News & Media Opinion Pieces A review of Cancun—Implications for DEA

A review of Cancun—Implications for DEA

A review of Cancun—Implications for

The Cancun meeting on climate change ended in euphoria yet no deals were reached! The euphoria reflected that delegates were once more talking together amicably after the standoffs in Copenhagen. Most importantly it was recognised that rich countries would have to help developing nations. It committed to a non-binding Green Climate fund to help those poor countries bearing the brunt of climate change on two fronts, deforestation and peat lands, and the transfer of technology for renewable power generation.

This was the positive view expressed by most commentators from developed countries. However the Business Standard of India has a different perspective. Cancun shifts the burden of emission reduction to the developing countries. It calculates the total amount that the developed countries will cut is 0.8-1.8 billion tonnes of CO2e, whereas the poor developing countries have agreed to cut 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020. Read the article 

Peat lands and forests
The Planet’s peat lands are estimated to have twice as much carbon stored in them as the world’s forests. The draining and burning of these peat lands is contributing 5.5% of carbon emissions compared to 17% of emissions from deforestation. Indonesia is the world’s biggest burner of peat lands contributing 900 million tons of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions of Germany. This destruction, like that of the Indonesian forests, is for palm oil plantations.

 At Cancun it was agreed that rich states could pay to ”re-wet” swamps and count the CO2 credits towards their national targets under a future climate regime. There was no binding agreement. It seems likely that future negotiations will be “bogged down” in the same rackets permissible under the REDD proposals where Indonesia can be allowed to classify large areas of its remaining natural forests as “degraded” because they are secondary forest. They will be felled and Indonesia will receive nearly $1bn of climate aid for replanting them with palm trees and biofuel crops.

Let’s be realistic, forests and swamps need to be saved but the process of rich countries receiving carbon credits (and thereby avoid educing their own emissions) for paying poor countries to maintain forests is a prescription for financial rackets on both sides.

<b>Renewable energy</b>
This would seem to offer more potential than REDD which has to deal with policing arrangements and the delivery of funds to some corrupt countries where even money for life-saving medical supplies quietly disappears. Renewable energy technology is visible and deliverable by visiting technical staff and local workers. The main impediment to these negotiations is the poor record of the rich countries in delivering funds promised at many international meetings.

Meanwhile there is general agreement that if all present intents were fulfilled, every tree saved and every bog rehydrated and every bit of technology transfer funded we are still in line for at least a 3 degree rise this century and many eminent scientists say it is likely to be much higher. The fact remains that the most effective reductions in emissions could be brought about by a carbon price in developed countries with no concessions to the polluters and the massive investment of funds into renewable energy installations.

 In Australia, taxpayer funds which could have been used for renewable development have been wasted in the now abandoned clean coal dream in Queensland ($192 million) and billions of market funds have gone into CSG projects which are not as greenhouse emission saving as stated and carry many health risks listed in a report from JP Morgan after the Queensland government had dismissed them and signed the contracts.

The massive flood in Queensland has already discredited regulations with discharge of polluted coal mine and CSG water in to the river systems. The Climate and Sustainability Minister says “the risk of environmental harm is likely to be low” but the facts are that the heavy metal and other pollutants are cumulative in soil and with climate change floods in Queensland will be more common.

<b>A positive from Cancun</b>
Perhaps the most positive development at Cancun came from South Korea which describes South Korea’s Green Growth Initiative — a new program aimed at transforming the country’s economy from the resource- and carbon-intensive model that drove its development to a new one based on the efficient use of energy and resources. To read about this go to the Worldwatch report by Chris Flavin which gives the best review of the issues at Cancun Read here The Green Growth Initiative is lead by the country’s President, an environmentalist, and it has a “just do it” philosophy.
Full details of South Korea’s green Growth initiative are at Here 

How do these events impact on actions by Doctors for the Environment Australia?
We see our present policies as appropriate.

Unfortunately, on present evidence we do not have a leader in either party who has as a priority, the leadership of a Green Growth Initiative. But as individuals and organisations we can have a “just do it” philosophy applied to those issues we can influence because they have an impact on health. Our policies are already framed this way but we cannot let the magnitude of the problem depress and deter us. The Just do It philosophy cannot yet apply to Australia or its States but it can apply to local communities, councils and to our community organisations which can fill the void until secure international agreements become possible.

We must use our influence to stop further financing of coal power. Action is the art of the possible and our profession can have some influence on banks which finance the coal industry.

In Australia it now seems likely that there will be a carbon price leading into cap and trade. In supporting this strongly to the Minister we must, along with all other NGOs, insist on no hand outs to polluters.

We must be vocal in supporting renewable energy industry in Australia for it is falling apart for lack of funding. We must continue to explain that renewable energy is probably cheaper than coal taking into account all coal’s externalities including the cost of adverse health impacts.

Through our population paper we can work for an ecologically based population in Australia. Read our paper here and set this example to others.

And we can continue to put our own house in order, protest against the hypocrisy of deforestation in Australia, continue to work on greening wasteful hospitals and on a personal level work to reduce our consumption and that of our colleagues.
There is a crisis of confidence in effective action on climate change fed by incompetent State governments in Australia and internationally by the revelations of Wikileaks which have more than confirmed our worries about the perfidy of international negotiators. Who would have thought the Secretary General of the UN was being spied upon by the Secretary of State? Already there is evidence from Wikileaks of the political chicanery involving the greatest health issue facing the world, climate change. These behaviours can be changed only by community pressure.

David Shearman