Climate Change POST COP15 | TIME TO BE BOLD




The time for procrastination about climate change has long since passed; the world is in a state of emergency and further inaction is gross negligence. The actual and anticipated impacts of climate change as well as the unintended consequences of climate change, and the short-term and long-term effects that are known and yet to be known have all contributed to the state of emergency. Any denial of the state of emergency, is eclipsed by the moral imperative, and legal obligation to abide by the precautionary principle.

Solutions for the state of emergency depend upon the political will to address climate change within the complexity and interdependence of issues related to: guaranteeing human rights, including the human right to food, to drinking water, to sanitation and to health; ensuring social justice; protecting and conserving the environment and ecosystems; reducing the ecological footprint and moving away from the current over-consumptive model of development; and preventing war and conflict.

While the threat of climate change has been obvious to most scientists for five decades, the industrialised world – the major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – has refused to acknowledge, let alone address the urgency of the crisis. Industrialised nations have been heavily influenced by financial, media and industrial corporations, corporate front groups, industry-funded academics, as well as by citizens that deny the science, all of which have tried to cast doubt on the reality of human-caused climate change.

As stated in the precautionary principle in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing methods to address the threat. All member states of the United Nations have a legal obligation to abide by the precautionary principle. There is consensus among scientists that the threat to climate change is caused by anthropogenic activity, and that there is a global emergency. THIS CONSENSUS IS SUFFICIENT to justify invoking the precautionary principle.

Corporate-controlled states have failed not only to address the urgency of the crisis by enacting effective legislation, but also to even seriously consider – let alone invest in – the resources needed to protect their own coasts and citizens as well as the poorest and most vulnerable states and people from the current and future impacts of climate change.
In addition, those who have created and most benefited from the carbon economy have failed to consider the need to assist the low-lying states and small island developing states that have already been impacted by climate change. They have also failed to acknowledge any responsibility, or to provide compensation for the widespread displacement of people resulting from climate change. These impacts are all considered externalities by policy-makers who continue to subsidize fossil fuels while ignoring the burgeoning economic health, environmental and social costs of climate change.

In Copenhagen, rather than adopting a minimalist lowest common denominator approach to setting climate targets and time frames, member states of the United Nations must acknowledge the science of dwindling glaciers, increasing atmospheric turbulence, desertification, ocean warming and acidification and rising sea levels, and adopt strong, effective, and mandatory targets and time frames to address the urgency.

The UNFCCC is ratified by 192 countries – representing near universal membership – it commands near universal support and its legitimacy is unquestioned. The UNFCCC stated: “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere must be at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. This level equates to a target of below 1°C, which is the point at which global systems on land, water and air will be so affected as to create vicious feedback cycles and destabilise many ecosystems and human societies.

The Global Humanitarian Forum Climate Change Human Impact report that summarised data including that issued by WHO on the impacts states that in 2009, 325 million people were seriously affected by climate change (based on negative health outcomes), and there were 303,000 deaths as a result of climate change. It predicts that in 2030, 660 million people a year will be affected by climate change and that 471,500 people will die from climate change. 98 % of those affected and 99% of deaths come from the developing world. The start year for the data is 1980 in terms of impacts. That equates to nearly 13 million deaths by 2030, and billions affected. This period is merely the start of the climate change impact. Without action the deaths will increase exponentially after climate change takes grip in post 2030. This disregard for the lives of others is paramount to criminal negligence. **

Because of the global urgency, there must be the political will to strive to contain the rise in temperature to less than 1°C above pre-industrial levels. and strict time frames must be imposed, so that overall global emissions will begin to be reversed as of 2010. There must be a global target of 30% below 1990 levels by 2015, 50% below by 2020, 75% by 2030, 85% by 2040 and 100% below by 2050, while adhering to the precautionary principle, the differentiated responsibility principle *, and the fair and just transition principle. ***Under the Framework Convention, every state signatory incurred the obligation to conserve carbon sinks; thus the destruction of sinks, including deforestation and elimination of bogs must end.

Most scientific work today has become tied to the failing negotiations and is based on keeping the risk of a rise in temperature above 2 °C at about 5-40%. The proposal submitted, here, by the Global Compliance Research Project is based on trying to avoid a rise in temperature above 1 °C and returning atmospheric CO2 back to 278ppm in line with the obligations outlined in the UNFCCC by 2050 and bringing risk down to a minimum.

If the dangerous level is to be avoided, emission pathways to eliminate CO2 must arrive at the pre-industrial level of 278 ppm at least by 2050.

