Today Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will address a climate conference like none before in Warsaw.
The delegates won’t come from countries like Bangladesh, 16 per cent of whose territory could be underwater as a result of rising sea levels, nor from countries like Kiribati, which may completely be wiped off the map.
Instead, as Figueres surveys her audience, she will be looking at some of the world’s most destructive companies, because the delegations at the International Coal and Climate Conference will be from the world’s biggest coal firms. Anglo American, Eskom, Glencore-Xstrata, BHP Billiton and many others will be attending to extoll the benefits of the ‘clean coal’ that is condemning millions across the global south to the devastating effects of climate change.
Christiana Figueres at the Doha COP in 2012.
The coal conference will be taking place on the sidelines of the annual UN climate talks, part of an international process that has completely failed to deliver the strong action needed to reduce global emissions to a safe level.
In previous years, the World Development Movement and many of our allies in the global south have closely followed events at the annual UN climate talks with an increasing sense of pessimism. We’ve watched as year after year the world’s biggest emitters in the global north bully and use underhand negotiation tactics to secure inaction in the face of increasing global greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve also seen some of the companies that are behind many of these emissions gain a stronger role while rich countries shirk their responsibility to provide finance to compensate countries in the global south for the damage their CO2 emissions have caused.
Never before, however, has a host country of the UN climate talks gone so far as to invite the coal industry to create a summit allowing it to present itself as part of the solution. If we are to have any chance of limiting climate change to under the internationally agreed limit of two degrees (even this limit is seen by many as not sufficient) over 80 per cent of fossil fuels need to be left in the ground. Allowing big fossil fuel companies are allowed to capture the UN climate process unabated the UN climate talks will lose any legitimacy it once had.
Even without the intervention of the coal lobby, the UN process is close to hitting a dead end. The Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding emissions reduction treaty, lies in tatters, while the much hyped ‘new deal’ offered by the EU is ill defined and won’t come into force until 2020.
It is the countries of the global south, responsible for negligible emissions themselves, which are going to face the worst of the impacts of climate change. The only hope for the talks is that the delegations representing these countries and pressure from civil society manage to force the richer countries to make serious concessions.