Politics of Poverty

Drought in Doha

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Some potential oases on the horizon?

David Waskow is Oxfam America’s climate change program director.

In a year of crippling droughts around the world—from West Africa to the US Midwest—the outcome at the major UN climate negotiation in Doha, Qatar, was itself an unfortunate drought of climate action.

This was a paradoxical COP—both a stepping stone and a cliff-hanger—with developing countries hanging from the finance cliff by their fingertips.  Even though several European countries pledged climate finance for the upcoming 2013-15 period, developed countries were unwilling to commit collectively to any funding level for the upcoming period or clarity about how they’ll ramp up toward the international goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020.

The United States, arguing that it was constrained by the fiscal cliff budget negotiations, refused even to commit to maintain the funding level of the past three years of ‘fast start’ climate finance agreed during the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. All the final text says is that developed countries are “encouraged” to maintain fast start levels. Meanwhile, there was little done at Doha to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Qumrunnessa Nazly from Bangladesh held an empty basket amidst a field of dead corn set in front of the glittering Doha skyline to demonstrate the grave impact of a changing climate on food supply and food prices, and the crucial importance of the UN climate change negotiations in providing a solution. Richard Casson/Oxfam.

A few limited but hopeful elements in the Doha outcome: an agreement to convene a high-level dialogue on climate finance at the next COP in 2013; an agreement to work this coming year to develop an international mechanism to address “loss and damage,” the effects of climate change that cannot be adapted to; formal agreement on how some countries, particularly the European Union and Australia, will continue the Kyoto Protocol until 2020; and agreement on the process for negotiating the planned 2015 comprehensive climate agreement that will take effect in 2020.

The US made a verbal commitment to work for climate finance in Congress this coming year and try to continue the finance at current levels. (Todd Stern, the US special climate envoy said that “we have every intention to continue to press forward with funding of that same kind of level, to the greatest extent that we can.”)

But beyond the minimalist outcomes agreed in the texts, one of the most noteworthy outcomes at Doha was the growing strength, breadth, and depth of engagement and collaboration by civil society organizations. A press conference last week demonstrated this growing collaboration:  Oxfam, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, and ActionAid, with the chairs of the Least Developed Country and Africa negotiating groups, stood together to say that the climate talks were failing to produce meaningful change and that governments needed to shift gears dramatically.  Representing a range of perspectives, their joint statement was not just a marriage of tactical convenience—it demonstrates a real confluence around jointly shared objectives of equity and sustainability, with climate issues a central, though hardly the sole, issue.

Perhaps most important, advocates are shifting focus toward the national and local levels and bridging or even bypassing the old divides between development and environmental agendas. There’s a strong belief that this increased energy and action will eventually also flow upward back into the global level process. And home-grown advocacy on climate change is already blossoming in many developing countries. This came home for me while working with developing country partners from Nepal, Philippines, Uganda, and Zambia, partners in a new initiative to press for adaptation finance that’s accountable at the local level. They have been building strong civil society networks over the past several years and are pressing effectively for national level policy change, as well as engaging the international process.  For these groups and many others in developing countries, building advocacy from the ground up and seeing past environment-development divides are self-evident truths.

The pump is primed to water our advocacy from these sources. But there’s also an immediate question about the focus of our advocacy agenda in the US—especially on the climate finance front in coming months. We must work for robust levels of climate funding at least at the level of the past several years, joined to a public recommitment by the administration to the President’s Global Climate Change Initiative.  And we must seize opportunities to push forward on innovative sources of finance, such as a mechanism for international aviation that can limit emissions while producing financial resources.

Doha was parched—but there are oases on the horizon that we can and must move towards.


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