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EU sees itself as a leader and a model (one of its favourite self-images)

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Monday 29th: It was widely perceived that the EU was prominent in the organisation, and in the first days of COP15, the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December, but that it was disorganised or disunited at the crunch, so as to be virtually bypassed in the final tense confrontations. The non-binding agreement brokered between the US, Brazil, China, India and South Africa, was not ‘negotiated’ with the EU but merely presented for its acceptance or rejection. Rejection would have labelled COP15 as a humiliating failure, so the EU put a brave face on accepting it. But given the size of its economy, the intense publicity given the conference by European governments and civil society in the run-up, and the sheer scale of the EU’s industrialisation and economic influence, humiliation was implicit anyway.

The EU Observer online news service reported, ‘The text, which only “recognises” the need to limit global temperatures to rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but does not require that this happen, was itself only “recognised” by the 193 countries attending the Copenhagen summit and not approved by them.’

Perhaps the expectations beforehand were exaggerated: not only on the part of the general public but also of many world leaders. In our blog from Copenhagen, Frances Orchard quoted the then Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd:

When the history of this century comes to be written this conference will be viewed as a defining moment for this planet. Will the peoples of world have acted in concert, or were we so consumed with petty national interests that we turned against each other and failed to act together to save the planet? . . . When I go home I will need to face this question with the next generation: did I do everything in my power to bring about climate change? If not, we will have failed our children and our planet’s future. History will be our judge.

Given this embarrassing history, it is perhaps understandable that no one has troubled to cultivate similar hopes for COP16: nor will Barack Obama or Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao be present to stake their reputation on a ‘successful’ outcome.

Since December, 2009, the EU has restructured its representation to be better prepared. In February 2010 the Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, gained a colleague responsible for a new ‘Department of Climate Action’. In an ironical twist, the new Commissioner is Connie Hedegaard, who, as Danish Minister of Climate and Energy, was one of the hosts of COP15. Since plenty of criticisms last year were levelled at the Danish Government for a series of procedural bungles or provocations, including the virtual exclusion from key discussions of all but the biggest countries (and therefore the exclusion of countries most likely to suffer quickly from climate change), she has a considerable personal stake in maximising the EU’s contribution this time round.

In the new division of EU competence, Mr Potočnik’s Environment Department has the primary function of dealing with ‘global issues which affect us all – things like nature and biodiversity, water, waste, forests, air quality and noise, to name only a few’. It is the Department of Climate Action that will bear the weight of the EU’s efforts in Cancún.

The EU tried to make the best of COP15 by interpreting the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ as the ‘first step towards a legally binding global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2013’. It pledged €7.2 billion over the period 2010-12 to help developing countries make a fast start on strengthening their capacities to tackle climate change. (One might unkindly compare this with the facility agreed for the Irish financial crisis in which €35 billion is set aside to rescue the banks alone.)

At this point, it retains the three internal targets it articulated in 2008, to be attained by 2020:

– cutting greenhouse gases by 20% (30% if international agreement is reached)
– reducing energy consumption by 20% through increased energy efficiency
– meeting 20% of our energy needs from renewable sources.

Clearly the EU sees itself as a leader and a model (one of its favourite self-images). This may be a little self-congratulatory, but is not shameful, since leadership is urgently needed.  On the other hand, the first of the three points listed above shows that it is not prepared to be a self-sacrificing leader. If EU officials took that stance, they would be fiercely rejected by those member states for which the economic crisis – with its supposed cure of consumer-led economic growth – is far more ‘real’ than the threat of climate change.

Nevertheless the EU has declared both its preferred next steps and its key long-term goals:

‘The average global temperature is already almost 0.8°C higher than in the pre-industrial era. There is a broad scientific and political consensus, recognised by the Copenhagen Accord, that warming must be kept below 2°C to avert dangerous levels of climate change. To stay within this temperature limit, worldwide emissions must stop rising before 2020, must be cut by at least half of their 1990 levels by 2050, and must continue to fall thereafter. The EU’s goal is to ensure that an ambitious and legally binding global treaty to achieve these objectives is agreed at the UN climate change conference in Mexico City in November 2010.’

Such a declaration is a gamble, once again raising previously disappointed expectations. We shall follow with interest the EU’s contribution to the negotiations.

Frank Turner
Jesuit European Office-OCIPE
Brussels

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U.S. leadership addressing global warming seriously undermined

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Take a moment to study this chart.  It is drawn from a Washington Post – ABC News poll taken by the Pew Research Center in mid-October.

