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World Compares Apples to Apples. Canada Wants Fruit Combo.

October 3, 2009

So here’s why I interrupted my frivolous YouTube watching of recent Glee episodes (which I watch primarily to life-plan for the day that climate change is solved and I can finally pursue my dream of amateur Broadway. It’s between that and becoming the Jodie Foster à la Contact):

Compare... what, you say?

It’s that time of month again. Alllll the countries in the world (that can afford it) are in Bankok for a United Nations meeting on climate change. There has been a handful of them this year, about once every 6 weeks. There are discussion and working meetings for countries to talk about their climate change commitments.

The last of this year (where all the decisions have to be made) is in Copenhagen in December.  (Kind of like each week of So You Think You Can Dance Canada leading up to the final showdown, and everybody wins in their heart regardless of those who technically come out on top.)

One would think, hope, etc, that the United Nations is an efficient and effective playground for ideas and decisions that ultimately impact the world for the better. Today in plenary, the main hall in talks that include all countries, Canada dragged out the conversation for a little longer than I would deem allowable, even by democratic standards.

The UN system measures the emission pollution of countries against a baseline. That baseline is 1990. (Like many of us who measure our waistline against a baseline of “that one summer”.) Canada, for the past three years, has communicated its goals against 2006 levels instead. On the one hand, it makes sense, because it’s more recent and it gives us a better idea of what we have to shoot for. On the other hand, it would turn over every publication, national government text, and messaging from anyone in the world for the past 20 years. It would be as if the US suddenly wanted the whole world to ditch the metric system and start speaking imperial, or if the Gods of pop culture suddenly asked us to stop comparing pop music to Michael Jackson, but to something more current, like the JoBros. (Shame, shame!!)

Here’s the short-end-of-the-stick conversation that happened, thanks to a colleague’s notes from the conference today:

Chair: Use 1990 as base year regardless of number of commitment periods; base year with reference year.
Australia: Need single base year for legally binding commitment.
Chair: Can we agree that we need a single base year for the legally binding commitment
Canada: Our pledge will be based on 2006, but could be translated to other years easily.
South Africa: Does Canada want its own separate Annex?
EU: Want single base year for transparent view on the progress we are making.
Canada: Want a separate column to represent our pledge in international law in the form we made it with another column that translates it to a common year for comparison purposes.

[Of course… Why wouldn’t we create an entire separate column for a country that represents 0.4% of the population? Why wouldn’t we create a whole separate films category at the Academy Awards for “Best Picture Filmed In Sarnia”?]

Japan: In order to facilitate the participation of as many other countries as possible, we think there should be flexibility in base year.
Norway: Want 1990, consistency, transparency, compatibility.
South Africa: … the legally binding base year should be consistent – 1990 – so we can compare apples to apples.
Chair: Do we all understand the difference between base year and reference year?
Iceland: Usefulness of additional reference years –  not just need to deal with domestic politics, but also important for comparability- can show effort from commitment period to commitment period.
EU: Q for Canada:  Why not make legal commitment to 1990 by translating 2006 commitment?

[What she said.]

China: Multiple base year removes transparency.  …Using different base years domestically may be okay, but ambition must be based on their responsibility.  Can’t use changing base years as a way to hide the lack of ambition.

[Oh…. snap.]

Micronesia (for Alliance of Small Island States): Single base year improves transparency for public, shows progress, etc.  Agree with  EU that this has many implications throughout the text.  In case of Canada, their 20% below 2006=-3% from 1990…

Response to Micronesia:  we haven’t recommend specific changes/amendments to the text, but imagine that some would be made. Response to EU:  we need to express our legal target as 2006 for domestic purposes, but we willing to have a table that translates to other years.

India: We are just going round in circles.  We all have domestic politics but we need to negotiate here.

Pakistan: We need to start with scientifically and objectively relevant aggregate targets and a single base year or we avoid the principles necessary to keep us on course for a fair and effective agreement.

Gambia (for African Group): Want 1990 base year for continuity and transparency.
Chair: Since no consensus, we’ll come back to this next week.

[For serious?]

Note: Zoë promises that her next post will not be about climate change. For serious.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2009 2:29 pm

    Zoe, I love it. Thanks for translating UN negotiation into something so many more of the people who NEED to get it (most young people, most of Canada, most of America), the people who don’t speak base years or negotiations at all!

  2. October 5, 2009 12:25 pm

    During this discussion, people were dying in carbon-dioxide-intensified floods in Indonesia. The discussion shows how easy it is for fossil-fuel interests to prevent any action that might impinge on their profit margins. That is why we say – do not wait for your national government, work in your locality to implement free public transit.

  3. kabutar permalink
    October 5, 2009 3:10 pm


    /not so proud Canadian

  4. October 5, 2009 5:24 pm

    Thanks Caroline – That’s the goal!

  5. October 12, 2009 1:14 pm

    Why do these talks insist on confusing consensus with unanimity? Why does “majority rule” work in all other decision-making situations but not when it comes to saving the planet? It’s absurd!!

    Zoe, Adam and others, please encourage other countries to ignore the bully in the room (us, sadly) and get on with the consensus agreement.

    BTW, who has bought us off? Is it Big Oil in our tar sands, or Big Brother to the south who now needs to appear virtuous, or …? What has brought us so low?

    p.s. I’m a newbie here, so if you’ve answered this question already, please forgive me and I’ll try searching for your response.

  6. October 16, 2009 4:21 pm

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

    • February 2, 2010 9:30 pm

      Hi Polprav,
      Yes of course! (Sorry for mega-late reply… your comment was lost in a sea of spam comments on topics inappropriate for re-posting.)



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