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The Marx Brothers’ cabin

December 19, 2009 1 comment

Today has been a reminder of a memorable scene from the Marx Brothers‘ film. Their small cabin begins to fill with people and, surprisingly, not only do they all fit, but even they are able to perform their roles in the midst of total chaos.  Likewise, the Bella Center has filled up with many protagonists, all of whom have been able to play their roles amidst the confusion.

Unfortunately, the surprise of the morning was the speech by President Barack Obama. Totally deceiving.  Portraying himself as offended, he seemed arrogant in his attitude towards all the other Heads of State, and therefore towards all the citizens of the world.  In the end he placed all responsibility on China for denying an international emissions control.  Furthermore, he considers the ridiculous proposal for the reduction of gas emissions in the United States (4% from here to 2020) as sufficient; and he also supported the set up of a fund of 200 billion by 2020 without specifying the US contribution to it.  Meanwhile, it is well known that by these objectives it is impossible to control the rising average temperature under 2º C, the most promising level for controlling climate change.

Obama’s speech marked the most pessimistic moment of the conference.

This evening there were great efforts at negotiating.  Heads of State met until the late hours and into the early morning.  In the words of Brazilian president Lula, it was an embarrassing show of bartering and tradeoffs.  He even considers this the worst political meeting he has attended since his days as a combative union leader.  In light of all the possible catastrophic threats that the future faces, the tightfisted negotiations for even the smallest gains are a bad sign.  This was Lula’s message before Obama took the stage.  After Obama spoke, even the smallest amount of hope began to fade.

This afternoon there have been some willful attempts to make up for lost ground.  The Heads of State want to take at least something positive back to their countries.  Disgracefully, the priority does not seem to be climate change.  Rather, they want to protect their images and not to go home as failures.

It is very likely that tonight, after all the various special interest meetings, there may be some sort of an agreement.  In any case, it will be an agreement with a little impact, one not based on justice and one that is not legally binding, which was the main goal.

This afternoon in the Klimaforum, an event parallel to the Conference which has organized numerous activities over the past two weeks, and which has had a huge participation of youth from many different countries, the activities continued – although bitterly.  I think they had greater expectations, much more than their leaders, and their response has impressed me.  They continue to look to the future.  Copenhagen is history.  Tonight they had their well-deserved farewell party.  They accomplished what they came to do.  Perhaps Obama should have visited them.

La víspera del acuerdo o no

December 17, 2009 1 comment

El seguimiento de la Conferencia se ha hecho más complicado. Desde esta mañana se ha reducido drásticamente el número de personas con acceso al Bella Center, el lugar donde se está desarrollando la Conferencia, y que ha sido, prácticamente,  nuestra casa durante estas casi dos semanas. Los números no están claros, en total parece que se han registrado más de 40.000 personas aunque el Bella Center sólo tendría capacidad para 15.000. Hoy sólo han permitido entrar a 1.000 personas de las ONGs y sociedad civil, y mañana viernes 18 el número se ha fijado en un centenar. Seguramente una coincidencia que sea el viernes cuando se espera al Presidente Obama.

Se ha habilitado un polideportivo con grandes pantallas de video para que puedan acudir los miembros de las ONGs. Muy poca gente ha acudido, los grupos han buscado otros lugares para concentrarse, rechazando así las instalaciones ofrecidas por el gobierno danés porque esta solución de último minuto no ha convencido a nadie. El pabellón ha tenido un aspecto desolado todo el tiempo.

El día ha sido una sucesión interminable de intervenciones de Jefe de Estado, Primeros Ministros o Ministros de casi doscientos países. Un record de asistencia para una Conferencia de este tipo. En general no ha habido un discurso malo, todos han preparado muy bien su intervención de tres minutos. Unos más conciliatorios, otros más agresivos, unos difusos, otros concretos, unos querían conmover (me imagino que no a los cansados diplomáticos que les escuchan), otros llamar la atención y lograr algún titular en los periódicos. Todos con la lección bien aprendida: temperaturas, gases, responsabilidad, es el momento… y después con la posición bien tomada:

– es necesario limitar las emisiones: argumento mantenido por todos, pero especialmente por los países menos desarrollados y que más sufren los efectos del cambio climático

– todos debemos limitar las emisiones: es la posición de los países más desarrollados que quiere decir que la India, China, Brasil, África del Sur y todos los países de ingreso medio también deben someterse a restricciones de gases;

– dispuestos a hacer un esfuerzo financiero: lo que propuso inicialmente la Unión Europea; Méjico, Australia y Noruega se unieron después y esta tarde se ha sumado, afortunadamente, los Estados Unidos;

– no hay compromisos financieros suficientes: lo que dicen dos tercios de los países reunidos, los menos desarrollados;

– las emisiones de gases deben ser controladas por terceras partes: el punto de discordia que han encontrado Estados Unidos contra China, ésta última se niega a un control internacional de sus emisiones porque eso afectaría a su soberanía.

