We cannot turn back the clock – Gonsalves
December 14, 2012

We cannot turn back the clock – Gonsalves

The world is facing an economic crisis, but small countries, such as St Vincent and the Grenadines, are facing an existential crisis resulting from climate change, a Vincentian envoy said last week.{{more}}

“Our existential crisis is neither cyclical nor temporary. It cannot be solved by austerity, stimulus or elections. And it is immune to delay, empty promises or excuses,” Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves told the High Level Segment of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, the capital of oil-rich Qatar.

The two-week conference brought together the 195 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is a 15-year-old international greenhouse gas emissions treaty, which was due to expire this year, but which the 200 delegates at the climate talks agreed to extend to 2020.

Larger, wealthier nations who emit more carbon protested the extensions.

Under the Protocol, 37 highly industrialized countries and countries transitioning to a market economy have legally binding emission limitations and reduction commitments.

Gonsalves told the talks that in past conferences “developed and wealthy countries placed their most valuable commodity on the table — money — in exchange for the developing world’s most precious commodity: our dwindling time to survive”.

But he said, before the extension was agreed, that “the deal of dollars for degrees — of buying time — has unravelled, distressingly so.

“Now we are told that, in this period of crisis, the previously promised dollars are too difficult to come by. We now hear about ‘financing gaps’, ‘empty shell’ funds, and ever more creative means of accounting. Let’s not worry about finance and numbers at this Conference, they say. Let’s revisit the deal,” he said.

But he said the deal could not be revisited as “332 consecutive months (27.6 years) of above-average temperature have elapsed.

“The oceans have warmed and risen. The storms and hurricanes have intensified. The floods have worsened. The droughts have lengthened. We cannot turn back the clock, and we have no time left to give,” he said.

Gonsalves noted the global economic crisis, but told conference goers not to accept “the blatant falsehood” that developed countries cannot afford to increase annual Green Climate Funding to US$100 billion from $30 billion.

“Let us not forget that the collective GDP of the Annex I Countries is in the neighbourhood of [US]$45 trillion. In that context, $100 billion is a rounding error.”

He reminded the conference that in 2011 — in the midst of the financial crisis — Wall Street financiers paid themselves $20 billion in year-end bonuses and London bankers “helped themselves” to $7 billion more.

He further spoke of the $16 billion spent on the London Games and the $6 billion spent on the 2012 presidential elections in the United States.

He said his comments were not to criticise that spending.

“Rather, the point is that climate finance is not a priority in the public or private sectors of our developed partners, and that the attempts to renege on the pledge to scale-up from $30 billion to $100 billion are based not on adversity, but apathy.”

Gonsalves said everybody knows the financing pledge in 2009 “is already less than adequate”, adding that the conversation “should be on the adequacy of those past pledges, not whether they will materialise at all”.

He illustrated, saying Hurricane Sandy caused $80 billion in damage in three states in the United States.

“If one storm can cause $80 billion in damage in one country — to say nothing of the damage it caused in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas — what is $100 billion for all the vulnerable countries of the world?”

The diplomat said the conference’s failure on climate finance “is not due to an absence of money, but a bankruptcy of political will.

“Near-sighted politicians around the globe see no immediate political penalty for foot-dragging on climate change. They see no value in contributing to a grand global struggle, in securing this generation’s role in the stewardship of our planet. So they place austerity above posterity. As long as climate change remains a low-priority item, to be sporadically addressed with surplus discretionary funding in times of plenty, then the promised financing will never materialise…” But Gonsalves made SVG’s position clear.

“The pledged financing of $100 billion is an immutable minimum,” he said, adding that the 2015 and 2020 dates agreed to in Durban are immovable deadlines.

The “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” commits all countries to cutting carbon for the first time. A “road map” will guide countries towards a legal deal to cut carbon in 2015, but it will only come into affect after 2020.

“We (SVG) will not revisit them,” Gonsalves said of the 2015 and 2020 dates.

“It is no longer feasible to bring them forward, and they are scientifically, environmentally and morally impossible to push backwards,” he said.

“Our failure in climate finance is linked to our underlying failure of ambition in this Conference. It is at the root of our failure on adaptation, mitigation and loss and damage. We must agree to concrete, measurable and predictable sources of new, additional and scaled-up finance at this COP, or we, too, will have failed,” Gonsalves told the climate talk. (kentonchance@searchlight.vc)