What can I write about the world’s climate change crisis that could beat the Philippine negotiator, Yeb Saño’s desperate plea at the UN climate change conference in Warsaw last month?
And what more could Saño say that could beat the toll Typhoon Haiyan had taken in his country: 5,000+ killed, 11 million displaced, $5 billion of infrastructure destroyed?
Saño called out to the delegates of more than 190 countries to stop “the madness”. “The initial assessments show that Haiyan left a wave of massive destruction that is unprecedented, unthinkable, and horrific,” he said.
Watching tears brimming behind Saño’s spectacles and hearing him describe the ongoing climate devastation brought back images of other diplomats who had cried, cajoled and ranted at previous UN climate change conferences. In a wrenching moment at the Copenhagen talks in 2009, President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed had pleaded, “If things go business as usual, we will not live. We will die. Our country will not exist.”
It could be that brutal, yes. If the global temperature rise isn’t arrested, small island states could drown in the rising seas and millions of people could be stateless – a concept, situation or condition now ‘discussed’ helpfully as that of “climate refugees”.
Just one of the many unknown variables of climate change, since nobody is quite sure what is really going to happen. (Just to clarify: extreme weather events have never only been attributed to climate change, but scientists say that an increasingly warmer planet will lead to more intense rainfall, storms, typhoons and cyclones.)
Public and political momentum to seal a global climate change pact peaked in 2009, but ‘world leaders’ failed to deliver then. As we stand today, two years are now left to get a treaty in Paris in 2015.
But here’s the thing about these next two years. The principles that formed the basis of the last 20 years of climate change discussions – they’ve begun to bend and warp, with developed countries no longer willing to shoulder the major burden of reducing greenhouse gases. And as this division between rich and poor countries has deepened, political commitment has proportionally faded and public interest waned. All this despite a steady drumbeat by scientists and economists trying to sound the alarm on devastating social, financial and environmental consequences.
The conference hosted by Poland this year – UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties (COP19) – was the second one I covered in a cold European winter, after Copenhagen in 2009. Diplomats from around the world gathered at the National Stadium in Warsaw between November 19-23 to reach agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and finances to adapt to the crisis and manage past damage.
I’ve been to five of these things now, and I’ve learned to report in step with the agonizingly slow pace of international diplomacy – slow because it involves countries giving up some of their wealth for the future global good – a not-so-far future, but it still pinches to make sacrifices in the present.
So while ruling out a miracle cure to save the planet, anyone arriving at this latest conference still reasonably hoped for countries to not fixate on old disputes and get reasonable and specific, if not ambitious, about their obligations so that an effective treaty can be signed in 2015.
A conversation with other journalists over dinner in Warsaw led to the observation that if the loss of American lives in Hurricane Sandy did not spur ‘leaders’ into action, it was unlikely that lives lost in poor countries would. And if people dying in extreme weather events, and the threat of more perishing, isn’t reason enough to aggressively combat climate change, we wondered what is?
Let’s hold that thought.
While heading to Warsaw, scenes of the Uttarakhand floods played in my mind, competing with images of all those late nights spent inside conference halls during past conferences, and all the elation about President Barack Obama’s presence in Copenhagen in 2009.
Four years on, Obama’s insipid speech at the conference has faded from my memory but not the thunderous applause, which the first African American leader of the United States received from other world ‘leaders’ (that word again), negotiators and activists – all of whom anticipated delivery of the change that he symbolized in his first few years.
After the Bush administration backed away in 2001 from the Kyoto Protocol – the first and only existing legal pact on climate change that imposed obligations on developed countries to reduce greenhouse emissions, and which will give way to a new treaty in 2015 for obligations post-2020 – Obama was seen as the game changer who would sweep away old arguments, build consensus and deliver an ambitious treaty – en route to collect his Nobel Peace Prize.
On the contrary, bogged down by domestic politics, the United States set surprisingly low emission reduction targets. And then it aggressively pursued a policy of demanding more from the bigger developing countries, especially China, which was on the rise, while the West was mired in a financial crisis.