As you look down it, remember that the Republicans made very large gains in Congress in the November 2nd election this year and took control of one of the chambers of the U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives.

Now you have the context for understanding how the U.S. delegation to Cancun this week will be approaching the negotiations!

The Obama Administration does not have sufficient support in Congress to make any major commitments in Cancun.  It can only offer what the Administration can deliver without Congressional approval:

  • A pledge to reduce U.S. emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020,
  • Help in mobilizing $100 million a year for the poorest nations to deal with the effects of climate change,
  • A call for major developing nations to cut their emissions and agree to having their cuts monitored and verified.

Todd Stern, the special U.S. climate change envoy to the talks, added this week that the U.S. would not endorse any agreement in Cancun that did not embody the Copenhagen Accord that emerged from negotiations among the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa and was imposed upon the rest of the UN nation-state delegates last year.  If those nations resist this time, threats are beginning to appear in the form of suggestions that perhaps these global problems will need to be dealt with in other international settings – such as the G-20 or through a series of bi-lateral agreements.

Faith-based NGOs in the U.S. are continuing to educate their constituencies and are pressing the Obama Administration to show greater leadership and flexibility in the Cancun negotiations.  But most people across the country are not paying attention to Cancun.  They are more focused on the impact of the recession, their deeply felt economic insecurity, and the need for jobs, jobs, jobs.

At this point, the possibility of leadership from the U.S. in addressing global warming is being seriously undermined by the chill of the political climate change gripping the country.

James E. Hug, S.J.
Center of Concern
Washington, D.C.

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A Time for Prayer

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Praying together constitutes a wonderful means of engaging common and shared challenges and threats. Therefore, I want to post this invitation for prayers for the UN Climate Change Conference, as posted on the ICN network, Independent Catholic News.

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SJ 4.2 and the Planet Wide Environmental Challenges

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

This blog contribution turns out to be playful and serious at the same time. It aims at highlighting the responsibilities of institutions as the Society of Jesus, the Ignatian Family and the Roman Catholic Church – and not only these – in the midst of the planet wide environmental challenges. It attempts to offer a “network” frame to better understand these responsibilities. I am not sure it will work, but I surely do hope so, when I continue to hear the message heralded by the media that we should not really expect much from COP16.

There is fascination when one looks at the phenomenon of the World Wide Web – it represents a complex network in full evolution. That is the reason why expressions as Web 2.0 or even Web 3.0 are used. It struck me that I could do something similar with regard to the Society of Jesus, so as to sketch the complex network it represents. And while doing so, I was also struck how this network representation provides us with a powerful tool to discern how to serve the world and God’s people, precisely in the midst of the planet wide environmental crisis.

SJ 1.0 represents, so to say, the Jesuits as individuals. They are people who have made a particular choice in their lives and who have gone through a process of formation and spiritual growth, in which discernment takes an important place. Jesuits share the engagement with the Spiritual Exercises and they belong to an organisation ruled by Constitutions.

Jesuits are also organized in provinces. It is their primary network – their Provincial knows each one of them and assigns missions. We could call this network:SJ 2.0. In their missions, assigned to them by their provincials,Jesuits have always had collaborators and friends, but recently they have become more aware that these really share in their missions and take responsibilities in these, also at the level of discerning and deciding how these missions are best articulated. This is, so to say, SJ 2.1. Of course, this leads to reflections on SJ 1.1: how does the individual Jesuit relate to non-Jesuit collaborators and friends?

Recently, Jesuits have become more deeply aware of regional networking, precisely because they experience differences at that level: there are Indian Jesuits, European Jesuits, US Jesuits, Latin American Jesuits, African Jesuits, etc. There is a level of identity and mission that reflects these regions, and it is given shape in conferences of provincials. This level could be called SJ 3.0, and we have become aware of significant and interesting, challenging, differences in our perceptions of the world. Of course, at this level the relationships with collaborators arise in new ways, that are often culturally determined: meet SJ 3.1.

And then, there is one more level, and it is crucial: SJ 4.0, the universal, planet wide Society of Jesus. Jesuits have that sense that they have places to feel at home all over the world – they belong to and feel part of a really big organisation, truly transnational. Here we find a solidarity and a loyalty that areborn deep in the personal experiences at level SJ 1.0 and that find concrete expressions at levels SJ 2.0 and SJ 3.0. And again, Jesuits are learning how important it is to change the o in 1, also at level 4: SJ 4.1 is emerging as a solid reality.

