the capacity of People in the Arab region to control and sustain their natural resources, especially those under occupation and armed conflicts, and to mobilize the effort of civil society organisations towards the regional and global environmental issues and to advocate it.

The One Million Trees Program (MTC) launched by APN founders in 2001, involves replanting trees in Palestinian lands razed by Israeli bulldozers in areas where Israeli settlements and bypass roads are built/expanded in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. In April 2008, APN announced the end of replanting one million trees in various locations, including olive, fruit and palm trees, and launched the Second Million Trees Program.   

Thousands of acres of Palestinian agricultural land have been razed over the years by Israeli bulldozers, families displaced and vital routes disconnected in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Israeli occupation authorities continue to build/expand settlements and bypass roads. Nearly 1,500,000 trees were uprooted in the years 2001-2007. Most of them were olive trees. Israel’s building of the Apartheid Wall in the occupied West Bank in recent years has swallowed/destroyed more Palestinian agricultural lands.

The program was adopted by many local regional, and international institutions and civil society organizations. The program aims at: *Replanting olives and other trees in damaged Palestinian lands; * Supporting Palestinian farmers and families through creating job opportunities to generate income for them; * Helping Palestinians hold on to their lands; *Protect and preserve the environment; and * Raising awareness of Israel’s plans to expel Palestinians from their agricultural lands”.        

After reflecting on the presentations from the panel of speakers presenting the Palestinian perspective, I recalled that I had not seen any sign of an Israeli presence at this COP. I recalled that there were a couple of exhibition booths at previous COPs showcasing Israeli innovation and tertiary education in the sustainability field. Reflecting further, I then recalled the advisory note from our Australian Department of Foreign Affairs that I read prior to coming to Qatar: which was a warning that should one’s passport reveal a stamp indicating that the traveller had visited Israel then it would be unlikely that they would gain entry to Qatar.

I wonder if such a restriction would apply to an Israeli national delegation should it seek to enter the country as a party in order to participate in these United Nations negotiations?