Sunday, January 30, 2011

In the Absence of Success, shall we cheer for not having fully failed?

A month ago, many negotiators departed from Cancun with a sense of relief and achievement. The COP16 closing plenary concluded in a particularly enthusiastic atmosphere with several unusual rounds of standing ovation. Most praised the role of Mexico in skilfully managing the COP presidency.

Only Bolivia refused to participate to the festive mood prevailing in the closing plenary, emphasising the gap remaining between the level of ambition contained in the agreements and what physical reality imposes upon us.

A process back on tracks, but on tracks to where?

The talks held in Cancun have been successful in preventing the UN process to collapse and have, beyond the expectations of many, contributed to recreate a positive atmosphere. Negotiations were held in a more inclusive and transparent manner. Obviously, the UN process could certainly not afford dramatic sessions as those in Copenhagen. The renewed faith in
the UNFCCC negotiations as the most relevant forum for international negotiations on climate change should indeed be welcomed. The international community has thus avoided for the time being a complete collapse of the multilateral model of negotiations.

However progress achieved on the process will be of little value if it does not lead to fulfil the ultimate objective of the convention. The Convention clearly aims the prevention of (further) dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system, based on equity. The scientific community has repeatedly contributed to the discussions in highlighting what the corresponding of political actions would be. While there is very little doubt about the final destination of this process, especially now it’s reputed to be back on tracks, it remains unclear if it will eventually lead us there.


Balance appeared as the buzz-word in the negotiations. Since the Copenhagen conference, negotiators have emphasised the importance of reaching a balanced set of agreements. Such an outcome would need to involve all major emitters in a global effort of reduction of greenhouse gases emissions while at the same time considering the different responsibility and capacities of each.

For all young people engaged in the process, this concern of equity translates in how much policy makers are ready to balance the long term interest of humankind with short term political and economic considerations. Article 3 of Convention reads: “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity”. The Cancun Agreements don’t seem to take us anywhere near the fulfilling of this objective. Yet eighteen years have passed since its adoption. Moreover, scientists insist more and more that the window of opportunity for action is closing rapidly. In this context of growing urgency, any additional year passing without substantial progress should be viewed as a setback.

The road ahead

Now that the negotiations are back on track, and since these negotiations always had clear objectives, the main remaining question is the roadmap to reach this destination. Here a decision on the form of the outcome expected in Durban has once again been postponed and several industrial parties have strongly rejected the notion of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.

The past 20 years at the UN climate negotiations have certainly demonstrated that political and non-binding commitment brings little results. At present, targets for the biggest emitters rely on non-binding pledges submitted to international review. There is no doubt that this approach to address climate change is inadequate. The negotiations will never succeed unless their outcome guarantees the survival of all nations and peoples. In order to achieve so, negotiators need urgently to adopt a science- and equity-based approach to the allocation of mitigation actions to each country. In this context, the recognition of the need to consider a stronger target such as 1.5 degrees of warming is a welcome assessment. However, there is little sense in doing so once this threshold is already reached, and this should be guiding the timing of the review.

A stronger role for the public

In the remaining eleven months, decision-makers will need to show stronger leadership and more ambition in the negotiations to bridge rapidly the enormous gap between national policies and the requirements to address the climate crisis. All groups of stakeholders will need to keep pushing and supporting national governments in their adoption and implementation of stronger domestic mitigation policies. Decision-makers will also need to acknowledge fully the role and contribution of civil society and to empower local and non-governmental actors to take actions, through a more participative multi-stakeholder approach.

The adoption of a specific COP decision in Cancun emphasising the role of climate education and public participation provides a useful contribution in this context. The longer adequate political action is being postponed, the more difficult it becomes to maintain our chances and those of future generations to avoid the most dramatic consequences of climate change. A paradigm shift will only be achieved in building public understanding and engage them in concrete measures, from the individual to the international level.

Can hope be an end in it self?

The UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres described the conference as having lighted a new beacon of hope. Having restored faith in the multilateral approach to address climate change is definitely a positive outcome. However such a beacon will be useful only if it guides all together to a safe harbour. There is no doubt that the time has come when we will need to take more than a first little step in the good direction. Drowning a little closer to the land after having celebrated the appearance of a beacon would bring us little satisfaction.

by Seb

Friday, May 7, 2010

Patagonia without dams

Last Friday, at Città dell’Utopia, Juan Pablo Orrego – international coordinator of the board for Patagonia protection – came to lay the basis for the Italian support to the Patagonia without dams campaign which opposes the construction of five dams right in the middle of Chilean Patagonia.

The project opposed is by the HydroAysén society that, through ENDESA in controlled by ENEL. The plan is to build five dams in the Baker and Pascua river basins and submerge 5910 hectares. The hydroelectric plants would be then matched by a row of electricity pylon to move electricity from the plants to the mining areas in the north, crossing Chile for over 2300 km.

