Donnerstag, 10. Juli 2014

Roadmaps to climate safety ... and reflections on working at the United Nations

You may have heard about a new roadmap to prevent climate catastrophe, that was launched at the United Nations yesterday. After the launch, Jeffrey Sachs, one of the people behind the report, came into the “High Level Segment of the High Level Political Forum ” (yes, that really is the name) meeting that I am currently at to present the report there. And he got the attention of the audience, because he showed personal photographs taken all over the world. His pictures and stories described a world in crisis, from air pollution in Beijing to water scarcity in Turkey. They did make a case for urgent action.


It´s a shame therefore, that the report, - though right about the urgency to act -  is endorsing some technologies that are not sustainable, fast to deploy or safe. It´s simply not possible to produce the amount of bioenergy that the report calls for sustainably, for example. And nuclear power is so expensive, slow and dangerous, that it is simply a distraction in the climate fight. We can do even better. The technologies are there to deliver a true Energy Revolution based on energy efficiency and renewables. We therefore recommend that you look at our roadmap to a safe energy future before you rush to endorse Sachs´s.


That said, Sachs´s call for action was overdue. So far, the High Level Political Forum had lacked any urgency. This Forum was created at the Rio+20 Summit two years ago. It is supposed to give greater weight to development that does not cost the earth or our future. And it is supposed to check on governments actually implementing the (however inadequate) commitments made at Rio. Including new Sustainable Development Goals, which governments are set to agree by September 2015. So far, though, we see no sign of the High Level Political Forum having the gravitas and importance to really hold governments to account on sustainable development. To the contrary, we hear of wrangling behind the scenes in which some governments try to weaken the High Level Political Forum further …


It would be easy to despair at such news. But meeting at the UN are never just about what is formally being negotiated. As the media coverage for Sachs´s roadmap shows, the UN is also a platform. It is the ground and place for necessary global discussions – including climate change. It´s simply a fact, for example, that the media pays more attention to climate issues during the yearly global climate negotiations than during any other time of the year.


And out of many hours of misery in airless, windowless rooms at UN meeting, sometimes real progress springs. Over our 40 plus year history, for example, we as Greenpeace have been instrumental in creating many global environmental rules. Dumping radioactive wastes at sea, for example, used to be perfectly legal until public pressure and a resulting coalition of governments wanting to act banned the practice. Over time, we have contributed to the toxic waste trade being sanctioned, the transboundary movements of genetically engineered (GE) organisms being regulated and many cancer causing chemicals having been eliminated, for example. I would therefore recommend to any NGOs working on global issues but not yet accredited to the United Nations, to join us now (here is how you can get access to the UN).


It´s true that environmental bodies generally lack the teeth that organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO) have. Whereas the WTO can impose punitive trade sanctions on countries not following their rules, environmental bodies are often lacking meaningful enforcement mechanisms. But there is no doubt, that without the global rules we do have, the plunder of our planet would be even faster and extensive.


Especially because global rules become the “minimum standard” on which you can build. For example, the toxic waste trade rules - known as the Basel Convention - helped us, when we – successfully – campaigned against electronic waste. We needed to tighten up national legislations to succeed and the national discussions could start at a higher level, because there was already an agreed global benchmark.


Global political meetings currently are often as frustrating as they have been here at the High Level Political Forum because of the capture of of all too many governments by polluters. To change that, we need to build pressure at the local, national and global level to tilt the balance in the directions of rules that protect people and planet. “Power never concedes nothing without a demand” slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglas already knew in the 19th century. If we do not demand action for our governments – whether on protecting our precious High Seas or on climate change – we, too, are to blame if they do not act.


So as I go back now to the windowless conference rooms at UN Headquarters to do my part in pressuring our governments, please help me by joining our movement.

Dienstag, 24. Juni 2014

USA verkünden größtes Meeresschutzgebiet der Welt – aber blockieren weiter Schutz der Hohen See

 US-Außenminister John Kerry stand letzte Woche unter Beschuss, dass er angesichts der Ereignisse im Irak sich mit den Meeren beschäftigte und die globale Konferenz “Our Ocean” veranstaltete. Er entschudligte sich aber nicht. Im Gegenteil: Er sprach – durchaus eindrucksvoll - von der Bedeutung unserer Ozeane für die globale Sicherheit und die Ernährung gerade der Ärmsten der Armen weltweit.