Over the next few years of negotiations, diplomats of small island states continued to speak with fear and sadness at the possible demise of their homelands, but their voices faded into a background score. Even the rising death tolls from extreme weather events and losses running into billions get lost in the void of international diplomacy and intrigue.
Only NGOs and activists retain a healthy dose of indignation. And with notable exceptions like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, journalists also seem numbed into apathy by the minutiae of the talks. Their reports are consumed by the position of their home countries and persisting disputes, while the human drama becomes a side note, referred to when a protest happens or someone like Saño cries, all of which seem to happen to make for a ‘lighter’ story.
* * *
Not content with tears and rhetoric, Saño also fasted for the entire duration of the conference to show solidarity with those rendered hungry and homeless by Cyclone Haiyan, to build pressure for a “meaningful outcome”.
It took 10 days. Angry and frustrated at the lack of progress and the regressive tenor of the talks, green activists walked out of the conference for the first time ever. The past few days had just been too much for them.
Some days earlier, Japan had landed a big blow with its decision to drastically cut back on its previous greenhouse gas mitigation pledges, because of the shutdown of its nuclear industry following the Fukushima accident. Its target used to be to reach 25 percent of 2005 levels of carbon dioxide emissions – this year, it reduced this to 3.8 percent of 2005 levels, which in effect means a 3.1 percent increase in emissions from its 1990 levels. Japan’s chief negotiator, Hiroshi Minami, seemed torn about the decision. He told the media, “This is very difficult personally, this is a serious matter and I have great sympathy, but as a bureaucrat I cannot answer the question.”
Also, it hadn’t helped that the Tony Abbot administration in Australia hadn’t thought the conference important enough to send over its environment minister – a first for the nation in 16 years.
A week into the conference, the tension was palpable. In the second week, on November 21, 800 members of civil society protested the lack of progress, the bullying of activists and the corporate sponsorship of the conference (with companies like ArcelorMittal and General Motors) by walking out. “We were restricted and checked. They would open bags to see the posters we were carrying, they even went through our documents,” said Harjeet Singh of International Action Aid.
After Saño’s first speech, three youth activists who expressed solidarity with him by displaying a poster of the death tolls of Typhoon Haiyan and Typhoon Bopha (which hit the Philippines during the 2012 conference in Doha) were de-badged. To be cautious, activists informed the UN secretariat in advance of the collective walkout to make sure they were not debarred from future conferences.
Singh said that they were invited back by the governments of Poland, Peru and France (the next two conference hosts) for a dialogue, but the motley crew of activists refused to step back into the National Stadium.
For many, it also seemed that the Polish hosts were mocking the environmental talks by holding the International Coal and Climate Summit at the same time, in the same city, in the same neighborhood. The objective of the latter meeting was touted as exploring ways to produce clean coal by making plants more efficient, as well as exploring options like capturing and burying CO2 underground before it passes into the atmosphere.
Greenpeace activists mocked the coal summit by displaying a bright red and white banner asking, “Who rules Poland? Coal Industry or the People?” The move to conduct both conferences simultaneously was especially irksome because Poland blocked the European Union last year from raising its ambitions to reduce carbon emissions.
Over 90 percent of Poland’s current electricity is generated by coal (and more units are being added), while less than six percent comes from renewables. Earlier this year, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk reportedly said, “The future of Polish energy is in brown and black coal, as well as shale gas.” Coal happens to be the most polluting of fossil fuels, accounting for around 43 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion.
Adding insult to injury, the UN climate change chief Christina Figueres also attended the coal conference, even if she told the coal companies to diversify and urged investments in renewables. “By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security, and creates new jobs,” she said.
Maybe she was trying to be a balanced leader.
* * *
For the past few years, India has been feeling the heat to promise more for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, despite its protestations that eradicating pervasive poverty is its main priority.