On the one side there is the promise of energy independence reached thanks to clean source like hydroelectric one. On the other, the protection of one of the last pristine macro-areas of our planet.
The dams project seems to be unnecessary since Chile is witnessing a decreasing increment of energy request and it would be a false move in a country with such a great renewable energy potential. Not to mention the opportunity of building five dams in a highly seismic zone …

Another quite important point of the Patagonia without dams campaign concerns water rights. The HydroAysén project is based on water rights taken away from Chilean people during dictatorship and in the first years of the ’90 – basically, river are private property. This situation, even if legal, is ethically unsustainable.

With this campaign, the board for Patagonia protection aims to stop the plan and nationalize back the property of the rivers. To do so, the board asks Italian civil society for help since it can, quite directly through campaigning and ethic share investments, put pressure on ENEL to quit the project and keep Patagonia safe.

Various Italian organizations, among which SCI, are backing the campaign both through further campaigning and going deeply in the study of ENEL investment plans. In the meanwhile, a study of the project’s impact on environment is being undertaken and HydroAysén emissaries are playing havoc trying to get their hands on private land and upsetting local communities social dynamics.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Report from the Bonn1 Meeting
of the UN Climate negotiations process

Side Event on the role of Civil Society

The latest session of the climate negotiations just concluded late on Sunday night (11/04) after three days of negotiations focused on procedural issues. This meeting of the parties to the UN Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) was the first to take place since the COP15 in Copenhagen. The main objective of this unusually short session was to consider how to move the negotiations forward from the confused situation that they were in.

SCI hosted a side event for the Youth constituency on the role of civil society with the objective of discussing the perspective of different stakeholders. Despite the rather awkward timing of the event (Saturday, 9pm!), a variety of participants spent ninety minutes discussing the importance of the participation of civil society in the UNFCCC process and the role of partnerships and cooperation between the different groups of stakeholders.

Christiana Figueres* from the Costa Rican government delegation accepted our invitation and brought highly valuable input to the discussion. We invited Ms. Figueres due to the fact that Costa Rica has been, in the past, very supportive of the role of civil society and youth at the climate negotiations. This is not to mention the position of her country as one of the very few true leaders in climate action. Christiana has played a role in the negotiations for about 15 years and thus was able to share with us her valuable insights on the place and role of civil society. After having described the role of young people in relation to the negotiating position of Costa Rica, she called on youth to become more active in the integral stage of the definition of the national negotiating positions.

Other participants at the event – representing different groups of stakeholders such as the trade unions, the local governments, the gender caucus, the secretariat of the UNFCCC and another governmental delegation supportive of youth participation (Switzerland) – shared their visions on the key added values of civil society participation. Increased legitimacy and transparency in the process and the possibility to remind negotiators of the true consequences of the lack of political leadership were mentioned several times among other elements such as the opportunity to build the capacity of tomorrow’s leaders and the fact that the presence of youth in particular “humanize” the negotiation process. The second part of the discussion addressed the question of the cooperation between the delegates representing different groups from the civil society at the negotiations. We agreed that, while cooperation is already taking place to a certain extent, there is a huge opportunity to increase this work and to benefit from a more diverse approach to our presence at the UNFCCC sessions and outside of the official negotiation process.

The side event concluded with a challenge launched by Ms. Figueres to the youth delegates: to work through the year in order to ensure that at least 50% of the governmental delegations include a youth representatives during the next Climate Conference in Cancun. Will we be able to rise to this challenge?

Sebastien (

*Christiana Figueres is one of the candidates to replace Yvo De Boer as Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. We welcome the application for this position by qualified and committed leaders, such as Ms. Figueres, and wish her luck.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cochabamba Caput Mundi

Starts today in Cochabamba – Bolivia – the World People's conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth convoked by Evo Morales after the failed meeting held last December in Copenhagen.

Over 90 governmental delegations coming from the five continents will be attending as well as about 15 thousand delegates. Among them, Nobel prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the journalist and researcher Naomi Klein, the French farmer Josè Bove, the president of the United Nation General Assembly Miguel D'Escoto … And for the closing day, presidents Morales, Chavez, Correa, and Lugo will join the conference too.

This world conference is a major moment of debate for the 170 countries represented, but not only for them: for the first time ever, social groups, the academic world and governments will gather together to analyse and elaborate solutions to the climate change issue. What is expected by these days of confrontation is a shared position to be upheld in Cancun at the upcoming COP16. Core issues faced will be approval of the Universal Declaration of Mother Earth rights, the proposal for a climate justice tribunal, a world referendum on climate change, and the request to recognize the climate debt of northern countries towards the world south.