Außerdem hatte er seine Hausaufgaben gemacht: Aus Anlass der Konferenz verkündeten die USA das größte Merresschutzgebiet der Welt. Im Pazifik werden knapp 900 000 Quadratkilometer Ozean unzer Schutz gestellt  was fast eine Verdopplung der weltweit unter Schutz stehenden Meeresfläche bedeutet! Und nicht nur die USA verkündeten neue Taten: Die Bahamas werden noch bis Ende dieses Jahres 10% ihrer Meeresfläche unter Schutz stellen (und über 20% bis 2020), die Pazifikinseln Kiribati und Palau beenden den kommerziellen Fischfang in großen Gebieten – und auch Leonardo di Caprio war nicht nur das hübsche Aushängeschild der Konferenz, sondern sagte 7 Millionen zusätzliche Gelder für den Meeresschutz zu.

Auch wenn der Teufel vieler dieser Ankündigungen imDetail liegt und wir wachsam sein werden, dass die Ankündigungen die Umsetzung folgt: für die Meere wurde bei der Our Ocean Konferenz etwas erreicht.

Um so frustrierender war es, dass der Schutz der Hohen See von Kerry in Washington ignoriert – und von den USA gleichzeitig bei der UNO weiter blockiert wurde. Keiner der über 10 000 Tweets zum Schutz der Hohen See wurden z.B. auf Twitterleinwänden der Konferenz gezeigt. Und bei der UNO stellten die USA die Notwendigkeit eines Abkommens zum Schutz der Hohen See weiter in Frage.In Washington forderte John Kerry einen “globalen Plan für die Meere” – aber in New York torpedierten seine eigenen Leute genau diesen Plan.

Auch bei der UNO gab es aber druchaus positive Nachrichten: Wie meine Kollegin Rachel Pearlin von Greenpeace Indien berichtet, forderten immer mehr Länder, gerade auch Entwicklungsländer, aktiv das notwendige Abkommen zum Schutz der Hohen See ein. Das macht Hoffnung. Und macht es noch wichtiger, dass Ministerin Hendricks bei diesem Thema jetzt Flagge zeigt und sich poraktiv für den Schutz der Hohen See stark macht. Bei der ersten UN-Umweltversammlung, UNEA, in Nairobi diese Woche hat sie dazu eine ertse Chance, die sie nutzen muss.

Leicht gekürzt ist dieser Beitrag auf erschienen.

Ocean Action in Washington – but High Seas ignored

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, cares about the ocean. He grew up with the sea and backed many progressive ocean policies while in the US Senate. You could feel that emotional connection at the OurOcean conference, which he hosted over the last two days in Washington, D.C.. This was not like most political conferences I have been to.  There was a tight agenda, and there was – by the standard of political conferences, anyway – a lot of action:

The United States announced a significant extension of the Pacific Marine Sanctuary and actions to stop illegal fishing in US waters; the Bahamas committed to making 20% of their oceans ocean sanctuaries by 2020 (and 10% already this year) and put forward 200 million to improve the management of their protected areas; Palau and Kiribati both declared huge new areas off limits to commercial fishing in order to help (especially) tuna stocks to recover; Norway will invest 150 million in sustainable fisheries research; Togo pledged to join Senegal and fight illegal fishing of their coasts – a move that could have significant positive impacts for local fisher communities; the list goes on. The devil with many of these announcements will be in the detail – and just because good words were spoken in Washington, of course, does not yet mean that there will be real change out on the ocean. Still, in a situation where less than 2% of the oceans are currently protected and fishstocks are being overexploited everywhere, this list is heartening. And Chile committed to host a follow up meeting next year to check whether the words have indeed resulted in action.

Kerry´s approach was refreshing. His speeches were funny and forceful – reminding us all that without the ocean there can be no security or development in future. He also freely admitted that there was not enough being done yet. He even called on the audience to create a global mass movement to force politicians to take ocean protection (more) seriously.