But what the world sees is that India’s CO2 emissions rose by 7.7 percent in 2012, and it is now the fourth largest emitter (6 percent) after the European Union (10 percent), the United States (14 percent) and China (27 percent).
On the other hand, India’s per person emissions are only 1.8 tons as compared to 7 tons in China and 16 tons in the United States. In line with explanations that I’ve heard from Indian delegates through the last five years, Ravi Shankar Prasad, a lead negotiator at the conference in Poland, said: “Countries like India and China are moving up on that development paradigm and in that process we still have to address our poverty, if you see the per capita income of India and per capita of developed countries, we are one-tenth of developed countries.” Prasad is a joint-secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
So India was at the heart of the intrigue of how to not get trapped into any “commitments”.
On the last evening of the conference, its negotiator read out a crucial amendment to paragraph 2b of a text called the Durban Platform, a pit stop to finalizing a treaty in 2015. “I will read this out twice, slowly the first time,” TS Tirumurti told delegates who were exhausted after more than 30 straight hours of relentless discussions, which had spilled into an extra day on November 23.
And then he read.
“To invite all Parties to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions, in the context of adopting a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2 and to communicate them well in advance of the twenty first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions.”
As I heard these words echoing through the silence of the large hall filled with negotiators donning crumpled suits and tired expressions, it hit home once again what the tears and protests boil down to in these negotiations – diplomats from a diverse range of nations hammering out convoluted paragraphs to set out respective responsibilities, while securing their own interests, sometimes working together, and sometime plotting against.
As it was read out a second time, I also wondered at how absurd it was that the safety of millions of people depended on the brackets, commas, additions and subtractions in writing this legal document. And whether people who have died in extreme events attributed to climate change would have been saved if some of this had been written and implemented sooner.
The amendment to Paragraph 2b emerged after India, along with Brazil, China and South Africa (together called BASIC) waged a serious battle to get the word “commitments” changed to “contributions”, to steer clear for the time being of any international obligation to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.
Prasad argued that for the time being, it is for the developed countries to do the majority share of reducing their emissions enough to halt global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius, a limit set at the talks in Copenhagen in 2009, even as the most vulnerable small island countries wanted a 1.5 degree Celsius cap. “We still have a long way to go. Thirty percent of our population still lives in poverty, 30 percent doesn’t have access to electricity. We cannot be constrained the same way developed countries have to be constrained,” he said.
It is hard to pick a side. These are tough questions. Poor countries say they have the right to grow, while the developed ones have put their foot down at continuing with the old order of solely taking on legal obligations, considering the changes in who is polluting more now. There are questions of fair and unfair as well as fair and reality in the face of mounting deaths and losses.
And then there is the math.
To stop temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prescribes reducing global emissions up to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and from 40 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
British climate change economist Lord Nicholas Stern said in an email interview that in 1990, developing countries were only responsible for a third of annual global emissions, but today they emit more than half. He said more bluntly that developing countries must make cuts as well if we are to reduce annual global emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 50 per cent by 2050, in order to have a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of more than 2 Celsius degrees.
“It simply will not be possible to avoid the risks of dangerous climate change if developing countries do not also cut their annual emissions, and that would be the most inequitable outcome of all because it is poor people and poor countries that are suffering first and hardest from the impacts of climate change,” he said.
In the midst of all the moral and economic questions surrounding the rich versus poor narrative of climate change negotiations, what is clear is the absurdity of developed countries to ask countries like China and India to do more, when they have so far done so little to cut their own emissions and to give the finances for dealing with climate change, which they have promised so many times. The emission reduction figures set out by the European Union and the United States, 20 percent reduction from 1990 levels and 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels respectively, are berated as completely inadequate every year.
Fresh tensions have been brewing with Russia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan backing out of their promise to take more cuts till 2020 under the Kyoto Protocol.
So the talks in Warsaw failed to elicit any further pledges from developed countries. Meena Raman, negotiations expert at the Geneva-based NGO Third World Network, summed it succinctly: “The blocking by rich industrialized countries has been disgraceful.”
