Durban Climate Talks Highlight Agreement, Not Negotiation

As thousands of Occupy COP 17 demonstrators protested the injustice of climate change and slow progress of governments to do something about it, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), addressed the crowd last Friday. “Do more than you think you can do, and then do more,” she summoned those gathered outside the COP 17 headquarters, where delegates negotiated agreements on greenhouse gas limits. There was something refreshing about an event organizer encouraging discourse. “>See CSRwire article

By chance, Christiana’s brother, José María Figueres, past President of Costa Rica (1994–1998), was passing through the raucous crowd with me and Peter Boyd, President of Carbon War Room, an organization founded by Richard Branson and others to harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change. We encountered human rights leader Mary Robinson, the seventh President and first female President of Ireland (1990–1997) on her way to the COP 17 conference center, who congratulated the protesters for their passion and support. After all, it is the residents of Planet Earth whom the negotiators are fighting for behind closed doors.

This was the first of many uplifting encounters here in Durban, where thousands of innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and government officials are earnestly exploring new ways to create commerce while showing new respect for our planet, and for one another. As an American from the least popular country here at COP 17, it has been a humbling experience. I’ve had to answer a lot of questions like, “Are you sleeping?” It’s evident we are missing the boat when it comes to capitalizing on the emergence of new business opportunities with the rest of the world. How many Americans really want to sit back collecting unemployment and watch the world go by? Though I came here to look closer at the injustice of climate change, it was hard at first not to notice the clean tech deal flows, funds and jobs going to other countries here, and find even that unfair. Have Americans let fossil fuel lobbying, media brainwashing, right-wing fanaticism, subsidy corruption and campaign financing keep us out of the game? That, however, is another story.

Populations, of all species, afflicted by climate change and other environmental ailments are most certainly at the wrong place at the wrong time in history. Injustice runs rampant on this planet of finite resources: resource hoarding, dynamic physical forces and the destruction of so much by so few. Homo sapiens don’t have a balance with nature and we suffer from that, and so do the other species that call this planet home. Disparities among peoples, genders, generations, geographies and species can’t be fixed at COP 17.

But here, you find a lot of very smart people who want to give it a go. The common denominator we all share is the will to survive. Nobody is arguing that we need clean air and water, healthy food and a safe place to live—and most now agree on access to clean energy. Taking that further, most experts agree to the urgent need for a new, low-carbon economy with green infrastructures, more innovative thinking, technology transparency, project implementation, conservation, economic stimulus and funding mechanisms to correct our course. Like the winners and losers in a carbon economy, there will be winners and losers in the low-carbon economy. Some people will get rich. But, overall, fewer will get sick.

At COP 17, you don’t find people who won’t acknowledge that atmospheric carbon overloading is cooking us and causing all kinds of other problems. Those people must have stayed home. Embarrassingly, many of them are in the U.S.A. We try not to think about them, though the need for better communication in science is a hot topic. Groups toss around ideas like positive vs. negative messaging, how much information is too much or too little. What’s the public tipping point for doom and gloom, and how do you combat ignorance? You could hold up five fingers to some people and they’d only see four no matter what you say. They might even see three. It’s exasperating, but we need to move beyond that and work together with all those people who see what’s in front of them—science. There’s a sense of community here at COP 17 about moving on from the believer/non-believer argument to focus on fair and equitable solutions to a stressed-out planet.

I don’t see much promise at COP 17 for the winners of the industrial revolution to pay the losers for their trouble anytime soon. It is evident the one resource we have not depleted is the kindness of the human heart. Governments, foundations and businesses are springing forward to make sure this new, low-carbon economy creates prosperity among the most vulnerable people on Earth.

About Martha Shaw

Martha Shaw is a contributing writer for CSRwire covering clean technology and other topics. Martha has been named an Adweek Creative All Star and is the winner of international awards in communications. She is a member of the Climate Literacy Network, Fellow of the Explorers Club, board member of NYSES and CEO of Earth Advertising.

This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers’ community and expresses this author’s views alone.

Readers: Can the Durban climate talks flip the switch from talk to action? Weigh in on Talkback!