We definitely want to be part of that! But how come Kerry at the very same time ignored the strong movement that already exists to protect the High Seas? OurOcean shamefully ignored the tens of thousands of you who called for urgent protection of 64% of the ocean – the High Seas. It´s not that the need to protect the High Seas wasn´t mentioned. No one less than Leonardo di Caprio called for an urgent end to the “Wild West” exploitation of the High Seas and said, that people want to see governments taking action. But on the twitter feed in the conference hall, not a single one of the over 10000 tweets calling for High Seas protection ever showed up! And while John Kerry called for a “global political plan for the Ocean” – he failed to mention the High Seas even once.

I know why. If Kerry had talked about the High Seas he would have revealed a giant contradiction in the US position on ocean protection. Because while OurOcean was happening in Washington, global negotiations to create a rescue plan for the High Seas are ongoing not so far away: at the United Nations in New York. And while Kerry was proud at the amount of actions he could announce in Washington, his own negotiation team is shamefully failing to back ocean action at the United Nations. That´s pretty untenable, and has left no one less than my boss, Kumi Naidoo, very confused.

After the last two days, and despite the infuriating censorship of the issue, I am inclined to give Kerry the benefit of the doubt. Kerry may have ignored and buried the High Seas issue because he is indeed embarrassed by the inconsistency of the approach of his government. So, we will give him a little bit more time to change the United States position on the High Sea Biodiversity Agreement we so urgently need. But he better get working with the same efficiency that he and his team delivered the OurOcean conference, on fixing the US´s position on the High Seas. If he does not, the very ocean movement, which he called a “hard ass group of folks” will come back to haunt him (and his behind).

It´s obvious that we can never protect our Ocean, if we ignore 64% of it. So let´s take John Kerry by his word and help build a movement he cannot ignore. Join our call for Ocean Sanctuaries now!

First published on 

Donnerstag, 5. Juni 2014


This joint piece with Kumi Naidoo is published in the 2014 State of Civil Society report by CIVICUS. It argues that challenging power needs to matter more to NGOs than consultations:

If we are to achieve a fundamental shift away from the exploitation of people and planet – and deliver climate justice, global governance will need to change fundamentally. And if that is to happen, civil society needs to focus more on shifting power than on attending consultations – which are often little more than ‘insultations’, as Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS puts it.
Across the world citizens are raising their voices for a fair and sustainable future. Rather than listening, governments all too often cover their ears and close their doors. Given this state of affairs, multilateral institutions need to be a positive counterexample. We need the United Nations in particular to be an open space of free deliberations to set global standards to improve the lives of all. We need all UN bodies to strive to live up to the good practices identified by CIVICUS in its mechanism for assessing the quality of engagement between civil society organisations and intergovernmental institutions.
A shift of power is more important than a change in the frequency, style or depth of consultations that global institutions engage in with civil society. Global economic players have captured global politics. Reining in their current power is the most urgent task for all who want to deliver sustainability and climate justice – by which we mean achieving a decent life for all without causing dangerous climate change – while addressing the injustice that currently most climate change is caused by the rich's overconsumption but most of its impacts are being borne by the poor.
Capture by corporate power
We face a paradox: while climate damaging carbon emissions and the use of resources continue to rise globally, solutions are available and proven. Unlike 20 years ago, we know today that sustainable renewable energies, for example, are not a pipe dream but a fast-growing global industry. We know that we could deliver energy for all and cut climate damaging emissions enough to prevent dangerous climate change.[i] We can deliver more justice and a better planet, but we fail to do so despite this opportunity. Indeed, solutions for most, if not all, environmental ills are available and affordable. At the same time, development in both North and South remains deeply unsustainable.
One key reason for this paradox is that globally, environmental governance systems are not as strong as they need to be. Even where governments do promote sustainable practices, such as the use of sustainable renewables, they fail to put a decisive end to unsustainable practices. An economy based on nuclear energy, oil and coal, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals or the overexploitation of our forests and seas will never be sustainable and will be incapable of providing prosperity for all within planetary boundaries. No bridge to climate justice can be built on these technologies.
Too many governments in the North and South have effectively been captured by corporate players that benefit from the destructive status quo. They are putting the interests of a few above the interests of the many. The finance industry, for example, has succeeded in making the taxpayer pay for its bad decisions and is stopping governments from properly regulating global financial markets.
Who are those powerful companies that are standing in the way of climate progress? One can get an idea by looking at the list of the 90 companies that alone have generated nearly two-thirds of all climate pollution since the dawning of the industrial age.[ii] All but seven of them deal in oil, gas and coal. It is these companies that should be regulated and made responsible for the damage they are causing and have caused. But instead, they are receiving special treatment and are buying influence with governments.
The fossil fuel industry has spent billions persuading governments and the public that climate change is not happening or not caused by humans, or that technological and economic fantasies such as ‘clean coal’ are viable solutions. Their strategies of buying are creating dividends: between 2001 and 2011 governments handed out US$2 billion a year in subsidies to the five biggest US oil firms. And this despite them raking in profits of US$1 trillion over the same period. In Europe, energy companies spent heavily and had direct and privileged access to highest level decision-makers when the European Union set its 2020 climate and energy targets. This has resulted in fossil fuel interests being protected at the expense of people and the planet. The European emission trading scheme in particular is failing to shift Europe to green and clean energies as fast as required as too many emission permits were issued, resulting in an ineffective carbon price.[iii]
We see the same patterns repeated around the world. In South Africa, for example, the state-owned power utility Eskom is getting the government to support their coal and nuclear expansion while charging consumers increasing amounts for their energy. If they were serving the public interest, let alone aiming to deliver climate justice, they would be moving to renewable energy rapidly. Instead, South Africans will pay the costs of their outdated business model, through polluted air, water shortages and an increasingly erratic and dangerous climate.[iv]
For climate justice to be more than a dream, governments must put regulations in place that secure the public good and give the institutions tasked to implement these regulations the tools to do so. It sounds simple, but it does mean changing some fundamentals in the way we govern our planet, including how our global institutions and regulations work.
Ineffectual environmental governance
It’s important to remember that global regulations with teeth are not impossible. They exist. If governments want to create powerful institutions, they can. The World Trade Organization (WTO), for example, can impose punitive fines on countries that break its rules. While the WTO has failed to make any major advances in trade liberalisation over the last 15 years, these powers persist, and the WTO remains the most powerful global governance instrument available. Many disputes are being taken to the WTO, and the WTO serving as an arena where support schemes for renewable energy, for example, are being attacked.[v] Worse, the idea that regulations may be questioned at the WTO is having a chilling effect on progressive politics, making governments less likely to take decisive action, such as making polluters pay for climate pollution.[vi]
In contrast, environmental and sustainable development governance is not effective. Experts agree that while there are many institutions dealing with social agendas or the environment, they are not coordinated, lack adequate powers and are much weaker than economic and trade bodies. Bodies such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) can only plead, coach and build capacity, compared to the WTO’s ability to impose punitive measures.
UNEP was created as a compromise between North and South at the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment in 1972. Its mandate was limited, and its resources even more so. Many attempts have been made since then to strengthen it. But while there is even a UN agency for tourism, UNEP remains a mere programme, which limits its authority, makes its funding base less set in stone and means UNEP has very few offices around the world.[vii]
Similarly, the main international forum established in 1992 to deal with sustainable development was the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The CSD was tasked with monitoring the implementation of Agenda 21, the main outcome document of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Sadly the CSD, which convened for two weeks each year since Rio, was never more than a talk shop. It could do nothing to actually force governments and businesses to deliver sustainable development.
At the Rio+20 UN Summit in June 2012, governments buried the CSD and pledged to replace it with a new ‘high level’ body on sustainable development, the High Level Political Forum. Time will tell whether this is a step forward. So far the Forum has only held a mostly symbolic first meeting. But already today we sadly know that the Forum will have nothing like the clout of the WTO.
Similarly, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which does not have a remit to seek climate justice, but which is at least tasked with the necessary pre-condition of keeping our global atmosphere stable, is unable to penalise countries that fail on their commitments. For example, when Canada decided to rip up their commitments to reduce their emissions and left the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol, the UNFCCC could not impose fines or other sanctions.
Changing the global rules
For planetary survival and climate justice, much more is needed than a strengthening and upgrading of existing institutions such as UNEP or stronger enforcement mechanisms for institutions such as the UNFCCC. Global rules that change power dynamics and investment incentives are urgently required.
Global rules on corporate accountability and liability are a must in order to ensure that when corporations do damage to people and the environment, they incur real costs. A binding global instrument that ensures full liability for any social or environmental damage global corporations cause must be high priority in governance reform. Whether governments are willing to set such global rules or abandon responsibility by continuing to promote a free market system designed to only deliver short-term gain is a key test for global democracy.
Climate justice and sustainability cannot become a reality in a world in which short-term bets by financial markets prevail. Strong controls of financial markets therefore should also form an integral part of global governance reform. New fiscal instruments, such as a financial transaction tax, need to be adopted to slow harmful speculation and deliver much needed finance for development and environmental protection. In addition, a complete social and environmental review of the global trade system is long overdue.
The challenge ahead
So why are these steps not being taken? That’s where we have to return to the question of power. After Hurricane Sandy, even the vast majority of Americans are supportive of effective climate action.[viii] The fossil fuel industry, however, has captured too many governments, in both North and South. On Capitol Hill, and in Caracas, Brasilia, Ankara and New Delhi, the oil, coal and gas industries rule. Even measures such as cutting fossil fuel subsidies are therefore unable to find majorities, even in countries that face real constraints on their public finances. When push comes to shove, governments, for now, fear Shell and Exxon more than their citizens.
Achieving effective environmental governance is therefore above all about changing existing power relations. It is about building a movement powerful enough to force governments to act in the public interest. It is about building alliances between grassroots initiatives and global organisations. It is about making the argument for change as much on the street as in the corridors of power.
Only if we change power relations will we be able to transform global governance systems and get environmental governance bodies with real teeth, comparable to those of the WTO. The current weakness of environmental bodies is a symptom of environmental interests not being strongly represented enough – yet – within the global political system. No expert commission or think-tank proposal will be able to change much until these power fundamentals are addressed. People power will be essential to tilt the balance.
Climate justice will need much more than global governance reforms. But without the shift of global power outlined here, it is difficult to see how sustainability and climate justice can have any hope of being achieved. It is therefore imperative not to settle for a little more transparency here or a little more consultation there. Civil society must, instead, act as a people-powered network across the globe to urgently challenge the current powers that be. 

