Developments outside Cop 19 summit dominated UN climate talks

Greenpeace unfurl a banner hinting that the Polish coal industry run the country.
By Anders Lorenzen

This year’s round of climate talks have been dominated by developments not central to the talks itself. The summit opened in powerful fashion when the Philippines negotiator Yeb Sano introduced a hunger strike in the wake of the powerful typhoon Haiyan that has devastated many parts of his country. He said he will continue the fast until meaningful action was reached.

Australia, Japan and Canada have claimed the leaderboard title in terms of the baddies. Canada came out supporting and praising Australia for wanting to repeal it’s much controversial carbon tax scheme, which was set up by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, but the new government lead by climate sceptic Tony Abbott has made it his number one priority to abandon the scheme. Canada of course are famous for playing down climate risks for it’s tar sands projects, a project they want to extend and they have been very hostile to the EU for wanting label fuel from tar sands more polluting and dirtier than conventional crude oil. Canada’s tar sands project is the biggest mining project on earth and campaigners are saying that if the tar sands project were to be extended it would be game over for the climate. Currently development has been stalled by permission from the US for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project – if it were to be turned down by the Obama administration, it would become very difficult for Canada to extend the project as there will be nowhere to ship the oil to fast enough. Japan also made headlines when it drastically scaled back on it’s previous carbon reductions commitments. It had a CO2 reduction goal of 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels, but have now changed that to 3.8% by 2020 from 2005 levels. The country blames the nuclear shutdown of several nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima accident – which has encouraged renewable growth but has also seen the country burn a lot more coal.

Coal usage and the future of coal has been one the most vocal discussion points at this year’s summit. Poland relies heavily on coal use for electricity generation and has stated that coal has an important role to play in the future. Poland have also in the last few years lobbied the EU intensely and has blocked approaches to increase legislation on coal fired power plants, the increase of EU’s carbon emissions reductions targets, and increase of the target of renewable energy generated in the EU, as well as blocking the the backloading policy that would increase the EU’s carbon price which is at an all time low.

Controversially, Poland decided to host a coal summit at the same time as it was hosting the climate talks, in which UN climate chief Christiana Figueres was given a keynote speech – both things were angering green campaigners. In that speech she said she was not going to endorse the industry, but would not declare war on it either and said that if it were to have a future it must adapt rapidly to reduce its CO2 emissions. Advocates of coal argue that new coal powered power plants can be a lot more efficient and reduce CO2 output, and with carbon capture and storage (CCS) the technologies exists now to dramatically reduce emissions and therefore coal belongs to the future of energy generation.

But the most controversial point in the talks were when the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk decided to sack the Environment Minister Marcin Korolec, though he will remain as President of Cop19 for the remainder of the talks. Tusk has replaced him with Maciej Grabowski who will take office Wednesday 27th of November. He said that his priority as minister will be development of shale gas, another energy technology unpopular with climate campaigners.

In positive developments, the world’s highest emitter of CO2, China, continues to show more ambition by announcing  the planning of several new carbon markets – with two of them launching as early as next week.

Meanwhile, Yeb Sano was delivering a petition on Wednesday that he set up, called ‘Stand with the Philippines’ that has gathered over 600,000 signatures. In it he argues that Haiyan was warning us that climate change is upon us, we don’t have time for more delays and actions is needed now urgently. He was delivering it to other negotiators.

Also on Wednesday, the UK pledged to end financing of coal plants abroad. In his first speech at the summit, UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, said that the UK would join the US in blocking the financing for overseas coal powered power plants. He said that the two countries would work together in urging developments’ banks to limit funding for coal power plants overseas.

On Thursday several NGO’s including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF walked out of the talks as a result of frustration about the lack of progress.

Saturday a compromise deal were agreed following a lack of ambition had divided countries.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

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