Following the 17 working groups:
- Structural Causes
- Harmony with Nature
- Mother Earth Rights
- Referendum
- Climate Justice Tribunal
- Climate Migrants
- Indigenous Peoples
- Climate Debt
- Shared Vision
- Kyoto Protocol
- Adaptation
- Financing
- Technology Transfer
- Forests
- Dangers of Carbon Market
- Action Strategies
- Agricolture and Food Sovereignty

The event starts in quite an important date for Bolivia: 10 years since the war on water when Cochabamba people started a mass mobilization against water privatization managing to have back water as a common resource. Moreover, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth will end on April, 22nd: right on the Earth date. There’s no better omen!

Follow the conference on

Friday, April 9, 2010

I am a canary, you are a canary, we all are canaries of eco-crises …

In 1995 Ismail Serageldin, vice-president of the World Bank made a statement about future wars. He said that as XX century wars has been fought for the control of oil, the XXI century ones will be fought for water.

After the GAIA seminar and after the march we took part, I couldn’t but think about the issue. I mean, the ring should bell in everybody’s mind every few hours for water is such a common sight in our life: still in a glass, running from the tap, boisterous in the toilet, tickling under the shower … water is just so present and so necessary.

According to Water Wars by Vandana Shiva, water conflicts have two sides. The first is the real war fought at regional or national level . Often – and reading the book you’ll find many cases – political violence stems from control of scarce water resources.

The second one is paradigmatic. On one front we find cultures valuing water as something sacred, something that must be preserved and duly shared, a human as well as an ecological need. On the other, we find the entrepreneurial culture of greed, privatization, and appropriation of common resources. And if we want to give a face to these two opposed worldviews we find a multitude of local communities willing to retain water as a common, vital resource fighting back to a global government trying impose elite rule through the WTO, the NAFTA, the World Bank, the FMI …

I guess we all know where to stand, but to have a clearer, more informed idea read the book or have a look at this interview by Vandana Shiva.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Be wary of fairy tales …

Mostly with no straight connection, the topic of straw bale houses was repeatedly touched during the seminar. For
example, envisioning the perfect green work camp one of us had the image of a straw bale dorm. Then, it was not easy to explain that straw houses do exist and, notwithstanding the fairy tales bias of getting them down with a blow, they are actually safe, solid and very ecological.

In fact, many are the strengths of straw bale construction, a technique which is getting more and more widespread in the United States and in Great Britain. Made with a "waste" material such as straw, these houses have a very high energy efficiency in as much they keep an optimal heat insulation. According to, a straw bale wall is about three times as efficient as conventional framing: over thirty years, it means a 75% reduction of energy costs and connected natural resources.

An often raised concern is fire. However, materials laboratories report that a plastered straw bale structure has proven to be exceptionally resistant to fire. In these tests, the flames took more than two hours to penetrate the plastered bale walls while conventional framing took only 30 minutes to one hour to burn: “due to their tight compaction, bales contain very little oxygen and thus resist combustion. It’s like trying to burn a phone book”.

Another surprise is that the straw won’t decompose. The reason behind this trick is that organic material needs both water and oxygen to decompose and the right building technique will keep water well out of the structure. To make sure of this, think that bale homes built in the1800’ still exist in Nebraska and Europe. Quoting again from, “straw bale homes have consistently withstood severe weather and wind in Wyoming as well as major earthquakes in CaliforniaMany architects and engineers consider straw bales to be the ideal “seismic-resistant” building material. In wind tests, bale structures see no movement in a sustained 75 mph gale and only 1/16 inch movement with 100 mph gusts”.
And what about pests? Pests are more of an imagined concern than a real threat. If straw bales are properly plastered there is no way for bugs and rodents to get in. And if pest were to find their way in, they would find it almost impossible to move in the densely packed bales. Amazingly, termites and other pests pose more of a problem to conventional construction than they do to straw bale structures.As you just read, straw bale houses are not just eco-friendly, energy efficient, sound proof, and solid. They are stunningly beautiful as well and they can have many different shapes. However, If you have never seen them, it's quite of an imagination stretching exercise!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Think Outside the Sink!

We were among the 200.000 marching against water privatization yesterday.
We joined the parade half way through and we could see the colourful flow slowly moving down via Cavour. Luckily, we jumped in right where a circus like sumba band was filling up the air with energy.
The march was attended by loads and loads of people because of the paramount importance of the issue: 7/10 of our body is water, we need it to live and water simply cannot be a good and it must remain a common resourced publicly managed. The issue was transverse and international as some of the participants of the seminar stretched: all over the world the trend to privatize common resources is getting stronger and stronger.

It was a pleasure to see such an amount of people manifesting their ideas in a strong, yet funny and amusing way. So … people up there in government ranks and management departments, we have a message for you: “we are watching you, we won’t allow you to make a profit out of our invaluable common resources!”

Just one day after is the World Water Day! Get to know about what was happening and to gather interesting materials on this topic visit the
UN Water web page. And there is a surprise present for this occasion: new episode of "The Story of Stuff" series: "The Story of Bottled Water" - watch it and make your commitment for this special day and further!