Shradha Shreejaya, APWLD Climate Justice Programme Officer

The annual climate change talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and the Paris Agreement (PA) with the Conference of Parties (CoP 23) took place in Bonn, Germany, on 6-18 November 2017 (ending a day later than scheduled).

The 3rd United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-3) whose theme focused around pollution, was from December 4-6th, 2017. Several activities prior to UNEA-3 happened the week before, starting with the Global Major Groups & Stakeholders Forum (GMSF) from Nov.27-28th, followed by the Science-Business-Policy Forum from November 29-30th.

The climate and environment negotiations that took place at the end of 2017 have been less promising than expected in these tough times of unprecedented flood and droughts, and the deadliest year for environment, and human rights defenders. Increasing wealth inequalities and inaction of governments have pushed more communities at risk during a crisis, adding to the issues of conflicts and migration. The CoP and UNEA processes that are safeguards for peoples’ rights to life, instead grapple with operational issues and private sector capture.  

Where Is The Money?

Over decades of negotiations based on scientific evidence and public debates have brought governments to agree in principle over the climate crisis and voluntarily commit for a fair 1.5 degree planet. As we spiral into a 4 degree world in 2018, developed countries that have a historic debt and responsibility to facilitate a just transition from fossil fuel economies to clean energy democracies are becoming more conservative and reluctant to finance these commitments. All talks and no action make agreements a dull document.

For instance, in the CoP 23, developing countries led by the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) and later supported by the Group of 77 and China, had insisted that the COP 23 agenda include an item on pre-2020 action. This was to enable Parties to consider if the existing mitigation obligations under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol were being met. This proposal was initially strongly resisted by developed countries and is now being kept aside for further discussion in 2018. Similarly Article 9.5 of the PA was a main cause of disagreement at CoP 23. Article 9.5 states that developed countries “shall biennially communicate indicative quantitative and qualitative information” related to the provision and mobilisation of financial resources, “including, as available, projected levels of public financial resources” to be provided to developing countries. The issue of the “process” to identify the information and “modalities” to integrate this in action will also now be considered by intermediary bodies separately this year. Developed countries also resisted the call by developing countries for a permanent agenda item on the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damages at the intersessional meetings of the subsidiary bodies.

For people and governments of high risk countries in Asia-Pacific and Africa to keep faith in these negotiations, there has to be a space for dialogue and commitments for action. Whether CoP 24 will be a ideal place for that is left to be critically questioned.

Conflict of Interest from Private Sector

UNEA is a relatively ‘new’ process up-and-coming from the decisions taken at Rio+20. In the negotiations that were held to “Beat Pollution” (UNEA 3’s theme) the language throughout numerous Resolutions was loosened to steer clear of any binding to targeted compliance, many times by the developed countries like US. The 13 non-binding resolutions and three decisions that were passed addresses marine litter and microplastics, preventing and reducing air pollution, cutting out lead poisoning from paint and batteries, protecting water-based ecosystems from pollution, dealing with soil pollution, and managing pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism. All of these are voluntary commitments from member governments and there is no accountability or monitoring process to track the effectiveness.

The most disappointing feature however was the increasing space that businesses and industries of the fossil fuels and polluting sectors receive in these spaces to negotiate. While private sector is needed to act responsibly and alleviate the damage caused by unsustainable production, in no way can it be trusted as a ‘partner for solutions’ with the lack of commitment to phase out problematic materials from its processes shown by many of them. This space saw Dow Chemicals, Nestle, Walmart, Exxon and Shell being applauded for apparent green practices and civil societies being linked terrorist groups (in a misguided attempt to illustrate the ‘good and bad’ of everything at the opening of the 3rd OECPR, by the Executive Director of UNEP Mr.Solheim)[1].

With defenders and activists risking their lives in increasingly authoritarian regimes mingling with big business and military/security to suppress dissent, careless statements by members of organizations like UN is an added threat to their human rights.

Any Good News at All

As seen last year, there’s an added emphasis from governments to include gender focus on policies and plans. At CoP 23, the Gender Action Plan (GAP) was finally adopted. Among other things, it “seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention and the work of Parties, the secretariat, United Nations entities and all stakeholders at all levels.” While this is a reassuring step, keeping in mind the urgency of the climate crisis, especially in Asia-Pacific and Africa, we need strengthened action and solidarity from developed countries in terms of committing to finance GAP as well as supporting climate finance (like Loss and Damages), something that’s still amiss from CoP 23 decisions.

UN Environment Programme has also taken a step towards creating a policy for ‘Promoting Greater Protection for Environmental Defenders’ to address the increasing violence against them. The policy continues to be a work in progress and needs more open consultation from human rights organisations in the region, rather than a desk exercise. However without any clear idea from UNEP on the means of operationalizing this policy, it’s still difficult to rule out private sector capture of these interests in an attempt to green-white wash it’s dirty businesses.

Recently, the Executive Director of UNEP reported the following, “Through its Finance Initiative, the organisation had been working on the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative and was on the verge of releasing global guidelines on sustainable banking developed in collaboration with a number of large banks. The organisation was also partnering with The Coca-Cola Company, which had promised to become a ‘zero waste’ company worldwide; with BNP Paribas, which had promised to invest $10 billion in greening agriculture in India and Indonesia; with Rabobank, which aimed to make investments in green agriculture in Brazil and possibly elsewhere; with One97 Communications Limited, India’s largest digital finance company, which had agreed to invest in public outreach and practical actions to fight pollution; and with Nornickel, which had large-scale mining operations in Norway and the Russian Federation, with the aim of helping the company to green its operations.”

In the absence of strengthened safeguards around the conflict of interest of private sector actors especially in fossil fuels and other extractives, such initiatives need to be still regarded with caution. The upcoming intersessions in Bonn and Green Climate Fund Board meeting in Vietnam will see conversations around climate finance through private sector engagement focusing on insurance and credit schemes. Such approach in the current trade and corporate regime that is prevalent globally can be a challenge for rights holders and NGOs to take forth in its advocacy for a just and equitable transition.