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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.

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Comunidades indígenas, bosques y cambio climático

December 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Ha sido una de las presentaciones más “energéticas” que hemos tenido, y eso que se siente que el ambiente se va caldeando  a medida que pasa el tiempo, no sé si porque no se terminan de ver avances claros, o porque forma parte de la estrategia de estas Conferencias: meter presión a medida que avanzan. No es nada concreto pero voy sintiendo que aumenta el tono, se habla con más fuerza, con más vehemencia, a medida que pasan los días.

Como decía esta presentación de COICA, Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica , subió mucho el tono frente al estilo tranquilo y suave que hemos tenido hasta ahora. En algún momento me pareció que se les iba de las manos a los organizadores.

La Coordinadora quería discutir la conveniencia de los programas REDD para las comunidades indígenas e invitó a representantes de los países amazónicos: Perú, Ecuador, Bolivia y Colombia. La cosa estuvo desde el principio tensa, pero con el representante de Perú la cosa estalló.

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), Programa para la reducción de Emisiones por la Deforestación y la Degradación Forestal. Es una iniciativa que consiste básicamente en asignar un valor monetario a la capacidad de almacenar carbono que tienen los bosques. De esa manera no deforestando, es decir no reduciendo los bosques –se asignaría un valor a las superficies actuales- y ampliando se conseguiría recibir dinero. Evidentemente esto es interesante para los países menos desarrollados y que tienen importantes recursos forestales. Podrían recibir dinero por conservar y mejorar sus bosques. Hasta aquí suena bien. Pero, siempre hay un pero, o varios.

Los países desarrollados pueden “comprar” derechos de emisión de gases invirtiendo en proyectos de este tipo pero con eso no se consigue el efecto final que es reducir las emisiones totales. Al mercantilizar los bosques, todavía más, estamos reforzando el afán de lucro frente a la gestión responsable. Además están los problemas técnicos de que con qué especies se va a reforestar: ¿rápido crecimiento aunque no sean autóctonas? ¿otro incentivo para acabar con la biodiversidad? En muchas zonas tropicales la capacidad autoregenerativa de los ecosistemas es impresionante, basta con dejarlos tranquilos.

Pero lo peor no está aquí, los programas REDD aunque intencionalmente quieren ser una oportunidad para las comunidades indígenas no garantizan que estas comunidades sean realmente los beneficiarios y los responsables de estos proyectos. Si detrás de estas iniciativas hay una inundación de dinero, se llega a hablar de 30.000 millones anuales, es demasiada tentación como para que llegue a los indígenas. Como se está viendo en Perú con el petróleo y el gas.

Al final la tormenta estalló. No es un problema de REDD sino de algo previo: de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas. Son estos los que tienen que ser reconocidos. Hay problemas de titularidad de la tierra, de respeto a su integridad y dignidad, de reconocimiento de sus instituciones. Lamentablemente el cambio climático no es la peor de las pesadillas de los pueblos indígenas.

COP15 – Puzzling Thoughts 2/4 – REDD and Indigenous People

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Yesterday, Dec 11, I attended various side-events to COP15, and I am left with some puzzle pieces of thoughts.

 (2) The idea of REDD is to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – a plan with enormous implications for the vast rainforests in Latin America and Africa. A side-event organized by COICA, the Coordinadora de las organizaciones indigenas de la Cuenca amazonica, illustrated the complexities of REDD in the face of the indigenous people in the Amazon region. The tone was aggressive and passionate: among the indigenous people, the fear exists – and I can understand them when I see how the whole COP15 focuses on economic and market solutions to the climate change crisis – that this will lead to mercantilise the rain forests. They fear that forests will be turned into plantations, in the hands of industrial interests and aimed at maximizing financial gain. But, plantations are not an alternative to forests, their significance and the special care that indigenous people have for them and for the biodiversity they harbor, necessary to life on earth. Plantations reflect an economic market logic, that does not reflect the real life of a forest, but takes it on as a consumer object. The indigenous people from the Amazon region also fear, that in this market process, their human rights will not be respected, as is already the case – people have been killed for defending the forests against logging. The deepest lack of respect for the human rights of the indigenous people lies in the fact that they are turned into mere economic actors in a market that stimulates greed and murderous competition. REDD, therefore, is linked to indigenous human rights as it is linked to biodiversity.

These passionate discussions pose the issue of the place of economic measures in addressing the global climate change crisis. I was thinking how, in the crisis situation born out of cruel world wars, the European Union has been constructed by building up a common market, by an economic strategy. However, this economic strategy was combined with a strong emphasis on values, particularly on the value of solidarity. Precisely, in Europe today the debate on values has become crucial, since the market logic seems to tempt people away from the important values that should frame economic and market logic. The indigenous people of the Amazon region offer us a plea for a set of values: the value of forests and the special care for them, the value of biodiversity, the values of human rights, … Economic and political strategies should not be blind and they need a framework of values to do their work in a constructive and positive way – a fact of which religion reminds us. It is, therefore, frightening that religions are present only on the fringes of COP15: it is high time to ask decision-makers for the motivations, values and beliefs they hold dear and want to turn into decisions for our planet. Yesterday, Rowan Williams in a sermon reminded us precisely of this: religion is not some eccentricity or oddity with regard to politics – it touches the core of what it means to be a politician.

