Environmental Think Space

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing – Albert Einstein

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Talking about Climate Change!

The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) began Monday in Doha, Qatar. Clearly the issues of climate change are being discussed, but who are discussing these issues? When did these talks start? How have they progressed? And what are they really talking about?

Maybe climate change is only something you’ve glance over in the news (if it’s even there) or other media formats, and you can’t sort through the overload of information being thrown at you when you start to dig deeper. There are many aspects to climate change: the science, economics, controversies, policy options, law, and the politics. The climate talks taking place right now are a part of the politics of climate change (although all other aspects do arise in these talks).

The COP is an association of all the countries that are Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There are now 195 parties to the convention taking part in climate change negotiations. All parties to the UNFCCC are represented at the COP. So, who are these parties? And what is the UNFCCC about?

The countries that are parties to the Convention are UN members and are organized into different regional groups and negotiating coalitions.

The UN has an established practice of dividing UN members into five regional groups:
1. Africa
2. Asia (including the Pacific)
3. Central and Eastern Europe
4. Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC)
5. Western Europe and Others (WEOG)

These regional groups are only of limited relevance to the interest groups or coalitions in the climate change regime. These regional groups are used almost exclusively to nominate candidates to the Bureaux and specialized bodies, rather than the promotion of interests.

The political coalitions are based on the common interests or geographic affinities of their members and are a means to pool resources and negotiating clout. There is no formal process for establishing these groups (Parties decide to form them and inform the COP Bureau, the SBs or the secretariat); they meet informally during sessions to exchange information, and develop and agree upon common positions.

The major coalitions include:

  1. G77 and China –> the main advocate of developing countries (non-Annex I); operates as a group in the context of the wider north/south divide in climate negotiations
  2. AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) –> a coalition of low-lying and small island countries; 39 member countries and 4 observing countries and territories; will disproportionately suffer from impacts such as sea-level rise and natural disasters
  3. African Group –> the only regional group that also serves as a negotiating coalition; concerns include poverty, lack of resources, and vulnerability to extreme weather events; not entirely homogenous in its interests
  4. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) –> 50 countries; low income, weak human resources, high economic vulnerability
  5. European Union –> 27 member states; articulate a common position on all issues; the country that holds the EU Presidency speaks for the European Union and its 27 member states.
  6. Umbrella group –>  a loose coalition of non-EU developed countries which formed following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol; the Group is usually made up of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the US.
  7. JUSSCANNZ –> made up of Japan, US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway, and New Zealand; with the rise of the Umbrella group, JUSSCANNZ is much less active than it once was but still functions as an information sharing coalition and usually meets once or twice during sessions
  8. OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) –> do not negotiate as a group but do coordinate their positions and strategies; Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela; some OPEC countries have questioned the need for strong action and highlight scientific uncertainty.
  9. CACAM (Central Asia, Caucasus, Albania and Moldova) –> formed to clarify the status of its members in the climate change regime; these countries are developing countries which perceive themselves to be economies in transition; the Convention, Kyoto Protocol and associated decisions only recognize economies in transition (EIT) in developed countries (Annex I) and classify all developing countries as non-Annex I with no economies in transitions (EIT).
  10. EIG (Environmental Integrity Group) –> Mexico, Republic of Korea, and Switzerland; these three countries do not share much economically or nationally, other than that they do not belong in an already formed group; generally Switzerland leads and coordinates this group.

So these regional and coalition groupings are important to the dynamics of climate change discussions, negotiations and action. But what is the UNFCCC exactly? As the name states, the UNFCCC is a convention, which is also known as a treaty. It is a written, international agreement creating mutually agreed obligations for different states and are normally open for signature and ratification, and is governed by international law.

The UNFCCC became open for signature in 1992, and entered into force in 1994. The purpose of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries and help developing countries cope with the problem. The Convention itself is not legally binding as it does not set limits on individual countries emissions and contains no enforcement mechanisms. However, it provides the framework for negotiating protocols that do set legally binding limits on emissions (i.e. the Kyoto Protocol).

The UNFCCC divides countries into Annex I and Non-Annex I countries (as well as Annex II countries):

Annex I are developed countries and economies in transition (EIT);

Non-Annex I countries are developing countries;

and Annex II countries are those developed countries which pay for costs of developing countries.

It’s important to ponder about the fact that the UNFCCC sets up the issue of climate change with a north/south approach or a north/south divide and what this means for future discussions and action. 

It includes five sets of principles: the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capabilities; attention to be paid to the specific needs of the particularly vulnerable developing countries; the adoption of the precautionary approach, subject to the cost-effectiveness principle; the recognition that all countries have the right to, and must pursue, sustainable development; and the need to support an open, international economic system.

