riparian rap

Nature Does Not Negotiate: Thoughts on Climate Change after COP18

Christina at GSA 2012

Editor’s note: This post was written by LRRD Research Assistant and Project Manager Christina Bovinette.  Christina graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from SIUC in 2012, and plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2013 to study environmental philosophy. She has worked at Little River since 2010 as our assistant, but more recently, as a conference organizer and international shipping coordinator.

Typhoon Bopha devastated the Philippines last week, killing at least 500 people and displacing thousands.

New Bataan, a farming town facing tens of deaths and missing persons, was constructed in an area government geological hazard maps classify as “highly susceptible to flooding and landslides,” according to this article from The Guardian.

“The bureau of mines and geosciences had issued warnings before the typhoon to people living in flood-prone areas, but in Compostela Valley [the province of which New Bataan belongs], nearly every area is flood-prone,” the article continues.

Poverty is widespread in the Philippines, and folks are willing to risk living in dangerous areas for the sake of opportunity. For the sake of feeding their families.

Climate change is expected to lead to an upsurge in intensity and frequency of storms like Bopha. The lead climate negotiator from the Philippines, Naderev Sano, said just minutes after the news of the typhoon broke, “it is sobering for us to know that a typhoon like this normally doesn’t hit that part of the country. In half a century, this is the first time that a typhoon that has crossed as far south as Bopha has.”

At the 18th UN Climate Change Conference (COP18) in Doha, Qatar, which ended last Friday, UN envoys at COP18 were to be working to produce a deal for a new global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), but the two-week-long summit has made no significant progress on any single issue.

In the wake of Bopha, Yeb Saño, a member of the Philippines Climate Change Commission, said at COP18 Doha, “Please … let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to … take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

The United States is under intense criticism at the summit from environmentalists and smaller nations who say President Obama has failed to meet his stated commitments to tackle global warming. Just weeks ago in his post-election speech, President Obama acknowledged “the destructive powers of a warming planet,” and throughout his campaign has suggested priority for addressing climate change. But despite high hopes across the world and here at LRRD, it appears that Obama’s politics regarding resource use, science and climate change became politically irrelevant after the election and Superstorm Sandy.

Our high hopes after Obama’s post-election speech are nearly completely shattered at the Doha summit for climate change, where US delegates’ negotiations are deadlocked with those of developing nations. To developing nations’ requests of technological and financial support, representatives of the US and other “first-world” nations reply virtually nothing.

I can’t form absolute character judgments about the President or our envoys in Doha. Perhaps, like the rest of us, they simply need a little push toward putting their policy where their mouth is.

Commissioner Saño’s plea in light of the devastating typhoon in the Philippines was echoed by protestors at COP18 Doha, and ought to be echoed by all of civil society. If not us, then who? If we’re not addressing climate change now, then when will we? We have been negotiating all of my life. We’ve missed targets, broken promises, and heard all this before. But nature does not negotiate. Nature is not going to wait on us. The time for climate change mitigation is now.

Hear Commissioner Saño’s emotional COP18 speech (also embedded above) here.