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.

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