[i] For more information visit .
[ii] K Naidoo, Ranking the Climate Culprits, Huffington Post, 21 November 2013, available at: .
[iii] New report finds failing EU carbon market threatens effectiveness of 2030 climate proposals, Ecofys, 11 June 2013, available at: .
[iv] M Steele, Where a coal addiction has put us - the dirtiest air in the world, Greenpeace, 26 April 2013, available at: ; Powering The Future: Renewable Energy Rollout in South Africa, Greenpeace, 25 March 2013, available at: . 
[v] I Solomon and J Guay, US Challenges India's Solar Industry, Again, Huffington Post, 18 February 2014, available at: .
[vi] R Eckersley, The Big Chill: The WTO and Multilateral Environmental Agreements, (2004) Global Environmental Politics 4(2), 24, available at: .
[vii] K Naidoo and D Mittler, Time for an Upgrade:  Rio+20: From Outcome To Implementation, UNEP, February 2013, available at: .
[viii] Tracking Public Attitudes – Latest Polls, US Climate Action Network, available at: .

Freitag, 23. Mai 2014

Europe´s choice: fossil fueled insecurity or true independence

As citizens of the European Union start to vote in European Parliament elections, political leaders across Europe are talking up their commitment to "energy independence". But in reality the EU continues to fuel its addiction to fossil fuels at a time when we know renewable energy can deliver for all and we must keep the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground if we are to prevent climate chaos.
Two leaks this week confirmed this wrong direction. The EU's "energy security" plan – irony of ironies – does not make Europe more secure. Rather, it perpetuates Europe's dependence on energy imports. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are ready to provide secure, clean energy for all Europeans. But the EU rather wants to make fossil fuel companies across the world richer than opt for a true Energy Revolution at home.
That's also clear in the EU's energy proposal for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a major (and controversial) new trade deal currently being negotiated behind closed doors by the European Union and the United States. Greenpeace, together with many allies in civil society, is opposed to TTIP. And a look at the EU's energy proposal only strengthens our opposition.
This proposal, as an analysis by our friends at Sierra Club and PowerShift shows, would increasefossil fuel imports from the US to Europe, lead to more oil and gas extraction in the United States (to be exported to Europe) and undermine Europe's ability to chart an independent course in it's energy policy. The proposal only refers to renewable energy negatively, by proposing to ban the ability of governments to require local production of renewables. On the other hand, US oil companies are set to earn major windfall profits if export restrictions on oil are removed in the US.
Will the next European Parliament act to stop this plan for cooking our planet further? Will politicians choose real energy independence based on renewable energy and energy efficiency? If you live in the European Union, this also depends on you.
Check how the parties in the European Parliament voted on key climate issues in the last parliament. Check which parties oppose TTIP and which support it (you can find that info for example here for Germany). Help Europe make the right choice and turn it's back on dirty and dangerous energy.