* * *
The quest to save the planet isn’t bereft of its funny interludes.
Many participants at the conference jokingly referred to the contested Paragraph 2b as…yes, “2b or not to b”. Referring not only to Hamlet’s soliloquy but also to the 1983 film, which stars Mel Brooks at the helm of a theatrical company in Warsaw and spoofs both the Nazi occupation of Poland as well as Hamlet.
Then there were the comical “huddles”, involving top diplomats bunching into tight groups on the conference floor and whispering frantically to reach compromises after many sleepless nights and missed meals.
* * *
But behind the jocularity, serious differences were at play. The disputes are increasingly over the most fundamental principle on which climate change negotiations have proceeded for the past 20 years.
This principle – that developed countries must reduce their global warming gases due to their historical emissions since the Industrial Revolution, and pay for adapting to climate change as well as the losses suffered due to the crisis – was originally captured in the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities with respective capabilities”, or CBDR as it has come to be known. CBDR, included in the 1992 Rio Declaration and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, denoted the tenet of “equity” and has been a rallying cry for poor nations to berate, cajole and plead with rich nations to step up.
But as the global economic weight has shifted South with the emergence of countries like India, China, Brazil and South Africa, so have their “respective capacities” along with substantial amounts of emissions.
And this has led to rich countries chipping away at CBDR or simply saying to the South: Do more. EU negotiator Stefan Agne bluntly told the Warsaw delegates that CBDR needs to be executed in a way that takes into account these new and evolving realities.
Since the 2009 talks in Copenhagen, developing countries have conceded ground on the divisions of these responsibilities. They have agreed to take voluntary domestic actions to combat climate change and to report their steps to the UN. At the 2011 talks in Durban, they agreed that a 2015 treaty would be “applicable to all,” with the understanding that rich countries would do more, but major developing countries would also have obligations to fulfill.
While India and China have till now fought off pressure to accept emission cuts, or accept a timeline for emissions peaking, compromises over “contributions” – up from “actions” and down from “commitments” – indicates mounting pressure to bridge this North-South divide.
Even as India and China maneuvered for “contributions” in Warsaw, US chief negotiator Todd Stern declared to his fellow-delegates, “I find it somewhat astonishing to hear my good friend from China say that commitments apply only to developed country parties. I feel like I’m going into a time warp. It would certainly be disappointing to see us backward in time than forward to a new treaty in Paris.”
That was just the tip of the diplomatic brawl. Soon, the gloves came off.
The EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard told the media that a handful of “like-minded” countries were not coming on board to set emission cuts. To which Venezuela’s lead negotiator Claudia Salerno shot back that it was the developed countries that had failed in their obligations and accused her counterpart of risking the entire conference by starting this sort of blame game.
(These “like minded” countries, by the way, include India, China, Bolivia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Venezuela, Thailand and Saudi Arabia – a smaller group within the bloc of G77 & China out of 133 developing countries.)
Warning that Hedegaard would be responsible if the process was damaged because of her outburst, Salerno added, “If you have differences, bring it up at the negotiations. By going to the media and attacking a negotiating partner, the EU chief is responsible for damaging seriously the atmosphere of confidence and trust in this process.”
Over the years, differences have also emerged, of course, among the developing nations themselves. The smaller and the most vulnerable developing nations, like the island nations, African countries and the Least Developed Countries, seem to look askance or nervously at the adamant stance of economies like India and China. Pa Ousman Jarju, the negotiator from Gambia, speaking on behalf of the Least Developed Countries, emphasized that a future agreement that was not based on the scientific projections would be “catastrophic” for the African continent. While not directly calling for China and India to do more, he said, “We know that we have different capabilities.”
Some also contend that the EU and the US have stoked divisions among the G77 & China bloc. Yet others are of the view that India has done little to win over African countries and small-island nations by failing to throw its weight behind their demands on issues like ‘adaptation’ to climate change as well as ‘loss and damage’ from extreme weather events.
