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Climate Talks: More Compelling Than the World Series

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The UNFCCC's Conference on Protocol 19 talks had the drama of the World Series and the action of Wimbledon. But the event was for higher stakes: keeping the world from "massive disruption in some of the most basic systems", compensating those ravaged by climate impacts, and working towards justice and sustainability.  

The field: COP 19 was held in the national sports stadium in War saw, Poland, ironically close to the "International Coal and Climate Summit". Yet many delegates present were reliving the painful realities of climate change in their countries. Top of mind was super-Typhoon Haiyan's devastation and Filipinos subsequent struggle for food, shelter, and survival. 
 
The players: Delegates from 198 governments worldwide.
 
Just off-the-field, and sometimes on, were corporations. General Motors who funded the Heartland Institute, a think tank pushing climate skepticism; BMW, who promoted weaker European emission standards; the large petroleum company Grupa Lotos, who affixed their logo to 11,000 bags handed to delegates; and others. Many carbon-intensive companies gained access to representatives because of the lack of lobbying guidelines in COP 19.  In contrast, the World Health Organization imposes a strict firewall between tobacco lobbyists and public health officials, recognizing their de-facto interest is in undermining WHO's mission.  

Also present were non-governmental organizations like 350.org, CARE, Greenpeace, and WWF.

At stake: The world. The lives of global citizens who suffer today from starvation, homelessness, or poverty due to climate impacts; and the many more whose lives will be devastated absent aggressive action. Many species of animals that will experience huge losses. 

A win?: For many: 1) making operational a separate mechanism for climate-related loss and damage in developing countries, 2) a path to the promised $100 billion annually for developing countries by 2020 for mitigation (reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions) and adaptation (avoidance of climate impacts), 3) preparatory work towards mitigation targets for agreement in 2015, and implementation in 2020.
 
Day 1 (November 11) Yeb Sano Steps Up (Again): The Chief Filipino negotiator Naderev "Yeb" Saño called for action on the heels of Typhoon Bopha at COP 18. He asked his fellow delegates: "If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"  A year later, on the first day of COP 19 Saño announces a hunger strike in another emotional appeal:

"In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home and my brother who has not eaten in the past three days I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate until a meaningful outcome is in sight." Saño seeks progress across all climate fronts -- through an emergency climate pathway -- after the colossal devastation of the strongest typhoon in history.

"This process under the UNFCCC has been called many, many names. It has been called a farce. It has been called an annual carbon-intensive gathering of useless frequent flyers, and this hurts. The UNFCCC -- the project to save the planet -- has also been called saving tomorrow today. We can fix this. We can stop this madness."
 
Day 1 (November 11) Saño's Supporters Step In and Are Kicked Out: When Saño leaves, he is surrounded by three youth observers who unfurl a banner reading:

"2012 Bopha 1067 2013 Haiyan 10,000+?".  
 
The activists are banned from the proceedings for their unsanctioned action.
 
Day 5 (November 15) Secret Plays: The Hindu journalist Nitin Sethi publishes a document circulated among US diplomats describing how the US favors avoiding "loss and damage" being assigned its own track, instead seeking to subsume it under adaptation. (The World Bank estimates the costs of extreme weather events have increased fourfold in about three decades to $200 billion annually now.) The document suggests the US seek to prevent countries from being able to alter others' initial voluntary proposed targets for 2015, even if climate-related goals are not met. The document also appears to backtrack on the $100 billion in annual support by 2020 pledged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Instead, it emphasizes private investment.  

Day 9 (November 19) Solerno In Charge:
Lead Venezuelan negotiator Claudia Solerno is best remembered for bloodying her hand trying to get the floor at 2009's COP15 in Copenhagen, and standing on a chair for the same purpose at COP17 in Durban, South Africa. She takes over the COP presidency briefly on "Gender Day".  