In the perspective of Ignatius Loyola, SJ 4.0 receives great importance. He enshrines this level of network in the so-called fourth vow of obedience to the Pope concerning the missions. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope is the person in charge of the broadest perspective, of a universal view on the world. We could, therefore, – and even if Popes are human beings and may not always be capable of this broad view – explain the fourth vow and SJ 4.0 as follows: whatever concrete mission Jesuits are involved in, they are invited to heed the universal perspective, to become aware that in the very concreteness of their experiences and actions the larger vision of God over the universe is at work and at stake.

Networks SJ 4.0 and SJ 4.1 strike me as particularly important with regard to planet wide environmental challenges. The Society of Jesus and the Ignatian Family (indicating the Jesuits and their collaborators and friends … the expression may not be the best, but I use it for lack of better) are organized so as to have a universal and planet wide perspective and scope of action, even and precisely when they are committed locally and concretely. They enjoy the resources and possibilities of an organisation that can address worldwide challenges, such as climate change. Moreover, they can take into account the differences at levels 3, 2 and 1, in a spirit of creative collaboration in solidarity. Jesuits and collaborators in various parts of the world, in the rich countries, in the emerging countries, in the developping countries, in those countries and places that already suffer the consequences of climate change, belong to one body that exists in a profound solidarity at level 4.

One could even be tempted to introduce SJ 4.2: the universal Society of Jesus and the universal Ignatian Family are becoming aware of their relationship to the planet, to nature, to creatures of all kind, alive or not. SJ 4.2 means that Jesuits, collaborators and friends begin to act together with nature, accepting creatures as partners in the mission of creation. The fourth vow, the vow of universality, concerns not only human beings, but the whole spectrum of creatures. The challenge is to take into account, in concrete missions, the existence of these creatures, to act out of the awareness that our lives depend upon them and are lived in solidarity with them. The alliance that expresses our belonging to the same creation becomes the scope of the word “universal”. The existence of SJ 4.2, of course, invites us also to think of SJ 1.2, SJ 2.2 and SJ 3.2. We are learning to ask the question: what does our alliance with nature and with the planet mean at personal, provincial, regional and planet wide perspective. Our network is becoming richer and fuller, but also more demanding.

SJ 4.2 opens up a very interesting perspective on planet wide challenges and on the climate change crisis. It reveals a hitherto unsuspected mission and opportunity, an expression of what it means to belong to the Society of Jesus or to the Ignatian Family.

Is it necessary to say that I suspect the existence of RCC 4.2, where RCC stands for Roman Catholic Church? And why should we think that RCC is the last step? But, at least, I would suggest to take seriously both SJ 4.2 and RCC 4.2.

Sean McDonagh: Setting the Stage

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Follows a contribution by Sean McDonagh, SSC. It provides us with information on the concrete conditions, in which COP16 takes place, as well as with some of the expectations. (JH)

I arrived in Cancun, Mexico yesterday, and registered today, (November 27th 2010) as a participant at the UN Climate Change Conference. This is the 16th meeting of Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the UN Convention on Climate Change.  As I write the organisers are still putting the final touches to the Conference Centre. Many representatives from NGOs are quite critical of the Conference logistics. A number of meeting rooms have only a curtain separating it from the next one so, if the loudspeakers are turned up, hearing what people say will be very difficult. In additions, the hotel at which the negotiations will take place is about 5 kilometres away from the main Centre. This is the first time, in my experience, that this has happened. Finally, the cost of everything, including food, is astronomical.

Still, it is important to mention a number of positive initiatives which the Mexican government has taken. With an estimated 15,000 people travelling to Cancun for the UN Climate Change Conference, the organizers are attempting to minimizing greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and to offset whatever cannot be avoided.  There are two parts to the strategy:

  • The first is directed at those who have travelled from all over the world to attend the conference. All delegates are encouraged to offset their international transport emissions. Delegates will be able to calculate their carbon footprint on-line at computer terminals at the conference. They are invited to make contributions to offset these emissions in a variety of energy-related projects in Mexico or elsewhere.

The second is aimed at minimising greenhouse gas emissions during the 12 days of the Conference in Cancun:.

  • Much of the energy used during the UN Conference will come from renewable sources such as photovoltaic cells and wind generation.
  • Delegations from the participating countries will be provided with hybrid vehicles for their transport during the Conference.
  • An eco-efficiency hotel programme is expected to avoid the consumption of approximately 200,000 cubic metres of water and the release of 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Finally, around 10,000 trees and bushes will be planted here in Cancun.