Describing India as a “pathetic player” at these negotiations, Singh from International Action Aid said that New Delhi is increasingly perceived as parroting its own concerns about avoiding legally binding emission reductions and calling for finance and technology transfers. “India never really supported their causes. Forget about leading, [India] hardly contributed to the loss and damage discussions this time,” he said. “It’s bad diplomacy to be seen as just self -interested.”
And even “self interest,” Singh added, isn’t a strong point of the Indian delegation.
“There was so much talk about Typhoon Haiyan. Was anyone talking about the floods in Uttarakhand or Cyclone Phailin?”
* * *
What about what’s happening ‘on the ground’, as journalists like to say?
I called Rahul Mishra, senior coordinator at Gravis, after returning from Warsaw. The NGO Gravis has worked on rainwater harvesting in Jodhpur since 1983. Today, it finds its role reversed – managing excess water due to changing rainfall patterns.
Villagers used to begin expecting rain near the end of June, and it would build up in July and peter out by the end of August. But over the past few years, Mishra said that the bulk of rainfall had moved to August. And instead of being spread out over three months, increasingly heavy rain was pouring down for a few days.
The water harvesting structures, Mishra said, were not built to handle this high intensity of rainfall, which cause bunds to break and water flowing into villages. Gravis now works in 1,000 villages in Osian, Bap, Phalodi districts to develop rainwater storage tanks and ponds to store rainwater for the dry months. “There are problems of waterlogging. Here, the mindset of the people is to save water, not to be managing excess of it,” he told me. “And now for the first time, waterlogging is even leading to a rise in malaria cases.”
To adapt to these changes, Gravis is designing ponds with an artificial drainage pipe, which faces away from the villages and empties into the fields. And to deal with overflowing storage tanks in homes, villagers are being advised to grow kitchen gardens to absorb water.
The majority of villages where Gravis operates are home to farmers who live on subsistence farming by growing largely millets, while many are manual labors who earn about Rs 3,000 per month.
Mishra explained that traditionally, farmers planted millet seeds in June and expecting rains in July. “But now with the rains late, seeds are going bad and they are too poor to develop artificial irrigation methods,” he said. “Now we are advising mixed cropping with millets, sorghum and beans so that they have some produce. But it is important that these should be planted in straight lines and not mixed up in the field.”
Villagers in the desert districts, he added, don’t describe these changes around them as climate change, but they know that their world is heating up. “They may not know the technical terms, but they say that the ‘Earth is burning,’” he said, noting that the average temperatures of 45 degree Celsius were now hitting 48 degree Celsius. “They have also come to realize that cutting trees to make cement houses makes the waterlogging problem worse.”
* * *
From the pit of the National Stadium on November 22nd, the voices of activists chanting “WTF” (Where’s the finance) resounded in the corridors all the way to the main meeting hall of the delegates. A better slogan might have been: Follow the money.
Rich countries again skipped making good on their promise to capitalize $100 billion for the Green Climate Fund by 2020, which they promised in 2009 in Copenhagen for adaptation and mitigation. While there are still seven years left to make good on their promise, the real problem is that the rich countries keep delaying a plan of action on how and from where the money is coming.
Developing countries are also growing wary of attempts by developed countries to involve private agencies in climate finance as a way of diminishing their own legal liability in the coming years. “Private companies do not make commitments,” Bolivian negotiator Rene Orellana protested at the conference. “We are not going to discuss here how to open our economies to private investments. This is not the issue of climate change.”
There is a risk of uncertainty with private finance, but many believe that it’s not going to be easy to keep it out. By allowing companies like ArcelorMittal and General Motors to sponsor COP19, there was certainly the danger of the talks being influenced by these corporates that with an interest in securing coal and carbon markets.