Currently under consideration as a target in brackets

[Only if the CO2 levels are not beyond 278 ppm will the rise in temperature be maintained below 1°C which has been assessed by many scientists as being the danger level. To succeed in being below the dangerous 1°c, member states of the United Nations must commit to  remove  between 1105.62GTCO2 and 1842GT CO2 from the atmosphere (see table 1). The initial removal phase should start in 2010 and run to 2020, with a research program to determine the required GT GHG to be removed to achieve 278ppm of CO2 by 2050 and socially equitable and environmentally safe and sound methods of CO2 reduction. By the latest in 2020, between 36.85 GT CO2 yr-1 and 61.42 GT CO2 yr-1 must be removed. In the period 2010-2020 natural carbon sinks must be restored.

Emission reductions should be based on global caps for emissions of GHG and must follow a smooth path as shown in Graphs 1, 2 and 3. Carbon elimination must not be used to offset reduction targets, and must be done through socially equitable and environmentally safe and sound methods. Greenhouse Gas Emissions resulting from Destructive land use practices including in the rural, the urban and peri-urban environment must end. Deforestation must end and developing nations whose development will be affected must be compensated. There must be caps on yearly emissions of GHG as per table 1 and graphs 2 and 3 and as required for the 1°C target. Current research only shows cumulative emission budgets for a 2 °C target, the targets in this submission are based on trying to not be above a 1 °C target.] ****

The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of developing countries and of present and future generations. All states must embark immediately on time-bound phasing out of fossil fuels and of subsidies for fossil fuel. The unconventional extraction of oil from Bitumen, such as in the process in the tar/oil sands, is a major contribution to greenhouse gas and must be prohibited. In addition there must be a phase-out of biofuel and nuclear energy and an end to the subsidizing of biofuel and of nuclear energy, and a time-bound commitment to conservation, and to subsidizing and investing in socially equitable and environmentally safe and sound renewable energy, transportation, agriculture, forestry etc. options, that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The transition to a zero carbon society should meet the needs of all nations and people in an equitable fashion and should be based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, human rights and social justice. To achieve this end the industrialized states and major greenhouse gas producers must be prepared to enter into binding obligations not only through targets and time frames but also through funding mechanisms. This fund could be named Fund for the Implementation of the UNFCCC, and it would fund socially equitable and environmentally safe and sound energy renewable energy, transportation, agriculture and forestry. This fund would replace the GEF as the main source of funding for the UNFCCC.

The dominant greenhouse gas-producing and emitting states should be compelled to finance this international fund. Funds traditionally distributed not only through the GEF but also through the Bretton Woods institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and additional bilateral funds, such as those in the German Fund for International Climate Initiative, should be channelled through this global fund. This fund would be indispensable for preventing climate change, and for achieving the objectives of the UNFCCC.

Additional funds must be derived from reallocation of global military expenses, including budgets and arms production and sales. Part of this fund could be allocated to compensate states damaged in any way by the failure of industrialized states to discharge obligations under the UNFCCC and other legal obligations.

Other budgetary sources for this Fund would be the redirecting of subsidies from socially inequitable and environmentally unsound non-sustainable energy to socially equitable and environmentally safe and sound renewable energy, transportation, agriculture, forestry etc.

In addition, measures to alleviate the impacts of climate change must include the cancellation of the outstanding debt of developing states, and the implementation of the minimal long-standing commitment of 0.7% of GDP being transferred to Overseas Development (ODA). The ODA must serve the needs not of the developed states but of the developing states. Any shortfall in funding should be bolstered by increased ODA by nations that inequitably gain an advantage from historical emissions or reduction scenarios that are not in line with the principle of equity.

All these funding measures could only just begin to compensate for the “emissions debt” owed, by the developed states to the developing states.

The impact, of climate change on the world’s poor, on indigenous peoples, vulnerable communities, and especially low-lying states will be the greatest, and they must be assisted by Industrial states, which have a legal and moral imperative, to provide funds for socially equitable and renewable energy, transportation, agriculture, forestry etc.

In addition, major greenhouse gas-producing states must be forced to implement the actions that would discharge the obligations incurred when they signed and ratified the UNFCCC (provisions of the UNFCCC have become international peremptory norms and as such are binding) and be forced to repay the emission debt. Historic emissions should be calculated and an assessment made of the degree of dereliction of duty in the implementation of the UNFCCC. From these assessments, provisions must be made to compensate the states that have been most damaged by the failure, of the major greenhouse gas emitting states, to discharge obligations under the Convention. In such cases, a fund should be set up to assist vulnerable states in taking delinquent states to the International Court of Justice.