Since the UNFCCC entered into force the parties have been meeting annually in these COP sessions to assess the progress in dealing with climate change.

I would also like to mention that the first time climate change was discussed on a global level was in 1979 at the First World Climate Conference. From this conference onwards until the UNFCCC, the issue of climate change was being framed and developed by politicians and scientists. So talk of climate change has been going on globally for roughly 30 years and so this is not something entirely new, but it is becoming more prominent as we are beginning to witness the major impacts of climate change.

Now, the Kyoto Protocol is a treaty that supplements the UNFCCC with legally binding obligations on the industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, Parties to the UNFCCC are not required to adopt the protocol (which is what happened with the United States in 2001; the US signed but did not ratify the Protocol as a US Resolution call to not accept any future binding quantitative targets until and unless key developing countries also meaningfully participated).

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 at COP-3 and entered into force in 2005. 19o states have ratified the Protocol (formally 191, until Canada withdrew in Dec. 2011). The Protocol provides policies and measures from which Annex I countries can make a selection of appropriate policies for their country. The Protocol called on developed countries to jointly reduce their total emissions of six GHGs by 5.2% for the period of 2008-2012; it also included five mechanisms to promote the implementation of the agreement (joint fulfillment, joint implementation (JI), the clean development mechanism (CDM), emissions trading (ET), and the financial mechanism).

Trends Post-Kyoto
After Kyoto, by trying to implement measures and policies and through COPs and MOPs (Meeting of Parties to Kyoto), particular issues, obstacles and challenges were realized:

There are winners and losers in climate change, where potential winners do not feel motivated to take action (generally rich, developed countries).

Energy security is a more dominant issue than climate change.

Decoupling emissions from economic growth is not easy.

Questioning of whether major developing countries should be temporarily exempt  from meaningful actions.

COP-11 (2005) would launch negotiations for a second period of commitments.

COP-13 (2007) adopted Bali Action Plan (launched a 2-year process to promote a post-Kyoto agreement on a shared vision, adaptation measures, mitigation measures, technology development and transfer, and financial assistance and investment to be adopted at Copenhagen in 2009)

Call for NAMAs (nationally appropriate mitigation actions) to be adopted by developing countries –> most developing countries gave suggestions on how this could be done but they also all point to the CBDR principle of the Convention.

There was a wave of interest in the potential of policies to be taken at local government levels, with sub-national governments becoming more active especially those with non-participating/slow-moving countries.

In contrast, past processes of decentralization and federalism gave decision-making power in some fields to sub-national government levels, which meant that central governments had limited power to actually implement policy in the national context.

There was an increase in litigation and using the courts as another means to force action.

A trend to link climate change with development and development cooperation.

The witch hunt with respect to IPCC scientists and science has given a major blow to the scientific legitimacy of the climate change problem and the need for action.

The economic recession has put other competing priorities on the table reducing the urgency for action.

A 2008 UN Human Rights Council produced a report arguing that climate change will affect the rights of groups of individuals, displace them, and lead to enhanced security risks which may point to a potential legal solution.

COP Sessions
It is also important to mention that there are also observers who are not Parties to the Convention that attend COP sessions. Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) observe COP sessions. Those that are a part of the UN system such as UNEP, GEF, World Bank, etc. do not need to apply for admissions, while those who are not a part of the UN system must apply. Examples include the Commonwealth Foundation, European Forest Institute, European Investment Bank, IUCN, etc. (view list).
Civil society engages with the COP sessions through representative NGO observers. Such organizations include the American Lung Association, Amnesty International, numerous universities, Mining Association of Canada, etc. (view list).
Since these organizations attend COP sessions there is a lot of controversy around lobbying taking place during these events by big business and those wishing to halt climate action. At COP-15 a new environmental award was created by Friends of the Earth, the Angry Mermaid, for the organization “doing the most to sabotage effective action on climate change.” Among the contenders were the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the American petroleum industry for spending millions lobbying against climate legislation, the European chemical lobby for attempting to undermine EU attempts to cut carbon emissions, and Monsanto (who “won”) for presenting GM crops as another climate-change solution.

So, there is a brief (yes, brief) explanation of the UNFCCC, Kyoto and the coalition groupings and some of the issues and events post Kyoto, which I think is enough for this entry. Talks in Qatar will continue until the 6th of December so more will be posted with respect to COP-18.



Gupta, J. (2010). A history of international climate change policy, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, 1(5): 636-653, DOI: 10.1002/wcc.67.

Yamin, Farhana and Joanna Depledge. The International Climate Change Regime: A Guide to Rules, Institutions and Procedures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.