COP15: More Is Needed than Financial and Economic Wizardry

December 9, 2009 1 comment

A session organized by the delegation of the Netherlands on Mitigation Efforts of Developed Countries – Will It Be Enough?, submerged me in the kind of financial and economic details most probably determine the negotiations at COP15. The various presentations attempted to map and model various strategies for keeping global warming under 2°C, taking into account pledges made by developed countries and the so-called REDD factor, concerned with reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. More financial and economic wizardry appears, when speakers address the so-called “hot air” generated by the economic decline of Russia and the Ukraine or when they point out that the 17% GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions’ reduction pledged by the USA refers to the baseline 2005 and means a reduction of a mere 3% when the “usual” baseline of 1990 is taken. The overall perspective of the Dutch seemed to me rather pessimistic: many more pledges are necessary if the goal is to keep the 2°C limit …

For a theologian with some background in mathematics, all of this is not easy to grasp, and it is clear that it would be worthwhile to have some specialists in economics and financing amongst us in Copenhagen. My personal frustration is that I have the impression that COP15 is being reduced to finding economic and financial solutions to a crisis, the seriousness of which has been laid out before us by the scientists of the IPCC, who have been asked explicitly to avoid any political interpretation of their measurements and models – the use of the word “urgency” in the IPCC presentation was already too much for some of the journalists present … The crisis is reduced to a technical problem, for which we can design a series of possible solutions among which to choose. Politics seem reduced to applied economics and financing. Ethical questions do not seem to be addressed; religious perspectives have nearly completely disappeared out of the Bella Center. Moreover, I am somewhat surprised not to see military people here – they may be present, but I have not seen uniforms – and there is a growing suspicion in me that at some moment of time the issue of global warming and security needs to be addressed. I hope that there are psychologists and sociologists amongst the negotiators, and not only amongst the representatives of IGOs or NGOs. In short, I miss the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary environment that seems to be necessary for addressing the worldwide crisis. The narratives of suffering people, such as the indigenous people, remind us of this; the cold calculations of the economists and financial experts – however important and crucial they may be – seem to hide the fact that we are facing questions about just and equitable life styles and about sustainable life together on the planet earth and in close and even intimate connection with it. A complex, interwoven and holistic perspective is required – at least, I think so – that even our best available science cannot yet offer, and that is certainly truncated if only its economic and financial aspects are taken under consideration. I think it is a gift from indigenous traditions but also from religions to intuit and suggest such holistic perspectives and worldviews.

Institutionalized religions, churches and organizations offer opportunities for inspiring spiritual depth as well as the means of spaces in which experiences of concrete people, political reflection and advocacy, broad and interdisciplinary scientific reflection, and mobilization of public opinion. As a Jesuit, I feel that there is a task here for the Society of Jesus and for the Ignatian Family. As a Roman Catholic, I feel that a clear voice from those who have the most universal and broad perspective, is urgently needed to complement and strengthen the many initiatives that are already functioning at local levels. There are already some cautious declarations. More is needed. This would undoubtedly enrich the Bella Center and the participants at COP15.

Indígenas ante el cambio climático

December 9, 2009 1 comment

Hoy ha habido una presentación del impacto del Cambio Climático en las poblaciones indígenas. El acto ha estado organizado por TEBTEBBA y ha habido representantes de comunidades indígenas de Kenia, Alaska, Nueva Calcedonia, Filipinas, Noruega y Perú. Ha sido una presentación muy intensa, muy apasionada. Algunas de las presentaciones estaban acompañadas de fotografías de desastres naturales, de zonas desertificadas, de personas concretas. Es bueno que en estas Conferencias haya una referencia constante a lo “local” para no perder perspectiva. Como dice Jacques en su post “son los primeros en sufrir una crisis en la que no han tenido nada que ver… sufren porque no son escuchados aunque tienen una sabiduría ancestral que ofrecer de relación con la naturaleza y de cómo respetar el medioambiente preservándolo para el futuro”.

Destacaría la intervención de Tarcila Rivera, peruana. Ha saludado en quechua y luego ha hablado en castellano. Personalmente lo he agradecido, no quisiera parecer anti-nada pero el dominio del inglés es un poco… agotador. Tarcila ha hablado con precisión, con contundencia, de racismo, de discriminación y de sometimiento. Son términos bien conocidos por las comunidades indígenas. Ahora, vinculado a los efectos del cambio climático, tienen que incorporar más preocupaciones: faltan alimentos por las sequias prolongadas o los desastres naturales; la salud se ve más perjudicada porque pierden plantas medicinales; se ven impotentes y se sienten amenazados. Amenazados en su ser como pueblo, en su espiritualidad. Quieren algo elemental: formar parte de la solución. No quieren ser “ayudados”, quieren participar en la toma de decisiones, especialmente en las que afectan a sus territorios.