Those are a few of the positive initiatives here at the Cancun Climate Change Conference which is trying to pick up the pieces after the dismal failure  to produce a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty to curb greenhouse gases emissions at Copenhagen in December 2009

On the eve of the Cancun Conference, it is clear that the pledges which were made by 80 countries to reduce greenhouse gases have fallen well below what is needed to stabilise the world’s climate at below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.  Research by a top group of climate scientists has shown that, even if countries honoured their commitments, there would still be a 5 billion tonne gap each year. If, however, only weak measures are taken this will mean the emission gap could be as high as 12 billion tonnes annually by 2020. [1]

Yvo de Boer, the Dutch civil servant, who guided the UN Climate Change Conference for the past four years, resigned in the summer of 2010 to work with private companies on climate change initiatives. In the week before the Cancun meeting he said that, “Although many nations pay lip service to (reducing greenhouse gases), most of them, deep in their hearts, are unsure. In fact, many developing nations fear that the intent of the West is to use climate as an excuse to keep them poor and maintain the current status quo.”[2] Such distrust does not augur well for a positive outcome to the negotiations.

All eyes will be on the negotiating posture of both the United State and China at Cancun.  Unless they are willing to compromise, little will be achieved. Unfortunately, the omens are not very favourable.  The Obama administration was not able to get a climate change bill through the Senate earlier this year.  Now, with the US House of Representative controlled by Republicans and the Democrats majority in the Senate seriously reduced, it is difficult to see any real progress on the Energy Bill. Until now the Chinese government has said that it wants to see major cuts in greenhouse gas emission from the US and other industrialised nations, before it will make pledges to reduce its emissions.


[1] John Vidal, “UN says emission pledges well short of climate change goal,” The Guardian, Wednesday 24 November, 2010, page 11.

[2] John Vidal, “Poor countries suspicious of climate talks – former UN Chief,” The Guardian, November 25th 2010,  page 20.

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COP16: Context and Hopes

November 28, 2010 2 comments

I would like to highlight some of the important elements of the context, in which COP16 takes place. I will, in a second move, formulate some of the hopes one can cherish at this moment. (1) The health bulletin of our planet and the threats to human and planetary life have worsened: we continue to deplete – and at an accelerated pace – the natural resources of our planet; CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere – the consequence of our lifestyles – are still increasing and heating up of the planet rapidly; biodiversity is suffering. (2) There is much less public interest with regard to the global environmental crisis than was the case at COP15 in Copenhagen. (3) From a political perspective, matters don’t seem to have improved. In my own country, rather than discussing the urgent matters at hand, the media focus on the quarrel between some of our ministers: who will take the pride to head the Belgian delegation at Cancún? Such discussions go on, while we now know that Belgium has one of the worst ecological footprints in the world. In the USA, the hope felt when Obama was elected, has now dissipated again. We cannot, therefore, expect serious moves from one of the main actors. Meanwhile, the so-called emerging countries (such as China, India, Russia and Brasil) are becoming more important, not only because they claim an ever growing share of the natural resources for their own development, but also because they begin to define their own environmental policies and because their voice at the international conference tables becomes more important. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily good news for the developping countries and the poor countries: they continue to be exploited for their resources and do not really acquire the necessary means and tools to adapt to global climate change. (4) There is growing awareness of the seriousness and urgency of the situation, as well as of the necessity of adaptation. This is exemplified by the viewpoint of a prestigious weekly as The Economist in its issue of Nov 27 to Dec 3, as well as in its The World in 2011. But it is painful to see that this growing awareness is often conceived of in the perspective of economic growth as we understand it today: those, who have the resources, will be able to adapt; adaptation will mainly result from private action, although public action will be necessary also; there may be some help for the poor, but, and I quote what I consider to be a highly cynical remark, “unfortunately, such adaptation has always meant large numbers of deaths”. There seems to be little understanding of the fact that the resources to adapt are limited. Analyses as the ecological footprint, show that these resources will, in the end, be available only to a very limited number of privileged people. I think, as I expressed it in another blog contribution, that there are serious shortcomings in this kind of approach, but it is still the way of thinking of many of us. (5) Scientific research on the complex reality of climate change as well as on historical precedents, is unfolding at a rapid pace, and it points to the seriousness of the situation. Moreover, the attacks on the integrity of climate scientists have been proven unfair, and one can only regret the time and energy that have been lost in these fights although the painful experiences have also made scientists more aware of the need to communicate clearly and efficiently their findings and insights. (6) There is a growing awareness of the role churches and religions can play, as is shown in the commitment of the World Council of Churches. Unfortunately, not very much has been done in fact and there is still a long way to go on the level of mobilizing people and energies. This is particularly true for the Roman Catholic Church.