Day 10 (November 20) Other Players Take the Field:
Activists unfurl two banners from the Polish Ministry of Economy: "Who Rules Poland: Coal Industry or the People?" and "Who Rules the World? Fossil Fuel Industry or the People?" Activists walk giant pink inflated lungs around Warsaw in the "Cough 4 Coal" procession that draws attention to Poland's 88-percent reliance on coal for electricity. Protesters chant "wtf" (Where's the finance?) in the stadium.
 
Day 10 (November 20) Show Me the Money: An action shows that industrialized countries spend 5 times more on fossil-fuel subsidies as climate finance. The lack of a clear path from an estimated current $11B to $100B in climate aid is also highlighted.  

Day 10 (November 20) More Time?:
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announces plan to hold a special climate summit of world leaders in New York next September:
 
"The latest IPCC report confirms that our planet continues to warm. Sea levels are rising and ice caps are melting. Greenhouse gases continue to rise. We are the first humans ever to breathe air at the 400 p.p.m. of carbon dioxide."
 
"This suggests more than a wake-up call, it is a very serious alarm. Typhoon Haiyan puts an anguished human face on our struggle to combat the extreme weather and other consequences of climate change."

Also, Poland's Prime Minister removes the environmental minister, who represents the country at the talks.
 
Day 10 (November 20) Two-Thirds of the World Walks Off the Field: The G77+China (133 developing countries and China) walk out of the talks at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning. These countries propose text to treat "loss and damage" as a third track in addition to adaptation and mitigation. Industrialized countries including Australia, the United States, and Canada seek to push off what Solerno terms "the most dramatic and pathetic agenda on the table" until after the 2015 climate talks, infuriating most of the world.
 
"Loss and damage, as it's known, is an agenda we never wanted to have in the first place. I call it the agenda of resignation, when things are going so wrong that you have to claim only to rich countries to pay for damages and consequences that they are causing with their attitudes." 
 
Day 10 (November 20) But Some Have a Plan: Venezuela, chosen for a pre-COP summit next year to assess political readiness, pledges their gathering of 40 to 50 ministers will focus on the people.  Solerno says:

"If we are intending to sign an agreement in 2015, we are not going to be able to do it as governments alone. We need to get our people and civil society in this process together as one, and then to create this alliance. So Venezuela next year will host the first formal social consultation of every single social movement involved in the climate change agenda with three preparation processes." 

"We are going to have ministers listen to their people about what is the kind of ambition and the kind of agreement the world wants to have." 
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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/38709469@N08/10978417894/: NGOs, Social Movements Walk Out of the Climate Talks
NGOs, Social Movements Walk Out of the Climate Talks
(image by adopt a negotiator)
  DMCA


Day 11 (November 21) Much of Civil Society Leaves En Masse: Civil society stages a walkout. Around 800 people including the full representation of Greenpeace, Oxfam, WWF, and other NGOs, walk out of the talks. Their shirts read "#cop19 polluters talk, we walk" and "volveremos" (we will be back).

350.org's Jamie Henn explains the action. 

"By walking out of COP19, we're walking into a fight with the real enemies to progress: the coal, oil, and gas companies that have a stranglehold over our governments and economy."
 
Greenpeace's International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo describes the path forward.
 
"We are saying we are walking out, and we are committing ourselves to mobilize the largest number of people in every single country in the world to say to every parent, 'Your child and your grandchildren's future is at stake. You need to stand up now and take action,' so that when we get to the next COP in Lima, Peru, next year, we have, hopefully, a better fighting chance to lay the foundations for a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty when we get to Paris--something, by the way, that we were supposed to have achieved in Copenhagen."
 
"So our message to our political leaders: Understand that nature does not negotiate. You cannot change the science. And we have to change political will."
 
Day 14 (November 22) The End: Bad COP 19 ends. Game over.
 
To be continued in Venezuela, New York, in Lima, in streets and meeting rooms worldwide.  
 
Follow and engage in the most compelling struggle in your lifetime. No less than our dignity and survival is at stake, no more than the future of our planet.
 
Volveremos.
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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.

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