US and Canadian Youth Demand Generational Justice

The U.S. youth at the climate talks are making a big play for justice on behalf of their generation during the last days of COP 17, claiming that the U.S. negotiators are putting their futures at risk.

Abigail Borah, a student from Middlebury College interrupted lead U.S. negotiator Todd Stern’s concluding plenary speech on Thursday, pinpointing members of the U.S. Congress for impeding the progress of the summit. She also made a passionate plea to her government leaders to join the rest of the world in a fair and binding treaty.

Claiming that she was speaking on behalf of her country, Borah said that the negotiators themselves “cannot speak on behalf of the United States of America” because “the obstructionist Congress has shackled a just agreement and delayed ambition for far too long.”

Borah was ejected after completing her speech to voracious rounds of applause from the entire plenary of global leaders.

Ready for Change

Her actions, however aggressive, reflect the growing feeling of injustice among educated American youth who feel that their leaders have turned a blind eye to the facts at the expense of their own future on this planet. Afraid that each step of inaction will force them to suffer the worsening climate challenges that previous generations have been unable or unwilling to address, they are resorting to disruption.

Their list of complains isn’t restricted to inaction.

They also hold the U.S. responsible for foul play and claim that a few outspoken and misdirected Congress members, who continue to successfully hijack negotiations, are blocking progress. This has put off urgent pollution reduction targets until the year 2020, jeopardizing billions.

(Lack of) Public Activism

Some of them also believe that the American public is not outspoken enough. Mind you, these are kids seem to have done their homework: Overwhelmingly conclusive research shows that waiting until 2020 to begin aggressive emissions reduction will likely cause irreversible damage and suffering to the world they will inherit, including destruction of air and water, more severe weather patterns, worsening droughts, devastation to American communities, and a dismal outlook for the American economy.

“2020 is too late to wait,” urged Borah.

Earlier in the week, the head of the European Parliament’s delegation to the summit Jo Leinen expressed his frustration by the stalemate, also referred to by another official as a “ping-pong game” between the U.S. and China that is unacceptable and intolerable.

Leinen, who chairs the European Parliament’s environmental committee, noted that China had for the first time indicated that it might be willing to take on binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – but only after 2020. However, he did not see any such commitment from the U.S. “The one is not yet ready, and the other is not willing,” Leinen said.

On Borrowed Time

Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, argues that “the Cancun commitments, and the ones made at Copenhagen (in 2009) cover 80 percent of global emissions and while they are not legally binding, they are politically and morally binding.”

Yet, the U.S. youth at COP17 claim that they are inheriting a big mess.

“An impossible burden is being put upon us,” says MJ Shiao, who is 26 years old and is a member of the youth delegation SustainUS. He thinks the U.S. operates on fear-driven politics rather than science and solutions.

“They are borrowing time at the expense of my generation. If we don’t peak our emissions in the next five years, what are we supposed to do? The main thing is that we just want to have a fighting chance by the time we are in positions of leadership.”

Canadian youth also made their presence felt at COP17 with several getting ejected earlier this week as Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent delivered his opening address. Just as Kent began his speech, six stood and turned away from the Minister revealing the message “Turn your back on Canada” prominently displayed on their shirts. These young people have challenged their leaders’ negotiation strategies, the close relationship between Canada’s climate policy and dirty fossil fuels, and the lobbying to lower fuel quality regulations to allow the expansion of the Alberta tar sands.

At COP 17, climate injustice is being addressed from all sides, including gender, race, geography, poverty, and the rights of nature itself.

The world’s youth are recognizing the magnification within their lifetime of all of the above, which is denying them the kind of world that has been enjoyed by those making — or not making — the decisions.

There might be hope. COP president, South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane assured that COP 17 would involve younger delegations. Already, more than 150 of them have been accredited. “The decisions we make today will not affect us, you will inherit that legacy,” she emphasized.

And the nearly 200 countries at COP17 have reached a deadline to broker a deal on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Connie Hedegaard, European climate change commissioner, says that countries unwilling to make commitments for the years to come are taking on ‘an almost unbearable responsibility’ for consequences that are sure to prove catastrophic.