A mediodía el Secretario Ejecutivo de la Convención. Yvo de Boer, informó que se había llegado a un acuerdo sobre procedimiento. Desde ayer surgió el rumor de que la presidencia danesa estaba preparando un borrador de documento que sirviera como documento base. La reacción, especialmente de los más pequeños, fue muy fuerte rechazando esa posibilidad y exigiendo que sólo se discutan los documentos de los grupos de trabajo. Al final se ha impuesto esta tesis y sólo se discutirán los documentos elaborados en los grupos de trabajo. Esto significa una lentísima velocidad y abre la cuestión si la Unión Europea ha rechazado su intención de que haya un único acuerdo que incluya a Estados Unidos. Los dos grupos de trabajo están orientados a elaborar dos documentos distintos: uno prolongando Kioto (que obliga sólo a unos cuantos países, los más desarrollados excepto Estados Unidos) y otro acuerdo proponiendo compromisos a largo plazo, en principio no obligatorios.

El conjunto del día es tan frustrante como necesario: es el tortuoso camino de la diplomacia y de las relaciones entre estados. Sin duda que todos preferiríamos una reunión de pocas personas que decidieran rápida y eficazmente, pero las Naciones Unidas son precisamente eso: “naciones”, por eso cada Estado tiene el derecho a participar y hacer su contribución, aunque eso signifique casi dos días de escuchar a Jefes de Estado y Primeros ministros. Hacer globales las circunstancias locales es un esfuerzo enorme. Esta Conferencia viene a reforzar la necesidad de estructuras, más eficaces y fuertes, para un mundo que cada vez puede entenderse menos como estados cerrados y sí como sociedades más abiertas y relacionadas.

Los discursos seguirán toda la noche hasta la madrugada. Los negociadores seguirán también toda la noche intentando llegar a algún acuerdo aceptable para todos ellos. Hoy ha nevado en Copenhague, esperemos que el frio no entre también en las salas de reuniones y termine por congelar las conversaciones.

Copenhagen – Just 48 Hours

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Posted by Frances Orchard CJ

As the Heads of States arrive in Copenhagen for the final 48-hours of the Climate Change Conference the sense of urgency has increased. This was detectable yesterday at the Bella Centre as the number of ad hoc media studios sprang up in the corridors, security tightened, and NGOs held demonstrations against their impending exclusion. The UN held a briefing session for the NGOs – at which all the heads of sections were available for questions. Ban Ki-moon, the UN General Secretary, remains optimistic that it is still possible to ‘seal a deal’.

This morning Bella closed its doors finally on all except a handful of NGOs and we have been allocated a new venue at the Forum Centre. I am writing in a vast and almost empty hall whilst the TV cameras beam in the politicians speaking at COP15. Accessing up to date news is possible only via the internet as we can no longer access media briefings.

There has been some movement over-night with an initiative from Mexico to start up a ‘green fund’ in an attempt to force a break-through on the financial issue. A welcome sign that the sense of urgency is bringing some action.

As I write my last blog – I return to Rome tomorrow – I am listening to Kevin Rudd the Australian prime minister: 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? This is the largest gathering of human leaders in our history. The peoples of the world will judge us not just as nations – but also as individuals for what we do or fail to do. Will we, or will we not, have responded in conscience to the indisputable facts put before us by science? 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.

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the UK is now speaking: we face the greatest global challenge of our time. We need to form a new alliance of the 192 countries present for the preservation of our planet. Scientific truths know no boundaries of nations or geography. Without a deal we will produce a new generation of poor as people flee climate change. The storms, floods, cyclones, droughts etc once thought to be the act of God are now known to be the act of man. We have a common future together. The challenges are difficult but there is no financial barrier, no lack of will. We must commit to a maximum of 2°C by 2015. Each country must commit to the highest possible level of mitigation possible for each. If we can find the funds to save our banks from the bankers we can find the funds to save our planet. There is no need to work against your national interests, but you need to advance your national interest more intelligently. History asks that we demand the most of ourselves. This conference will be blessed or blamed for generations to come. Our greatest national interest is the common future of this planet.

Fine words indeed – now we want to see the action. There are 48 hours in which to do it. Can self-interest be overcome for the sake of all?

Categories: COP 15, Politics, Uncategorized

US President B. Obama’s Nobel Lecture and Climate Change

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Upon reception of his Nobel Peace Prize on Dec 10, 2009, US President Barack H. Obama held a remarkable lecture on many accounts, e.g. his references throughout what he said and his willingness to discuss hope and religion. What he said will most certainly draw very diverse reactions, particularly his willingness to face squarely the reality of war as inevitable under certain circumstances, as well as the rules to wage war.

Here, I just want to focus on two aspects of the talk that seem important amidst environmental challenges such as global climate change. He addresses the issue directly in a small paragraph that relates to the security issues involved with development, food, water, medicine, education and job availability. B. Obama says: “And that is why helping farmers feed their people – or nations educate their children and care for the sick – is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action – it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.” B. Obama emphasizes the security issues regarding climate change. I agree that is an important element in the discussion, and I have not seen many military issues discussed at COP15, although obviously amongst the consequences of climate change we will find great societal and social disruption and unrest. One could argue that B. Obama does not point out that there is an even much larger security issue facing us: the security of the planet itself is at risk and the consequences of climate change concern the very survival of the human race and of life on the planet as a whole.

