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Thousands March in Durban Calling for 'Climate Justice'
For a week now government negotiators working on the plan for ‘Long Term Co-operative Action’ on climate change have been scattered across a conference center in Durban, South Africa negotiating over the wide range of issues not covered by the rules of the Kyoto Protocol. This includes two questions central to the success of these talks. The first is how to fund renewable energy and forest protection measures in developing countries, and how to support people living in those countries to adapt to climate change. The second is the question of whether or not countries will agree to sign a new comprehensive legally binding treaty by 2015.
This morning all of the different viewpoints of the countries here were brought together in a single document – the draft text that will now be haggled over in the second week of these talks.
The document presented is 131 pages long, which in itself shows how complex the negotiations will be over the coming days, and how far we still have to go to reduce them to the few pages that ministers can sign up to in the final hours.
There are areas where progress has been made and agreement is close, for example on technology co-operation. There are other areas where countries have been negotiating for years and have made little progress in reducing the divergent options on the table (an example of this is the text on long-term finance—how much money goes into the Green Climate Fund and where it comes from).
Green Climate Fund
Developing countries are growing tired with the delay in delivering on the $100 billion dollars first pledged in the run up the Copenhagen. One option to bring these delays to an end would be to decide on a so-called ‘work programme’ on sources of finance with a clear deadline set for the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) next year. This would mean that countries who pledged the money would have to focus on its delivery—and could free up other parts of the negotiations which are currently blocked because it is not certain if that money will come. A positive move, and one which shows that new alliances are beginning to emerge between progressive developed and developing countries, South Africa put forward proposals to raise money through levies on the aviation and shipping sectors. More progress on long-term finance will be required before there is the possibility of a deal being done here in Durban.
But when will we have a deal?
One important thing was revealed upon publication of the draft text—some areas are so sensitive that whilst intense political discussions are going on behind the scenes, there aren’t yet a series of clear options on the table for negotiators to discuss. One of these issues—one central top these talks—is the question of whether or not there will be a mandate to negotiate a new treaty by 2015. In reaction to the text published, the U.S. chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing indicated that his country doesn’t even accept that it’s in a negotiation about this issue. Yet at the same time, China was indicating in a public statement that it is now open to the possibility of taking on legally binding emissions cuts—a potentially important step towards a wider agreement on a treaty.
Meanwhile, in another part of the building efforts were being made to finish talks in what are normally considered to technical, rather than highly political, issues. But today there was an outbreak of politics in the discussions on tropical forests. In a hard-won victory last year in Cancun, progressive countries achieved agreement on a series of safeguards to make sure plans to cut emissions from forest loss would also protect biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples. But today the original opponents to strong safeguards (including Brazil) restarted the battle, by arguing that they shouldn’t have to supply information about how they’re actually applying those safeguards in their own countries. In other words, they don’t want to be forced to reveal if they’ve broken the rules.
Brazil is at risk of losing its previous reputation as a relatively robust defender of tropical forests because right now, back in Brazil, plans are going forward to deconstruct their national laws for protecting the Amazon with the new Forest Code. The new code would make it legal for agribusiness to cut down much larger areas—risking a rapid increase in forest loss and carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, outside of the UN talks, thousands of activists marched on Dec. 3 in Durban during a 'Global Action Day' to step up the pressure on the government negotiators. Greenpeace was there, demanding governments listen to the people not the polluting corporations and take action on climate change.
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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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