Readers: Will the U.S. youth’s activism be enough to nudge the status quo?

Women on the road to Rio+20 convene at United Nations CSD-19.

After three days at the 19th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-19), I began thinking about how important women’s leadership is to the tiered mission of Rio+20 also known as Earth Summit 2012 to help create a global green economy, and alleviate poverty.

Over the course of the prep meetings earlier this year, and during CSD-19 this week, it became more clear to me why women need to have more control over the Earth’s resources and the new technologies that can help to provide clean water, clean energy, clean air, and clean agriculture. With more power and training in the hands of women, particularly in developing countries, there will be more jobs for women, healthier communities, more education for girls, and population stabilization. With so much data that proves that women have a better track record for paying back micro-loans (even at higher rates), for protecting resources, and for investing money in their families and communities, it makes sense that empowering women is critical to the Rio+20 mission.

On May 4th, the Democracy and Gender Equality Roundtable was held by UN Women, simultaneous to CSD-19. I was struck by the statistics that show how unrepresented women are in managerial roles in all walks of life, from board rooms to government positions. Worse than I thought actually. Without a seat at the table, women can have no voice. Some of the developing countries where families rule, presented another glitch. In these countries, when women are put in positions of power, it is often as a surrogate of their husbands and fathers. Questions were asked. Is this better or worse?

I was reminded of the t-shirt worn by my friend, Jody Weiss, CEO of Peacemaker “Cause-metics” that reads, “I want my million bucks.” The slogan refers to a factoid she offered that over the course of one’s lifetime, women in the same job make about $1 million dollars less than a comparable man. And Trish Karter, of Dancing Deer Bakery, standing on her head to show how upside down the proportion of women to men on boards is, and why turning this around can make a big difference in the world. One look at the speaker list at energy and oil conferences tells us where the power lies. As an affirmative action baby myself, I know I wouldn’t have gotten my first job as a research diver for the State of California if there wasn’t a quota to fill. But, as an ice diver, I was just as qualified as the male applicants. They just had never considered a woman before. I wondered about where I’d be? In the back office typing memos for my boss?

On Thursday, May 5, I was invited by Osprey Orielle Lake to a Forum hosted by her Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, a gem of a side event beyond the walls of the United Nations, out there past the row of flags where women are collaborating to gain traction around climate change and other environmental issues. Which, incidentally, adversely affect women and children more than men. The Forum focused on global topics around water and food security, with presenters from NGOs and businesses, including my friend Ann Goodman, Executive Director of Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF), Joji Carino of Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre, Donna Goodman, Director of Earth Child Institute, Anita Wenden of International Peace Research Association, and Bridget Burns, Program Director of WEDO – Women’s Environment and Development Organization. This group of impressive women shared stories and strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change.

From there, I was cordially invited to a WEDO reception on Lexington Avenue, and some of us walked there together on what I would call an empowerment high. For me, WEDO was like discovering a treasure trove of international mentors and luminaries. Among other things, these highly educated and talented women have been working for twenty years to ensure that the environmental activities at the UN, benefit by a woman’s touch, or stronghold. Throughout the 1990’s WEDO played a key leadership role to ensure that gender was included in the outcomes of major UN conferences. In 2006, it was recognized with the Champions of the Earth award by UNEP and in 2010, WEDO received the Advocacy Award from the National Council for Research on Women. Their 20th anniversary conference will coincide with Rio+20.

As the event wound down, Elizabeth “Liz” Thompson arrived, the Co-Coordinator of Rio+20. I can say I slept a little easier that night, knowing the Earth was in better hands than I thought.

Where are the green businesses? – a report from United Nations CSD-19

Much of the action at the CSD-19 takes place in informal discussions in the United Nations Lawn Building’s Vienna Café, its lounge areas and during the various side events.

Because the CSD-19 is concentrating on a global green economy, sustainable consumption and production, and related issues, there is more focus on business than ever before.

