Holding out hope for a fair climate deal in Panama

Friday, October 07, 2011

By Thomas Ekelund

With only six weeks remaining until the United Nations climate change negotiations in Durban, delegates at the last round of official UN meetings, being held in Panama, are involved in intense negotiations. ACT Alliance is present with 11 delegates from 10 countries trying to persuade developed countries to cut their carbon and to offset the effects of climate change.

Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States insist they will not sign up to a second commitment period for Kyoto when it expires next year. But many developing countries believe Kyoto should continue.

Angel Ibarra calls himself an activist. He represents Mesoamerica Climate Justice Network in San Salvador, an ACT initiative. For him, the negotiations are a matter of life and death.

"For those of us who live in Central America, climate changes are fact. We are experiencing heavy floods, erratic climate, hurricanes, and for us, previously unknown diseases. It is time for the rich world to show that they are serious about their nice words."

Central America is seriously threatened by climate change. Four countries are among the 10 worst-hit in the world. The Global Climate Risk Index 2011 estimates the total cost of climate change in Central America this year will be as much as US $73 billion.

A trusted participant
Mattias Söderberg's business card says senior advocacy advisor for ACT member DanChurchAid. In Panama, he heads the delegation for ACT Alliance and Aprodev, a network of European churches working in development.

ACT is a major player at the Panama talks, with dedicated and professional delegates with the potential to make a difference. "We have a global network that enables us to act over the world, and simultaneously receive information from all over the world. We often have more information on individual issues than the countries' negotiating delegates."

Söderberg says the position of churches rooted in local communities builds confidence and credibility in the ACT name. Delegates understand that ACT comes from the local context.
"Churches are working with social issues, with those in need. As they are equal members I have a direct access to the poor affected by the issues we are discussing here," Söderberg says.

On the third day of negotiations, Climate Advocacy Network, the world's largest climate advocacy network, awarded the Danish Government the 'Ray of Day' for its decision to go with a 40 per cent decrease in carbon emissions by 2020. Söderberg believes DanChurchAid can take some of the credit for the decision.

All in a day's work
Söderberg often waits in corridors. It is typical of the life of a lobbyist in a climate meeting, he says laughing. A lobbyist needs contacts, and making contacts takes time. Söderberg has been around this scene since 2007. He knows a lot of people and a lot of people know him. But the hard work is not done here at the climate negotiations in Panama, he says.

"The really hard work is done at home. I have to be really prepared. I need to know the questions, I need to know how others reason. When I meet with delegates here, they want to meet with me because they think I might know something invaluable to them."

For Söderberg, ACT Alliance lobbyists have three major tasks: to observe, to advise and to recommend.

"When, for example the European Union finance ministers speak about what the EU can and should do in terms of long-term finance, I know about it. And if the EU negotiators don't act as the finance ministers say they should, I tell them so. And I really believe that makes a difference."

Dashed hopes
Söderberg hopes and believes that the climate negotiations will gather more energy and take a step forward in both Panama and Durban.

"I am hoping for a roadmap on how the developed countries are to finance climate changes in the developing countries as they have promised. And I hope we can talk more about adaptation, which is not even an option for all countries. In some cases it is already too late. Since I am a realist it would be wrong not to say that sometimes I am very pessimistic."