Peru: GMO free for 10 years

The Peruvian government has officially passed a law banning genetically modified ingredients anywhere in the country for the next ten years! This is exciting news and offers some hope for other countries to follow, although I suspect “more northern” governments will be less inclined to pass legislation in strict opposition to agribiz corporations like Monsanto, Bayer, and Dow (proof coming out of California where even a GMO labelling law was defeated; mainly through a vote no campaign funded by such big businesses).

Controversy surrounding GMOs include issues such as whether the food being produced is safe for consumption, whether consumers have the right to know what they are consuming, i.e. GMO labelling, if agricultural biotechnology is needed to address world hungry now or in the future, and the environmental consequences of GM crops.

Some of the environmental consequences of GM crops include superweeds, threat to biodiversity, damaging soil fertility, negative effective on non-target species, a threat to sustainable agriculture and organic farming, and even gene transfer into the guts of bees (http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/references.asp).

When it comes to GMOs let’s not forget the precautionary principle:
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied
by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible
damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-
effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Sources and further reading:

Peru: http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/11/peru-passes-monumental-ten-year-ban-on.html

Monsanto/California: http://rt.com/usa/news/monsanto-california-37-measure-182/



GMO-free zones in Europe: http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/gmo-free-regions.html

First  ever lifetime feeding study/tumor magnet: http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Safety/gmo/gmo_0923121215.html


Buy Nothing Day (better know as Black Friday)

Black Friday is a day dedicated to consumerism. It’s the day following American thanksgiving, in which many major retailers open extremely early and offer sales to kick off the Christmas shopping season. Shoppers line up and camp out outside of stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy and storm the doors upon opening. Consumers get so out of control that people are injured and even have died from trampling and shootings!

In lieu of Black Friday, Buy Nothing Day has emerged to protest against consumerism. The campaign was developed by Adbusters, a not-for-profit, reader-supported magazine based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In 2000, advertisements by Adbusters promoting Buy Nothing Day were denied advertising time by almost all major television networks except for CNN. The campaign isn’t just about changing your habits for one day but it’s about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste.












Video Links:

George Carlin on Consumerism

Big Ideas that Change the World – Consumerism Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 

Great quotes about consumerism:

A shopping cart flipped upside down forms a cage that I use to protect myself from consumerism – Jarod Kintz

“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”  – Terence McKenna

“Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love.

Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will.At least the ancient Greeks were being honest.”  – Chuck Palahniuk


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Happy World Fisheries Day?

There is a crisis in our oceans and that means there’s a crisis surrounding our livelihoods! Today, November 21st, is World Fisheries Day … today we should be celebrating any achievements in sustainable fisheries and more importantly creating an awareness about the dire state of the world’s fisheries.

The declining state of the global fisheries has been characterized as a crisis resulting from unsustainable fishing practices, such as overfishing, by-catch, and IUU (illegal, unregulated, and unreported) fishing. Its seriousness can be exemplified by fishery collapse (such as the notorious Newfoundland cod fishery), the declining global fish stock/catch and ‘fishing down the food chain.’ This has serious consequences for humans and ecosystems in terms of unemployment, economic losses, declining sources of protein, and losses in biodiversity.

Super quick bullets on some sad stuff:

— 75% of fish stocks are either fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering









— Over-exploitation has been documented as causing revenue and job loss:

– the aggregate global fleet of over a million industrial and semi-industrial vessels has been operating at an annual loss of some $50-billion each year — a collosal loss that is being compensated by government subsidies to vessel owners, and all at taxpayers’ expense

– small-scale fishing communities have faced the brunt of unemployment. Although employment in the fishing industry has been growing globally, it has been decreasing in developed countries that are capital intensive economies … the DFO moratorium on the cod fishery (1992) resulted in the largest job loss in Canadian history causing the unemployment of 10,000 fishers, 12,400 plant workers in 400 coastal communities

— Ghost fishing involves lost or abandoned fishing gear that continues to catch fish. It is environmentally detrimental and the fish caught are wasted.












— By-catch which entails the incidental capture of mammals, sea-birds, turtles, sharks and numerous other species that are not targeted by fisheries. In many cases these species are throw back alive, dead or dying into the ocean. Nets kill dolphins, porpoises and whales, longline fishing kills birds, and bottom trawling devastates marine ecosystems.

Super quick bullets on some hopeful stuff:

— Sustainable seafood comes from initiatives to recognize and/or certify seafood that is caught or farmed in ways that consider the long-term vitality of the harvested species, non-targeted species and/or the ocean environment, depending on the particular initiative. Although there are criticisms involved with some initiatives, this sort of mechanism is a step in the direction toward sustainable seas and seafood. Examples include Friend of the Sea, Marine Stewardship Council, Dolphin Safe, Naturland, Fair-Fish, Fish Wise, ThisFish.org, etc.