Montag, 14. April 2014

Dear fossil fuel industry - it´s over

It's been a long week here in Berlin, with experts and government officials finalising urgently awaited conclusions from the United Nations climate change panel about the solutions to climate change. Now they’re done and the message is clear: climate action is an opportunity, not a burden!
IPCC, Berlin, April 2014 
The climate panel, which brings together the world's top energy and climate experts, says that to prevent catastrophic climate change, energy systems around the world must be urgently and fundamentally transformed. For Greenpeace, the bottom line is: we have to stop burning coal, oil and gas. And we can.
Clean, renewable energy is getting bigger, better and cheaper every day and can now provide the solutions the world needs. Renewables are the most economical solution for new power capacity in an ever increasing number of countries.
The "age of renewables" has arrived.
Clean energy is not costly, but inaction is. Costly in terms of lives, livelihoods and economies if governments and business continue to allow climate change impacts to escalate.
The problem now is the outdated dirty energy system. Old polluting power plants, for example. When we talk to people at major energy firms these days, they admit in private that they understand the need to move to clean energy. But the investments that companies such as Vattenfall or E.On have tied up in dirty energy plants, and that may soon be stranded (i.e. wasted) assets, is holding them back.
Now is the time to tell the fossil fuel industry that their time is up. The phase-out of fossil fuels must start immediately.
Greenpeace is committed to making this a just transition that respects also the rights of all workers in the dirty energy sector. We know from our Energy Revolution analyses over the past decade that renewables and energy efficiency will deliver more jobs than carrying on with dirty energy.
By implementing the Energy Revolution governments can, for example, help businesses create 3.2 million more jobs by 2030 in the global power supply sector alone. In South Africa, to pick just one country, 149,000 direct jobs could be created by 2030. That's 38,000 more than in the current government plan.
We have no time to lose. Global greenhouse gas emissions grew faster between 2000 and 2010 than in previous decades, says the UN climate panel. More than half of the recent growth in global carbon emissions was caused by China burning ever more coal.
Continuing that trend would spell global disaster. But a triple whammy of air pollution, water scarcity and climate risk is turning China around on coal. China's recently adopted clean air measures have the potential to not just let Chinese citizens breath cleaner air again, but to end the relentless rise of global climate pollution before 2020.
China´s turnaround on coal could also change the dynamics in the global climate debate. The Chinese government could end the current "you go first" mentality that has poisoned progress through the UN climate talks. Instead of fighting over who gets to pump out the most carbon pollution, governments have to face reality and agree that by 2050 no one will be polluting our common atmosphere any longer.
True, countries differ in their capacity to invest in a zero-emissions future. Countries which, in the past, have emitted little should be supported by richer nations in eliminating their old, dirty system. But the days where climate action was thought of as something painful must be over.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if China, emboldened by its domestic actions, were to lead the world to a new global climate agreement by presenting an ambitious new target with binding emission cuts? Imagine how embarrassing that would be for the US and the EU! How could the EU then continue to claim that its proposed 40% cut in emission by 2030 was "ambitious"? Would the EU feel pushed to make a fairer offer, instead - such as cutting emissions within the EU by at least 55%?
A new global climate treaty is due to be adopted in Paris next year. It must include the goal of 100% renewable energy for all and the phase-out of fossil fuels. Only then can governments claim to have understood the true implications of the UN climate report they reviewed this week.