Reacting to their presence at the conference, Indian negotiator Prasad said it was in line with the agenda of the US and EU. “Is climate change about business and investment?” he asked. He also warned of another route that the US had taken to inject private finance into the equation – its push discuss the phasing down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) refrigerant gases under the Montreal Protocol (a treaty to protect the ozone layer) instead of the climate change framework.
The US argues that shifting HFCs to the Montreal Protocol will speed up their phasing out, but India sees it as an attempt to promote American companies like DuPont and Honeywell that have technologies to replace HFCs. While New Delhi needs this technology, it wants to access it through the technology transfer and finance mechanism instead of paying exorbitant prices. “Today, if you say that the Indian consumer take the DuPont technology or the Honeywell technology, it will raise the cost of air conditioning 20 times,” explained Prasad. “There is a genuine concern that United States and European Union want climate change to become a vehicle to capture developing country markets.”
Besides the wrangling about the overarching $100 billion to combat climate change, Warsaw also focused on another longstanding financial demand by small island nations and African countries – to secure money for the “Loss and Damage” already occurring from the climate crisis. Many assumed that the grief and devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan would crack open a spirit of generosity and loosen purse strings. Japan, Australia and Canada, though, suggested postponing the discussion till after 2015, while the US and Norway wanted to make Loss and Damage part of the Green Climate Fund, which will pay for mitigation and adaptation costs incurred by developing countries. The EU was subtler about its reluctance to give more money.
Disagreements over compensations also led to a huge walkout by countries of G77 & China from a closed-door meeting before dawn on November 20. It remained the last thorn to be snipped on the evening of November 23rd as negotiators grew weary of clashes and wanted to catch their flights home.
Sai Navoti of Fiji, representing the G77 bloc, urged everyone to give it one more shot. In the final huddle of the conference, with Navoti and Todd Stern of the US in the middle surrounded by a mob of delegates, a compromise was brokered for the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage”. The amendment to the preamble (“acknowledging that loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change includes, and in some cases involves more than, that which can be reduced by adaptation”) delinked Loss and Damage with adaptation in some cases, and just about assuaged developing countries.
All this means is that they all agreed that certain kinds of fallouts, like desertification, ocean acidification, rise of sea levels and glacial melts, and the consequences from them, are inevitable and beyond the mold of adaptation. But what qualifies as “more than” is yet to be defined. An obvious example is aid to countries recovering from disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, which is estimated to have affected more than 11 million people, and costs of rebuilding are projected to be $6 to $7 billion.
Singh from Action Aid International pointed out that loss and damages are both financial and non financial. What is to be done, the activist asked, if a small island nation is lost to rising sea levels and its population moves to India? “It’s not just about finance. What about their territorial rights and cultural rights,” he asked. “These are going to be humungous issues.”
Just last week, a judge in New Zealand turned down the application of a man from the island state of Kiribati to become the world’s first climate change refugee. While rejecting his application, high court judge John Priestley reportedly said that under the UN Refugee Convention, a refugee status was granted if the applicant feared prosecution at home, but rejected the argument that Ioane Teitiota, 37, was being “passively prosecuted” from environmental degradation linked to climate change, which the country’s government could not control.
While the absence of actual money for Loss and Damage is worrisome, Singh said that the priority now should be figuring out the scale of problems and possible solutions that could emerge from the climate crisis. “Let’s not just fight about the money but focus on knowledge generation first,” he said.
* * *
At times, negotiations are harder because they involve seeking solutions to unknowns – how the crisis will play out and what loss and damages do we need to prepare for. There are some new solutions being innovated to tackle this uncertainty.
David Dror founded the Delhi non-profit Micro Insurance Academy (MIA) in 2007 to help the poor access insurance. MIA also works in the villages of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa to find ways of insuring rural communities against climate change.
Dror’s objective is to make non-profit and mutual insurance options available for these villagers. He describes his research, funded by the government of his home country Switzerland as well as the EU, as “cutting edge stuff”. The challenge, he said, is to establish a methodology for “segregating a climate change risk” from random weather fluctuations that can also cause crop failures. “Climate change happens. What is much less clear is the quantified aspect of potential damages,” he said. “How do you even measure the availability of ground resources 10, 20, 30 years from now in terms of a farmers position? What are we offering them?”