— Community Supported Fisheries, or CSFs, are tailored after the idea of community supported agriculture enterprises. A CSF contributes freshly caught local seafood to the local markets while providing fishermen with a better price on less catch. These programs operate and nurture the triple bottom line:

  • Environmental stewardship: to encourage an ethic of ecological stewardship that results in creative, community-based approaches to marine conservation.
  • Local economies: to increase the viability of traditional coastal communities by fostering economic opportunities that support natural resource-based livelihoods.
  • Social improvements: to cultivate ties and establish bonds between shoreside communities and inshore urban, suburban and rural communities by providing fresh, local seafood.

Examples include Fisherman Frank in Ireland and  Off the Hook in Nova Scotia.



“I fished with my father, so long long ago
We were proud of our trade, and in us it did show
We held our heads high, there was lots of fish then
That was the time, when we were proud men
We challenged great storms and sometimes we won
Faced death and disaster, we rose with the sun
We worked and we toiled, we strained our men brane
We were a proud people, will we ere be again?

My father is gone now, and the fish are gone too.
Abused and mismanaged, oh what can we do?
I’m too old to change, but what of my sons,
How will they know that we weren’t the ones?
DFO regulations permitted the rape
Of our beautiful ocean, from head land to cape
They brought in big trollers, they tore up our twine
Politicians don’t care for what’s yours or what’s mine.”

— Fisherman’s Lament by Great Big Sea

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WTO stifles Canadian Clean Energy Program

The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced a ruling against Ontario’s successful renewable energy incentives program that is designed to reduce carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs. The ruling stated that Ontario’s FIT (feed-in tariff) program violated the WTO rules which forbid treating local or domestic firms and products differently from foreign firms and products.

The EU and Japan filed complaints about Ontario’s Green Energy Act which declares a minimum percentage (25%) of renewable energy goods and services be provided by Ontario-based companies for the FIT program.

According to the program’s two year review:
— Ontario has become a leader in clean energy production and manufacturing and the FIT Program continues to be one of the best ways to attract investment, encourage participation and efficiently build clean energy projects.

— The FIT Program has also led to almost 2,000 small and large FIT contracts totalling approximately 4,600 MW – enough electricity to power 1.2 million homes.

— Ontario’s clean energy initiatives have created more than 20,000 jobs and are on track to create 50,000 jobs. There has been more than $27 billion in private-sector investment

Those speaking out have voiced:
“Although not perfect, the Green Energy Act at least has proposals to revitalize Ontario’s hard-hit manufacturing sector and set Canada on a path of greater local, and sustainable energy development ….
It’s blatantly undemocratic that an unelected body like the WTO can quash this initiative. Governments should have the power to implement policies that promote the economy and the environment simultaneously, without big business interests looking over their shoulder.” — Dave Coles

“As countries take steps to address the climate crisis, the last thing we need is the WTO interfering with innovative climate programs. Ontario’s solar and wind incentives program seeks to reduce dangerous carbon pollution and create clean energy jobs, and it should serve as a model for other countries, not a punching bag,” said Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Trade Representative.

“Only an attack on this sort of job-creating, climate-chaos-combating policy could put the WTO in worse repute than last year’s string of WTO rulings ordering us to gut popular U.S. laws on country-of-origin meat labels, dolphin-safe tuna labels and limits on candy-flavored cigarettes marketed to kids,” said Lori Wallach, Public Citizen Global Trade Watch Director.


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“Only fools find joy in the prospect of climate engineering.” — Ken Caldeira

“Healthy, natural ecosystems are carbon sinks that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it in sediments, peat and carbonate rock. It has been estimated that every year healthy saltmarshes, mangroves and seagrass beds collectively remove carbon dioxide equivalent to half the emissions of the world’s transport network (which totalled about 13.5 per cent of global emissions in 2000). Despite covering only 1/200th of the area of the world’s terrestrial vegetation, these habitats remove a comparable amount of carbon from the atmosphere. This makes them some of the most intensive carbon sinks on the planet.
And yet, just when we need them most, these habitats are being lost at an alarming rate of 2-7 per cent a year. If we were to halt our losses today, we might have the same impact as the 10 per cent reduction in emissions that would be required to stabilize warming at 2 degrees Celsius or less. If we embarked upon large-scale habitat restoration efforts, like those undertaken for Vietnam’s majestic mangrove swamps following the widespread use of defoliants during the war, they could contribute more. So if you can do just one thing, protect the saltmarshes and mangrove swamps!”  — Callum Roberts, Ocean of Life: How our Seas are Changing