The second aspect I want to highlight in B. Obama’s address is his clear focus on his responsibilities as head of a state and, therefore, as responsible for his nation. This is most understandable, of course, but one keeps wondering how the responsibilities of a head of state relate to the concern and the care for the planet as a whole. There is need for worldwide leadership beyond national leadership. This tension is very present in the Bella Center: nations, diplomats, ministers and heads of state stand for their own nations’ interests and needs and they enter into economic and political competition as planetary resources are concerned. The poor and weak who suffer the consequences of a lack of worldwide leadership, remind us of the necessity and urgency of a broader scope than the mere nation.

Time Magazine on the Climate e-mail Controversy

December 13, 2009 1 comment

In its latest issue of Dec 21, 2009, Time magazine presents a “Spotlight” on the climate e-mail controversy, claiming that “Climate change advocates are right on the science – but skeptics may be right on the politics”. Obviously, there is a strong political lobby in the USA to downplay the importance of the climate change crisis – Mss. Sarah Palin being a good example. On 100 US citizens, so claims Time, only 46% are convinced that the climate change crisis is a real problem. 36% see no problem. 18% are not sure. This is very worrying, given that the number one country on the list of those who have to act urgently and decisively, is the USA. Why are the numbers what they are? Is it because people are not sufficiently informed? Is it because vested economic and financial interest try to misinform them? Is it because they are not capable to face the gravity of the situation and the consequences for their lifestyles? In the USA, this certainly is a major political issue.

Categories: Climate Change, Politics

Glocal Realities and Elephants

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I feel a constant tension at COP15. On the one side, the climate change crisis is complex and global, it affects people everywhere in various ways. Therefore, the narratives of these many people are interesting: their experiences contribute to a better understanding of the crisis. These voices, and particularly those of the most affected people, carry seeds for imagining and designing a sustainable life together on our planet. Each particular voice is worth listening to. On the other side, the COP15 discussions very often reflect the particular interests of countries and nations that enter in power games with one another. Although the clash of these particular interests highlights some very important aspects of the crisis and in that sense is constructive, the game of particular interests becomes destructive for the whole, if it is not set against the background of a worldwide concern. In that sense, some call for global, worldwide structures of governance.

The tension balances between a force downwards (the need to pay attention to individual experiences) and the need for a broad force field that can act effectively on a worldwide scale, beyond the power games of national interests. Such a “glocal” (global & local) approach represents a new challenge to our ways of doing politics. Is there a way to give due respect to personal narratives and experiences, while at the same time focusing on the world as a whole? I am not sure that the politics of negotiating between nations is the best way to proceed? Who are the real parties at the table of negotiation?

The situation is even more complex. This “glocal” tension looks at the crisis from a very anthropocentric perspective: it is a crisis of humanity before being a crisis of the planet as a whole. There is, indeed, an elephant in the room: the voice of the planet as an actor who confronts us with limits and with reactions that move beyond our control. To me, it was symbolized by a loose butterfly in the “Niels Bohr” room, an animal that should not be there at this moment of the year, an animal that had entered the Bella Center without accreditation and without passing through the necessary controls. There may be danger that the human parties at COP15 try to answer in just and equitable terms (for human beings) the challenge to live together, while forgetting to take into account the limits and uncontrollability of our one natural resource, the earth. Who at this conference is advocating for the elephant party in the room?

Allow me a theological reflection on COP15 realities. This triangle of tensions is not unfamiliar to Christians. Indeed, the Christian experience is always located in individual human beings, whose narratives are crucial to understand and to transmit faith. Nevertheless, that faith has a social and a universal scope: it requires the manifold of human experiences to truly unfold as a gift to all of us and to disrupt a self-centeredness that we like to cover up as faith – there is a challenge to justice and equity. Therefore, Christians pay a critical attention to the gift of faith in the poor and excluded, in those who vulnerably maintain their t(h)rust in a dignified future together even amidst the most brutal and inhuman conditions. Church emerges as concrete communities with a universal scope, when these experiences of faith are shared and offer the space for the revelation of the deeper ground or source that – or better: “who” – critically holds and brings us together. However, there is one more critical step to go, lest we should reduce reality to mere human togetherness according to “our” plans (the plans of the most powerful amongst us, who impose their will and interests on others, using even the appeal to objective science and technological control to do so). The source Christians recognize and call God, cannot be imprisoned in the structure of our life together, in our human societies. Reality is larger than human community and society – as reality is larger than the game of countries and nations at COP15. There is an elephant in the room of human life together: there is a world, a universe, to which we all belong and out of which we emerge, and this is a reality that ultimately escapes all human attempts to control and dominate it and that Christians, therefore, call creation. This “escape” of reality is not grounded in its brutal force that would hold us at bay, but, paradoxically, in its vulnerability that lies beyond our control because reality is too poor to yield all that we would want to extract out of it. Reality’s real protection and strength lies in the fact that by destroying it, we destroy ourselves – when the awareness has grown that we can destroy the environment through which we receive life, we become aware of a responsibility that makes us similar to the Creator but that keeps us from replacing the Creator.