En una línea parecida ha hablado Sarimin Boengkih de Nueva Calcedonia. Se sienten amenazados, en su caso como población que vive en unas islas sienten que podrían desaparecer sumergidos por el aumento del nivel de las aguas. Su comentario ha sido demoledor: aunque tuviéramos dinero para comprar tierra en otro sitio desapareceríamos como pueblo porque somos lo que somos porque vivimos allí. Pertenecemos a nuestra tierra, aunque sea una isla.

Al final, aunque todos ellos han insistido en los esfuerzos que están haciendo por combatir los impactos del cambio climático, creo que ha quedado un sentimiento de amargura y de impotencia. El respeto y la participación de las comunidades indígenas me parece un “test” sobre la profundidad y la potencia transformadora de los compromisos internacionales. Los acuerdos deben beneficiar a la mayoría, indudablemente, pero la calidad ética de esos acuerdos vendrá indicada por la capacidad de incorporar a las minorías.

The Gift of Indigenous People

December 9, 2009 1 comment

Today, José Ignacio and myself participated in a side event organized by TEBTEBBA, where indigenous people voiced their experiences in the midst of the current global climate change crisis. The speakers came from very different geographical areas: the Philippines, Alaska, Norway, Pacific Islands, Peru and Kenya. Nevertheless, their experiences are very similar and there is a feeling that they belong together, even if they come from different contexts and have different backgrounds. They are in pain, because they are amongst the first to suffer cruelly from a crisis they have not caused. They are also in pain because they are not listened to, although they have traditional knowledge on offer about how to live in our natural environments and how to respect them so as to keep them available for the future. Their cultural diversities that all reflect a deep connectedness to the earth and the land are a gift to us all.

It was a refreshing breach of style in what I have seen up until now, that several of them started their intervention with a greeting in their own native language, a greeting with the spiritual value of a blessing for nature and an emphasis on what Christians understand to be the sacramental role of human beings in nature. These very blessings and greetings, this capacity to continue to trust what they have to give to us all, show resilience, cultural and religious strength. This opens a door to other approaches to the climate change crisis than the political and economic perspectives that receive most, if not nearly all, attention in Bella Center. To the indigenous people, the earth really is a home, and not just a consumption product. They take care of their life giving relationships to the many animals, trees and forests, to the environment in general.

The historical experience of indigenous people – and that we heard in all their narratives and voices, however different their backgrounds and geographical contexts may be – is precisely a holistic, ecosystem based approach to life, in which biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and the intimate interaction between human beings and the ecosystem are crucial. Depriving ourselves from these rich and strong traditions by not respecting the human rights of the indigenous people represents, in the context of today’s climate change crisis, a terrible loss.

Concern for the Most Vulnerable – Kiribati

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

A post from Frances Orchard CJ

Kiribati, a group of 33 islands mostly coral atolls spread over 3,500,000 sq. km of the Pacific Ocean, is particularly vulnerable to global warming. At a COP15 side event today people from Kiribati presented the many dilemmas facing them at the frontier of global warming. The islands (formally known at the Gilbert Islands) consist mainly of thin strips of coral reef just a metre or two above sea level. As carbon emissions from developed nations drive climate change the 77,500 islands face a grim future. They are already dealing with storm surges, coastal erosion, acidification of the coral reefs with disastrous consequences for their main industry – fishing, tree degradation, and a depletion of fresh water supplies. The governments of Australia and New Zealand have offered a re-location deal should the islands become uninhabitable, but for the indigenous people this is a last resort option. Kiribati is their homeland and the impact on them as a people should they be forced to abandon it is a daunting proposition. Well intentioned sympathizers have advised them to move inland, but there is no inland. Kiribati produces low carbon emissions and is not under any international obligation to reduce emissions; however, they are committed to seeking alternative sources of energy. Their problems have been generated by the global community and, as so often with the poor, they are the ones at the front line facing the consequences of other peoples action. The government is doing what it can to adapt to face the future – risk assessment strategies, exploring new water sources, education, re-skilling those who might in the future be forced to emigrate and who will need future job security. They are facing the unwelcome facts and adapting courageously, but whatever they do their fate in not in their hands. It is in the hands of the international community here at COP15. Only a drastic reduction of carbon emissions internationally will save Kiribati. The fate of the islanders demonstrates more than anything that global warming is not just a scientific or ecological issue – it is a human issue first and foremost. The frigate bird is the national icon of Kiribati. There is an old story about the frigate bird that flew off to find food for its young. When it returned the islands had gone. There was only water. Will this now be the fate of the Kiribati islanders too – and then, who next? The song of the frigate bird has as its refrain: ‘Rise up!’ Who will rise up on behalf of the weak and vulnerable?