“Market-based” or “market centre” approaches, which are being proposed by developed states must be opposed because they will serve neither the needs of developing states nor the objectives of the UNFCCC

The mandate of the Commission on Sustainable Development has been eroded. Its mandate was originally to ensure effective follow-up to Agenda 21, and other UNCED obligations and commitments. The Commission on Sustainable Development, in light of the failures of its current format, should be upgraded to a Council, which would be able deal with new or emerging environmental threats, and with on-going threats, such as climate change, which requires continuous intervention. Also too often at the Commission on Sustainable Development, serious polices, which would address the urgency are thwarted by the requirement to reach consensus, and serious consideration must be given to a different negotiation process and requirements.

Entrenched immovable national interests that have impeded the Commission on Sustainable Development must be prevented from blocking the adoption, in the UN General Assembly, of a strong legally binding agreement on climate change, Article 18 of the Charter of the United Nations reads: “Decisions of the General Assembly on important questions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. These questions shall include recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security.” Undoubtedly, the impact of climate change could be deemed to fall under this category. In Copenhagen, given the urgency of the issue of climate change, and its potential effects on the global population and on the political, economic, ecological and social global systems, the requirement for consensus must be waived, and a binding agreement on all states will be deemed to exist, if 66 % of the states concur. It is possible that a majority of the member states could agree to a strong legally binding “Copenhagen protocol” to the UNFCCC. A strong Protocol to the UNFCCC could then be used against the delinquent states, and a case could be taken to the International Court of Justice under the UNFCCC, which has been signed and ratified by 192 states, even most of the delinquent states including Canada and the US, have signed and ratified the UNFCCC.

In addition, the practice of anglocentricity must end, and full translation in the six official languages must be provided, not only in the plenary but also in all working and negotiating groups. In the working groups and in the plenary, the disproportion of interventions and domination by the umbrella groups and individual nations must no longer be permitted.

* Lack of IPCC Updated Report

The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report is from 2007 and that much of the research could be as over four years old. Most recent scientific evidence indicates that the impact of climate change is happening much more rapidly than expected. Apart from the serious concerns about the emerging data the fact that the new IPCC report is due to be issued in the start of 2010 after Copenhagen is troubling.

** Canadian common law provides useful guidance. Environmental negligence suits focus on compensation for loss caused by unreasonable conduct that damages legally protected interests. Unreasonable conduct means doing something that a prudent or reasonable person would not do, or failing to do something that a reasonable person would do. The plaintiff must establish certain key elements of the tort— cause in fact and proximate cause, damages, legal duty, and breach of the standard of care. Note that fault may be found even in the case of unintended harm if it stems from unreasonable conduct.

The Criminal Code (Section 219) is even clearer that lack of intent to harm is no defence if damage results from conscious acts performed in careless disregard for others: “Everyone is criminally negligent who (a) in doing anything, or (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons” (where ‘duty’ means a duty imposed by law). Significantly, Section 222(5)(b) states that “a person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being, by being negligent (emphasis added).”

(Dr. Bill Rees, Is Canada Guilty of Criminal Negligence?)

** The differentiated responsibility

Developed nations have a duty to abide by the differentiated responsibility principle. At the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) every member state adopted Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration. This principle states that:

States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit to sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command. (Principle 7, Rio Declaration)

This principle was also reaffirmed in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Acknowledging that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions,

Given that principle 7 of the Rio Declaration was adopted by all states, and that the similar principle in the preamble of the UNFCCC was affirmed by 192 State, the principle can be deemed a peremptory norm and thus legally binding on all states.

Thus when percentages are referred to in this Climate Change Statement, the assumption is that the burden for the reduction targets must fall on developed states including from their overseas corporate resource extraction. The extraterritorialism excuse, by which developed states argue that they cannot impose strict control over their corporations that function in developing states can no longer hold.

The Global Humanitarian Forum president and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan indicate that 50 of the world’s poorest countries collectively produce less than one per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. These countries have undoubtedly been disproportionally affected by climate change, and the responsibility must be on the shoulders of the developed states.

*** The Fair and Just Transition Principle

The Fair and Just transition principle must be instituted to assist workers and communities in the transition from unsustainable to sustainable development. This principle holds that workers who are engaged in unsustainable practices that are harmful to human health and the environment, will not oppose the transition to socially equitable and environmentally safe and sound practices (SEESS), providing society offers them a fair and just transition to (SEESS).

>> Preamble

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