Climate Change / Sustainable Development

Despairing Maldives: Big talk, no action from Katowice

In the words of Nasheed  carbon emissions keep rising, and rising, and rising. And all we seem to be doing is talking, and talking and talking
Dec 14, 2018
The author with former Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed at Katowice

“Since I last addressed the COP in 2009, I’ve been deposed in a coup, thrown into jail, and forced into exile. But almost ten years since I was last at these climate negotiations, I must say, nothing much seems to have changed,” said Mohammed Nasheed, former Maldives president. “We are still using the same old, dinosaur language.” Nasheed added. He is now back again to lead the negotiations and started exploring more effective, urgent and enhanced ambitious targets.
Nasheed’s statements, in short, summed up where the climate change negotiations are going at COP24 , with just a day to go to conclude the talk. Nasheed was just short of repeating what Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Even usual optimism in such United Nations meeting had familiar and  archaic language,  “ Window of opportunity to keep temperature rise below 1.5 C, as revealed by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is closing fast. But we still have time and we can do it”. That was the official tone of the conference. But unofficial tone was of talk, talk and more talk.
A special report by the IPCC did energize the negotiations  by adding the edge to the demands of the developing countries for developed countries to  move fast on their own commitment for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fulfilling the promise of financial assistance  to the developing countries . But Nasheed wondered if the developing countries should now change the narrative  of their demands and instead push the developed countries to enhance their own investments in the clean renewable energy so that  technology improves and the prices come down. That, as per Nasheed, would benefit the developing countries more than just asking for the new and additional finances.
But even there, the developed countries are unwilling to budge. The huge wolf in the herd of the sheep was Poland itself. A day after giving inaugural speech at the COP24, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda made a surprise speech addressed to coal miners in the south of Poland during their annual festival. He said that as long as he is in office, he "won't allow for anyone to murder Polish mining”.
As per Duda, under the garb of global warming one cannot neglect the welfare of the coal miners and ignore their needs. Poland needs coal and it would continue mining it for the sustainable development of its people, was his narrative. That must be a shock to EU delegation to which Poland belongs. EU is quoted often in the meetings as very proactive in raising the ambitions for reducing the emissions as per IPCC 1.5C report.
One of the Polish students in the conference stated that coal miners in reality can have better quality life if they start working on the clean energy. Poland is quite skilled  in making turbines for wind mills and even exports them.  But it does not invest in wind mills in the country.  “In reality, not only coal miners but even average citizen would lead better life in Poland if we engage ourselves in clean and renewable energy” he stated.  Many houses in the cities and in rural area still burn dirty coal to heat the houses and pollute the air which in turn harms the lives of the present and future generation.  But Duda has to please the solidarity union of the coal miners, who are literally kept in dark about the clean energy. How can Nasheed’s suggestion on enhanced investment by the developed countries in renewables would materialize in such political scenario.
Frankly,  US President Trump is not the only leader to serve the interest of his own country by overlooking the global climate crisis. There are many wolves in the sheep. There is interestingly  direct relation between nationalism and GHG emission. As nationalism gets extreme so also global warming.
Climate messiah Al Gore, former US vice president, has also arrived  in Katowice . He too highlighted the brighter side of the renewable energy in terms of the job potential. He then went on to say rather sarcastically that it was good that Trump is overlooking the COP 24 negotiations. But he defended the delays in the negotiations saying how difficult it is to develop the consensus among 197 countries, when even small group of countries do not agree on such matters. He probably was referring to recent G20 meetings.
In reality, the fragmentation of the multilateralism is destabilizing the negotiations. The squabble on ‘welcome’ and ‘note’ is till fresh.   Even the facilitative role of United Nations Secretary General, who dashed back into the meeting after inauguration on December 3, 2018, is unlikely to halt the process of destabilization of the negotiations.
The final days of the negotiations have also revealed that the basic tenets of the environmental diplomacy are being conveniently forgotten. As early as the Rio conference in 1992 on Environment and Development, the single most tenet of environmental diplomacy has been the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. This basis of negotiations of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements is in jeopardy in COP 24. The financial pledges rising to USD 100 billion per year by 2020, which are the differentiated responsibilities of the developed countries, are not yet well pegged in Paris Agreement rule book.
The statement of Pakistan’s new Minister of Climate Change,  Malik Amin Aslam, that enhanced ambition would need enhanced financial commitment by the developed countries is getting submerged in talk, talk and more talk.
Earlier in the second week of negotiations, Maldives Environment Minister Hussain Rasheed Hassan made a dramatic request at the end of his speech to the ministerial segment in the plenary. He requested all  delegates to stand up for a minute. That was an unusual request and no one responded immediately. But he repeated his request and then almost ordered for everyone to stand up. Everyone, including those on dais,  COP24 president and UNFCCC executive secretary,  stood up. Then he said “let us keep one minute of silence and reflect why are we here and what exactly are we are attempting here?"
After one minute everyone sat down, but the negotiations are yet to settle down. In the words of Nasheed  carbon emissions keep rising, and rising, and rising. And all we seem to be doing is talking, and talking and talking. 
  (The author is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre , former Director UNEP. He can be contacted at

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