Taking the Leap: who will jump first?

climate change, climate justice, ecology, international politics, multilateralism, Uncategorized

The heat is on now at the climate negotiations here in Paris. It has been an interesting two days. I arrived yesterday and was surprised to find everyone in good spirits.  After nearly two weeks of negotiations the mood was calm, almost buoyant. These negotiations can be depressing affairs but the French have done well to keep everyone in good spirits. Compared to other places, the working conditions (including comfy sofa beds!) are great.
The mood changed somewhat last night, however, when we received the draft agreement text. Even to the veteran COP goers like Professor John Sweeney,  the bewildering array of square brackets and options to agree was confusing.  It was hard to tell where things were at. “You need to be a lawyer to understand this” John told me. Things which we had imagined were put to bed by now – like whether we should aim for a ‘1.5 degree C’ or ‘2 degree C’ rise in global temperatures, whether the level of ambition should be towards a ‘net’ carbon free world or an actual ‘carbon free world’ and by when – all seem to be within square brackets. A square bracket means they are part of the final bargaining.
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A coalition of leading NGOS – the so called C8 (which includes Trócaire via CIDSE) concluded that the current draft is inadequate and lacks the ambition we need. Key safeguards to protect the most vulnerable countries and ensure the access of small farmers to livelihoods are all weak or undecided. The mechanisms for financing the key measures are unclear. Negotiations went on long into the night as governments tried to carve a deal. Every process has their villains, and everyone is pointing the finger at Saudi Arabia and Argentina for blocking or delaying progress.
Such concerns are predictable, but what is more concerning is the role the EU is playing in the negotiations and whether it is prepared to use some or indeed any of its political capital to help the poorest countries. The EU has traditionally been a vocal champion of human rights and food security – both of which protect the poorest – but has been eerily quiet on these issues. It has bigger interests to protect. If they don’t back them, it is doubtful they will be in the final agreement.
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The reality is, however, that nobody really knows what is happening and the final outcome hangs in the balance. It is a strange place to hang out with so much at stake. I met Professor van Ypersele,  vice – chair of the IPCC, one the world’s most eminent climate scientists in the corridor. He is a veteran of these processes. He told me that all the conditions are still here for agreement.  The science is accepted.  The spirit of collaboration in the negotiations is strong. Virtually nobody wants to leave without a deal. The question is who will jump first. Taking the necessary leap means everyone letting go of old positions. Everyone has to lose something. That letting go is costly, and the politics of transition are now staring governments in the face. How it happens, and at what speed, is the big question.
What is crystal clear to all is that what seem like the technical details are now decisions about real people and indeed entire nations, not to mention the world. There are entire nations here who will disappear if the level of ambition in the agreement is not high enough. Given the wild weather across the world in the past year, few are in denial that nature is rebelling. The momentum towards a final deal is strong and expectations are high. History will surely be on the side of those who take the first leap. Crunch time has finally arrived.

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Journeying through Paris – Between Despair and Hope

climate change, climate justice, current affairs, ecology, environment, Uncategorized