Climate risk to agriculture can be assessed by studying intensity, frequency of weather events and the interplay of the two, according to MIA researchers, but a proper quantification requires looking at other parameters including topography, humidity, precipitation and soil type. Dror’s model of not-for-profit climate change insurance involves cooperative or mutual insurance in which people aggregate risks and their money without paying a profit to anybody or sharing any gains. “The possibility of creating community-based insurance requires a great deal of building awareness and capacities, and convincing people that the value proposition of this particular insurance solution is attractive. It is not intuitive,” he said.
Not intuitive because the unfamiliarity and perceived complications of this type of risk management in India make Dror’s task daunting, if not improbable. Government figures show that in 2010-2011, insurance penetration was only 5.1 percent, although it was up from 2.32 percent 10 years earlier. Dror, also a professor of health insurance at the University of Rotterdam, noted that presently companies don’t appear to be interested in exploring farmers’ priorities, which could develop a huge market in agriculture, livestock and climate change.
Another criticism of the plan is the impracticality of implementing it on a large scale because of illiteracy or sub-standard education in rural areas. Dror, though, claims this problem can be fixed – if only the government takes the initiative of investing in financial education on climate risks and insurance across the country.
“Why is it important in this country? Because quite regardless of the international negotiations, India has all the ‘blessings’ of climate change, everything,” he said, ticking of melting glaciers, fluctuating rainfall, as well as 300-400 million people living with seven to eight coastlines and rising sea levels.
Dror views developing insurance solutions for climate change-related risks as essential. And thus, he is constantly in pursuit of funds that, he adds, are “rare” for this kind of research. His comrades in Warsaw wouldn’t be surprised.
* * *
It wasn’t long after the decision on loss and damage was gaveled on November 23rd that exhausted negotiators bolted out of the National Stadium. Many headed straight to the Warsaw Chopin airport. To me, they seemed as relieved about averting a complete breakdown of the talks as about just getting out of there.
One of the last delegates to leave was Philippine negotiator Saño, who had vowed to fast until a “meaningful outcome” was reached. Saño’s immediate family was safe from Typhoon Haiyan, but he had lost relatives in Tacloban city. Despite his personal tragedy, Saño remained a forceful voice for action at the conference and on Twitter.
Saño told me he was “disappointed” with the outcome on loss and damage. I asked him if the result was enough for him to stop fasting. He replied diplomatically, of course: “It builds a good foundation and confidence for Lima and Paris. So even though it doesn’t pass my criterion for a meaningful outcome, we have achieved many milestones here.” He intended to break his fast with fruit juice later that night.
Watching these talks get more and more polarized between the rich and the poor – and now, varying degrees of poor – I can’t help but feel that the future seems uncertain. Disputes at these conferences are harsher every year, the air more hostile.
As much as the rich and powerful have the advantage of money and influence, the poor also have the advantage of numbers, and so far, a tenacity of not getting bullied. Till now it is the rich who have ceded little, and in the past three years altered the fundamentals of CBDR, historical emissions and equity.
And while the scale of ambition for more than 190 countries to agree on questions that involve sacrifices of their most precious commodities, money and development for the common good, could be applauded, it’s also been 20 years of weakening camaraderie and growing divisiveness. All the while, once-speculated fears of a climate crisis have given way to deaths, displacements and losses for the vulnerable.
But irrespective of who claims the higher moral ground, what’s clear is that the better diplomats and negotiators will keep rolling the dice, not the better arguments. In his final speech in Warsaw, Bangladesh’s negotiator Quamrul Chowdhury borrowed from Charles Dickens to aptly sum up two weeks of bickering and the last hours of compromise. “This was the best of times, this was the worst of times.”
Betwa Sharma is a journalist based in New Delhi.