I was able to catch up with Felix Dodds, Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum. It was a good opportunity to get to the bottom of one topic that has been on my mind lately. That is, how the pioneers, leaders, local enterprises and entrepreneurs of triple bottom line businesses could be included in the process, as the Member States struggle to facilitate a new global green economy. I asked Felix how how green business leaders might help lead the world closer to a global green economy, the goal of Rio+20 in June 2012.

“I think we need to make it more attractive for companies to become involved as we look at the issues through the different lenses of energy, water, agriculture and food security, and cities,” said Felix Dodds. “There are lots of good positive examples where companies are bringing new ideas to the challenges we face.”

“It’s very difficult to represent global businesses in their many different forms. Note that many global organizations that do exist tend to represent multinational corporations. Entrepreneurs and small and medium sized businesses are less represented without an obvious place to have a voice. But, the approach of the UN is not to exclude the others.”

As background, The Working Group at the CSD-19 which represents business, is called Business and Industry. It is comprised presently of three organizations: International Chamber of Commerce International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), International Counceil of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and the United State Council for International Business.

For Rio+20, the UN has cast a wider net. Originally under the direction of Chad Holliday, Chairman of the Board of Bank of America, a group called BASD 2012 was created as a coordinating partner for business, a temporary coalition of business organizations to ensure that the voice of business is heard in Rio. BASD 2012 is a joint initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSD) and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).

So, how can other organizations, like the business supporters and partners of the American Sustainable Business Council, for instance have a voice in the negotiations?

The importance of capturing the triple bottom line vision and perspectives, experiences, ideas, innovations, and policy recommendations of pioneering green business leaders would be an essential contribution to the Earth Summit 2012. The Summit serves as an important opportunity and rallying point for the world community to accelerate and scale-up the transition to a low-carbon, more resource efficient and ecosystem-conserving global green economy. This Guardian article captures both the potential opportunity and possible pitfalls that the Summit represents.

At this juncture, the usual global multinationals, through the various industry associations mentioned, are poised to provide the dominant business perspective and input to the Summit on their vision and recommendations for a transition to the global green economy. What is sorely missing are the lessons and the perspectives of pioneering green business leaders and entrepreneurs who have shown early vision, leadership and commitment to transforming the sustainability of industrial processes:

These companies need to voice and demonstrate that their sustainable ‘green’ business models can drive both the bottom line through consumer demand and the ‘top’ line
through innovation, new markets and new business opportunities.

Felix Dodds suggested that new groups should be welcome to join the dialogue, and noted that The Stakeholder Forum was founded to help stakeholders stay informed and become involved in processes such as Rio+20 do ( ).

As the Commission on Sustainable Development works laboriously for two weeks on a framework and set of principles for a green economy, they are blazing new trails through unknown territory, and are bound to face some resistance from some well-funded entities that might be resistant, because of legitimate restraints in our present system, to letting go of business as usual. It’s going to take all hands on deck, and perhaps a major consciousness shift among both consumers and business. An eco-system in which 20% of the people consume 80% of the resources will collapse quickly. This may be the biggest challenge man has faced in evolution.

In wrapping up our conversation, I asked Felix Dodds, who just published his new book Biodiversity-and Ecosystem Insecurity: A Planet in Peril, what a green economy would look like. “I think that no one understands the green economy yet,” said Mr. Dodds. “There are many components and we must put our heads together.” So, there we have it. A call to action, a call to “create a vision” of what a fair and just economy could look like, and what it will take to build it.

Hoping for the best, or planning for the worst? Business agreements are reached at World Climate Summit in Cancun during COP16.

Hoping for the best, or planning for the worst?
Business agreements are reached at World Climate Summit in Cancun during COP16.

by Martha Shaw

Over 800 business leaders and luminaries from five continents gathered at the inaugural World Climate Summit at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun’s hotel zone to discuss how business can create low carbon markets, despite lack of regulatory support from governments. Meanwhile, several miles down the beach, UNFCCC COP16 delegates from 190 countries were sequestered at the Moon Palace working to agree on a framework to help stave off climate collapse.