Today I’m off to Paris for the final few days of the climate talks. I have to say from what I hear from colleagues in Paris, there is a lot of work still to do. It seems we may once again to be seriously disappointed with the outcome of the negotiations. Miracles can happen, and God knows we’ve all been praying for one, but it is unlikely we’ll see the divine intervention to deliver on the kind of agreement we need to keep the world safe from the worst impacts of climate change. Powerful vested interests, with their insidious control over governments – in the North and South – have prevailed. They are even sponsoring the conference and trying to censor public protest. Their behind the scenes lobbying to protect their interests has been exposed.
Despite the more cooperative atmosphere compared to 2009, most powerful governments have taken a calculated bet that their electorate prefer incremental action for now. They seem to be opting to protect short-term comforts, special interests and lifestyles, whilst pushing more serious change down the road. Whilst the wild weather this week from Ireland to India has not been lost on them, it will not be enough to change the course of this COP. The dynamic of negotiations does not follow the weather or emotional outbursts. It is depressingly familiar and reflects the same pattern which has dogged inaction for a generation now. Whilst the science has finally been accepted, and there is even talk of a new target of 1.5°c being in the text, the will to move beyond business as usual is still lacking. Targets only mean something if commitment to action follows.
On nearly all five of the measures which Trócaire set out as benchmarks, the current draft text is sorely lacking. The 1.5°c is the main positive. Overall, the current draft is very weak and civil society is now locked out of the real negotiations when the gloves come off. It all happens behind closed doors. Worryingly, wikileaks revelations also emerged this week about secret talks which have been happening in parallel with the COP in relation to EU trade interests at the WTO and with TTIP. On the one hand EU governments are seeking to carve out a deal in Paris to reduce emissions – whilst on the other still privileging the position of the fossil fuel industry and instructing negotiators not to accept a deal which damages international trade. This double-speak is utterly despicable and shows the sham of international negotiations whether at the UN Sustainable Development Goals in September, and potentiality again here in Paris.
For those involved in the climate movement, preparing for this depressing outcome is really important. All year climate leaders have been focused on Paris, but also saying that Paris would not deliver and that the most important thing is not to become demoralised by it. The first two major global summits this year – in Addis Ababa in July and New York in September – were clear indications that governments are playing a game of spinning rhetoric for one audience whilst failing to honour existing commitments and sign up to new ones. The omens for Paris were not good.
The emotional toll of failure, however, will still be great. Just like preparing for the loss of a loved one, however, it is one thing rationalising it in advance, it is another thing experiencing it. Nothing can actually prepare you for the loss and despair. We are all going to feel it like we did in Copenhagen in 2009. So much effort, so much frustration, so much anger. So much love. That emotion needs to be translated into re-doubled action.
The big difference between Copenhagen and now is that the movement is much stronger, much broader, much more technically able, better organised and resourced, and above all has strong leadership. The climate movement is no longer seen as an environmental movement. It comprises faith groups, unions, universities, NGOs, businesses, mothers, fathers, youth, children. It has strong and articulate leaders like Pope Francis, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Kumi Naidoo, Mary Robinson, and unlikely heros like the Raging Grannies and the Grandparents for a Safe Earth, who are prepared to pay for this cause at great personal sacrifice. The 785,000 people who marched on the 29th of November are now a force to be reckoned with. They have found their voice. They have a new focus in the fossil fuel divestment campaign. The movement has truth on its side. Despite the expected failure in Paris, the mood amongst activists is buoyant – even full of hope. If 2015 was billed as a big year for big global policies, 2016 will be the year of activism in every corner of the earth.
The challenge for the climate movement is now one of unity. It is about building a counter-force and becoming the future we want to see – following in Ghandi’s footsteps: ‘be the change you want to see’. It is what Brazilian theologian Dom Helder Camara called ‘third force wisdom’ – a future coming into being:
“Don’t waste time with oppositional energy. In the short run, you will have to hold unresolvable tensions, symbolized by the crossbeams on which Jesus was crucified. In the long run, you will usher in something entirely new and healing. This is “third force” wisdom.”
With it, perhaps in this Jubilee year of Mercy, which Pope Francis has launched today, the change will come.
 
 

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Pope Francis Development Goals: A Counter-Narrative to the SDGs

climate change, climate justice, ecology, environment, integral ecology, international development, sustainable development goals

The past week I have been reflecting on the key recent messages of Pope Francis and the power of Laudato Sí to present a counter-narrative to the Sustainable Development Goals. We need a counter-narrative or a different story because the SDGs are seductive. They draw you into a strange complacency about the really knotty issues the world is facing. I believe the SDGs fail to address those and risk becoming a big distraction, particularly for civil society. Uncontaminated by the inevitable horse trading of international negotiations, these ‘pathways for action’ priorities, or ‘goals’ in Laudato Sí represent what really needs to change to build a more just and sustainable future. Here’s my stab at what Pope Francis says we need to prioritise laid out as a set of alternative goals:

  1. Prioritise energy transition: phase out fossil fuels and make the transition to renewables: we need to decarbonise our economics. Rich countries have a duty to support clean energy in the South.
  2.  Internationalise environmental costs: Accept burden sharing, and the need to pay our ecological debt based on the concept of universal destination of goods.
  3. Make international agreements enforceable. Ensure legally enforceable frameworks with clear boundaries, starting with the COP21.Whilst transitional measures are needed, these must be with a view to binding commitments which recognise the need for system change.
  4. Reform global governance institutions to protect the global commons: Introduce measures to curtail the power of transnational economic and financial sectors, over the political and national. Build a new world political authority with real sanction power.
  5. Promote local participatory accountability: Local and national policies need to be coherent with international agreements.  There is no point signing on to goals when national policies are at odds with those aspirations. Participatory local policy processes are key. Local communities need to be engaged in transition. 
  6. Focus on long-term, generational political perspective: Need to move beyond the myopia of power politics to a far sighted agenda. We must step beyond the reluctance to take public measures which would affect consumption or create risks for FDI. Engage in true state craft and leadership, which always prioritises the importance of continuity over short-term politics.
  7. Do not base policy choices on how markets might react. Base collective action on the precautionary principle rather than a ‘magical conception of the market’ (186) Profit cannot be the sole criterion as it does not tend to measure what has real value. Environment cannot be safeguarded by market forces.
  8. Promote diversified forms of community-based production and consumption: Build co-operatives for renewables and self-sufficiency, harness the power of local groups, indigenous peoples. Promote alternative approaches base on community values and ownership. Support and harness the creativity of diversified, innovative forms of environmentally sustainable production and consumption.
  9. Support development of community-based circular economy: Start with energy conservation and minimising waste, the phase out of less efficient products, improving transport and buildings; modify consumption patterns, including recycling, revamping, reusing.
  10. Support diversified local agriculture – prioritise investment in local markets rather than globalised, centralised agro-industry.
  11.  Ensure ex ante environmental impact assessments are implemented. These need to be interdisciplinary, transparent and free from pressure. Affected groups in local  local population have a special role to play.
  12. Regulate global finance: Promote the regulation of speculative financial practices and virtual wealth.
  13.  Set limits to growth and consumption: Need to contain growth by setting reasonable limits. Limit and reduce excessive, harmful consumption as one way to pay our ecological debt, reducing harmful consumption.
  14. Develop a new concept of progress: Recognise that economic growth has diverged from real progress as it has no planetary limits. Another form of progress is needed which in many cases involves “decrease in the pace of production and consumption”, a possible decrease in growth. We need to de-link progress from ever increasing consumption. Life quality and consumption not always linked.
  15. Account for the real costs of business: Address the mis-conception of modern economics, which fails to truly account for the capital involved in production, particulalry in terms of natural capital. “Businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved.” The key issue is how is how to account for the real costs, particularly the carbon costs.
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The Disruptive Power of a 'Dangerous Book'

breast feeding, climate change, climate justice, current affairs, ecology, environment, ethics, integral ecology, pope francis, spirituality