In this context arise new hopes. (1) It is very well possible that the lesser political profile of COP16 (as compared to COP15) will provide a direct context, in which it is more easy to reach the international agreements that are more necessary than ever. Moreover, the more important role played by the emerging countries may open new and creative avenues towards international collaboration and good governance. A main concern remains the question who will be advocating the case for the poor countries and countries in development. (2) Scientists are more than before in a position to play a prophetic role: their science is improving rapidly, they have learned to communicate better, and they also increasingly advocate for a voice that is insufficiently present at the table of negotiations, the voice of nature – this is a point clearly made by Michel Serres in his Le temps des crises. Indeed, all too often the voice of nature is not heard and, therefore, natural limits and constraints are insufficiently taken into account when we design economic and political approaches to the crisis. (3) The voice of young people in a context in which they are globally connected through the wordwide web, is becoming more important. They are a force to change mentalities and interpretations of the world and realities of the planet. This is also true of the voice of the indigenous people: their approaches to nature offer perspectives that can enrich the ways in which we situate ourselves in our world. (4) There is a need to re-think our economic models. The articles in The Economist show, I think, that there is a growing awareness of the seriousness of the crisis, but also that new economic models have to be developed, in which  sustainability, ecological footprint and limits are taken into account, and in which also the poorest of the people on our planet have a voice. A continuing emphasis on mitigation is necessary, although some think that the time for mitigation has passed by. Indeed, a one-sided emphasis on adaptation may wel be at risk to forget what mitigation states clearly: there are lifestyles that are responsible for this crisis and that will continue to aggravate it. The accent on mitigation helps us to pay attention to lifestyles that are not without consequences on the lives of the poor and on nature and the life of the planet.  (5) There is opportunity for religions and churches to speak with clear voice and to become more aware of the constructive and creative role they can play, particularly when they find ways to collaborate. For Christians, and particularly for Roman Catholics who belong to a well organised international network, the task is not only an ethical one about social and international justice. It also entails a re-thinking of theologies and worldviews in the form of a creation theology that is capable of viewing the world and the universe as a connected whole in space and time, of which human beings form a special part, as they are capable, as a part of creation, to voice creation’s self-reflection and spiritual search. Moreover, structurally speaking, as a complex international organisation with a presence at levels of political advocacy, media, research, education and in the field, the Roman Catholic Church offers opportunities to efficiently address a crisis at an international level.

Two days to the Cancún Conference

November 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear friends, this Monday, November 29th, there begins the 16th meeting of member states of the Convention for Climate Change, sponsored by the United Nations, which bearing the acronym COP16, and which meets in the Mexican city of Cancún. After the high expectations placed on the conference in Copenhagen in December last year, and its disappointing results,there is widespread doubt this year about the ability of Cancún to revive a set of international commitments around climate change – both in terms of mitigation and of adaptation.

What is reasonably expected of Cancún is that it should leave a way open to the 2011 conference in South Africa, so that there can be reached there a shared commitment that is just, sufficiently ambitious, and binding on all parties. That would mean acknowledging a shared responsibility, though with specific engagements that were differentiated as between developed and developing countries. The obstacles are by no means small, and clearly the current economic crisis will weigh heavily, and negatively on the negotiating states. Besides, there is no clarity about what kind of  agreement should emerge from these conferences, both as regards the degree to which commitments are binding, and as to what precise elements will be subject to formal regulation. There is a general opinion in favour of the establishment of a fund to finance efforts to combat climate change, and studies are being carried out to design new types of funding mechanisms: but there is no agreement on who should manage such fund. It is not surprising that in many places, there is currently a degree of distrust of the international financial institutions.

One of the most controversial issues for this conference concerns the measurement, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions by developing countries. Measurement and verification procedures clearly bear on questions of national sovereignty: but they need still to be carried out, in order to ensure the credibility of all states who are members of the Convention.

The Ignatian Advocacy Network on Ecology intends to follow this Cancún conference, as we did last year in Copenhagen. Jesuits, collaborators and colleagues, and partner organisations from various parts of the world will help us to follow events, so as better to understand the content of the negotiations, and to reflect from a perspective of faith about a phenomenon of unique importance for our societies and the planet. Members of the Ignatian family present in Cancun will offer a close-range account of the negotiations.

Climate change is without doubt the most profound threat to our future: equally, though, it offers a great opportunity to promote societies that are more equitable and mutually accountable. Our blog will be active throughout the conference, and is open to your comments and suggestions.

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