Though the hopes for COP16 agreements weren’t high, those of the World Climate Summit business gathering were ‘through the roof.’ And that roof is paved in photovoltaics, lined by rain collectors, sitting atop an energy efficient, non-toxic building not far from a wind turbine, and tied into a local energy grid.

The mood was one of camaraderie and team spirit. Consensus among the CEOs was evident in a unanimous commitment to take drastic measures to reduce their carbon footprints, among other environmental efforts. Attendees also agreed that without a regulatory framework and carbon pricing from the delegates down the beach, it was risky business to finance innovation in a world where petrol and coal is heavily subsidized, and hot new clean energy technologies struggle to see the light of day.

If clean energy could produce just 15-20% of the watts in the electric grid, it would reach the critical mass necessary to create markets that can compete with a dirty energy economy. Yet, getting investment into that group is a bottleneck without conducive policies.

So, where will the leadership come from to lead us out of a crisis wrought with inequalities, in which some countries feel owed something from other countries that got the planet into this mess? As nations face obstacles, consensus is happening at a local level where mayors understand that the private sector has the resources and the entrepreneurial spirit to move the needle. According to talks at the World Climate Summit, the leadership will come from local governments. Working with businesses, cities can show how it’s done. “Cities can do it,” was the rallying cry from this powerful sector, which is more than willing to learn from each other and work together. “Screw it, let’s do it,” was another.

It is predicted that 90% of the world population will be concentrated in cities by the end of the century. Already cities around the world have created models for sustainability out of necessity. Water is being captured and reused, landfill off gasses are being converted to power, and food producers are cropping up in local community gardens in unexpected urban sites.

Attention turned to the shipping industry responsible for transporting goods and supplies around the globe and, oftentimes, leaving oil slicks in their wake and spewing diesel fumes from their tailpipes. Clean tech shipping operations vowed to clean up their act and institute new computerized rating systems for displaying their environmental footprint. Meanwhile, manufacturers made commitments to source more locally.

Participants acknowledged that it is ‘society’ that is bearing the brunt of the world’s dirty fuel economy. Asthma rates in some cities have gone up 500% since 1985. Weather has become extreme. Saltwater is invading coastal buffer zones. Soil is depleted. Already millions of indigenous people have become climate refugees, displaced from their land.

The conversation at the World Climate Summit also turned to women, who hold less than 2-5% of high-level decision-making positions in both government and business, though they are the first to suffer the effect of climate change, along with children. Though underrepresented in the world at large, women at the summit were given the microphone a little more in proportion to their numbers than most events.

Studies presented showed that without women at the table, the world is cooked. At the top of the economic pecking order, companies with women on boards and in executive positions are more prosperous and civil-minded. In the middle of the spectrum, purchasing decisions are overwhelmingly in the hands of women worldwide though earning power for the same jobs still waiver around 60%. At the ground level, lack of education for women and girls is directly correlated to the population explosion of the poor.

Traditional media channels, and new communication technologies that are experiencing exponential growth around the world, were sited at the business summit as an area of opportunity that has yet to be fully tapped in regard to messaging. In a market of sponsored news, the topic turned to how media can foster more public engagement about climate issues. Which media organizations were granted observer and reporting rights at the COP16 itself was of interest to news services, as armed guards screened reporters for credentials at the UNFCCC gateway, called Cancun Messe.

It was agreed at the summit that within the coming months, communication task forces, inside the UN and out, would work together to boost climate literacy, engage business, and help the next generation navigate the inevitable challenges ahead.

At the conclusion of a successful World Climate Summit, businesses who had made the greatest strides toward carbon reduction, waste prevention and other climate-related achievements were honored. Handshakes on new collaborations and partnerships abounded. Attendees agreed unanimously to race ahead toward a clean economy without the framework hoped for from the governments convening down the beach.

It was announced that the 2nd World Climate Summit was already in the works to take place, same time next year, in Durban, South Africa at COP17. For more details about the 2010 World Climate Summit, including the program, speakers, conclusions, announcements, and the coinciding Gigaton Awards, visit

The author, Martha Shaw, is a contributing journalist in the area of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. She founded Earth Advertising and eFlicks Media in 1998 to support the growth of a clean economy. Visit

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