The past few days at the Vatican have been full of quite surreal moments. First I found myself introducing Naomi Klein, as I chaired (possibly) the first ever all female panel at a high level Vatican Conference. Later the same day, I was sitting on a bus beside Mary Robinson our way to an open air mass in an ancient pine forest. We were Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mulsims, athiests, feminists, liberals, conservatives, and everything in between. As the sun set over the beautiful pine trees, and the red full moon rose in the sky, the whole thing had strange dream like quality about it. I pondered how on earth I came to be there, in that moment, giving praise to God, Allah, Yaweh, Mother Earth with such an unlikely group of people. Something very strange was happening.
The occasion was the Conference “People and Planet First – the imperative to change course”, which focused on Pope Francis Encyclical Laudato Sí. I certainly wasn’t alone in sensing a surrealness at the event. What I think what we experienced was due to the disruptive power of Pope Francis’ encyclical.  Someone described the Encyclical as “the most dangerous book”. Others, such as Ben Phillips, in his blog on  NGO Courage made the point that we have been “out radicaled” by the Pope. He has said the unsayable, disrupting well positioned lines of defence and throwing them into disarray.
This isn’t just Pope Francis mania either. The group in the Vatican were the an unlikely Papal fan club. For many who associate themselves with this, there is a cost to pay for aligning with the Pope. But the encyclical has the power to bring very divergent views together for the greater good. It disrupts because it speaks the Gospel truth, with all its raw beauty and its pain, in an uncompromising and compelling way. The Pope takes a different perspective – like opening google earth and panning right out as far as you go into space. He brings us right back to the sense of wonder of existence, calling us back to a sense of awe at life on this fragile planet. It stops you in your tracks. It resonates something deep in our hearts and moves us to care. Essentially, in changing the viewpoint to one of integral ecology, Pope Francis offers us a new vocabulary to express in concrete terms the world we want to see. He has given permission to everyone to say what has to be said.
Listening to the many wonderful women speakers in the Conference, I was struck by the intensely maternal, and sisterly perspective Laudato Sí encapsulates. Mary Robinson correctly pointed out the lack of a specific focus on the role of women in the encyclical, but for me the maternal, sisterly dimension is profound and essential. The whole Encyclical in fact revolves around this opening sentence: “Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” Miss that, and you miss the point. In fact, the image that best sums up the new viewpoint that Pope Francis is proposing, is the image of mother feeding her newborn child. It is the image that best embodies the most fundamental, natural, intimate relationship of mutual love and dependency. It is the icon par excellance of the culture of care that is now needed. It is an idea I stumbled on several months ago, as I wrote here, but is one that seems increasingly relevant.
This image of mother and child, the first tender bond of inter-generational care is the measure of the love we now need to save us from ourselves, and the perils of a climate changed future for our children. This poem of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands to her baby speaks volumes of the mother-child tragedy unfolding before us. The Prime Minister of Tuvalu reminded us that thousands of children are already faced with an uncertain future as climate refugees. Rather than getting lost in useless arguing, above all we need to draw our children and grandchildren close to us and make them a solemn promise to do everything in our power to change course. For me, in fact, my main motivation in the struggle against climate change and injustice , which makes me do what I’d normally not consider doing, is simply to be able to answer the questions of my children when they grow up: “you mean you knew – so what did you do?”
Mary Robinson spoke beautifully at the Conference of this deeply maternal perspective. In her speech she focused on the encyclical theme of earth as our common home. She made the connection to motherhood and the need to see the earth as a home – and us as all as one family. For mothers all over the world, the concern with the running of the home is second nature. This gives women a better sense of limits, as they are the ones who usually focus on tending for the family, ensuring there is enough to go round. Extending that simple idea of being one family to the world scale can help us find new ways to care for our shared home. The word ‘economy’ in fact, comes from the greek word for home – oikonomia ‘household management’, based on oikos ‘house’ + nemein ‘manage’. Through re-imagining the economy from that image of the home, from maternal care, sisterhood, and Ubuntu we can start to build a truly transformative vision.
Perhaps the encyclical’s most profound message is that the earth is our mother, with whom we need a loving relationship to survive and thrive. As Naomi Klein pointed out, we are simply realising we are not the masters of creation. The truth is we utterly depend on mother earth – in reality we are as helpless in the face of nature, as a newborn child feeding from its mother’s breast. We urgently need to feel that again. When that loving relationship with the mother is broken, the impact on the child is devastating, and often irreparable. Repairing that loving relationship once more is essential. That is a dangerous message to those who wield unscrupulous power.
 

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