Monday, December 21, 2009

The People of the Planet v's the Politicians: How to turn a bad COP into a good COP

So the climate negotiations are over. The end result was a 3 page document, now named the Copenhagen Accord (not a Treaty because it is non-binding, it states a few principles to "take note of") which no country has signed up to in any event. In other words, it has no lawful authority or standing at all, it is a mere statement of vague intent. Arguably this is a crime against the planet (a sin of omission, you might say) and against all those who live within, upon and on it.

Compare this to how an international genocide case would be addressed (the abuse here being the equivalent - let us call it Planet Earth genocide, or for short: terracide). This is a case for the International Criminal Court, which is where genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are heard. For our purposes, the ICC powers have now been extended to address terracide as well (for we accept that damage and death of the planet means damage and death of many species, including humans, who are dependent upon the survival of planet life). The case has been brought on behalf of The People of the Planet against their heads of state who we claim have failed to take action to stop the terracide.

Counsel for the various heads of states (the heads of state are vicariously liable for those who have been perpetrators of terracide on their patch of the planet), present to the court an unsigned piece of paper proposing a suggested outcome - only none have signed it. The judge points out that an unsigned document is not an outcome that a court of law can accept. It is a comprehensive failure to negotiate and moreover the listed terms of (non)agreement are on the face of it unacceptable. And so it is that The Peoples case for Planet Earth shall be immediately listed for trial to be heard on the earliest possible date.

Meanwhile, in the world arena of political posturing, with no judge to take control of the situation, proceedings have been adjourned for the 15th time over 15 years, with no set date put in place. Interim measures have proven to be utterly ineffectual and the terracide of our planet continues unabated....

.....Friday night through to the small hours of Saturday I was holed up in the aptly named Fresh Air Centre.

It is the hub for the alternative reporters - the bloggers, the independents, the green journos, the non-mainstream voices; the ones seeking to report the truth, not just the hot air. I say this informedly after witnessing propaganda news coming out of the likes of CNN (distraction news: continual reporting on how bad China's pollution is) and on local Danish news (false news: how the Danish PM had saved the day).

We sat there digesting the live streaming of Obama's press statement from the airbase before he headed home and the subsequent responses from the Bella Centre from the other Heads of State. Only, the streaming was constantly cut, and in the end we were left with very little from any nation. Our sources in the Bella Centre were faring no better, and although they were there literally outside the negotiation room, they were unable to access any more information. Those out on the streets (this was now 2am) who earlier had gone to march in protest had all been rounded up under the newly imposed preventative powers of the police (paranoia powers: if in doubt, spray pepper gas and arrest anyone acting suspiciously). Hundreds were left seated outside on the cold ground, handcuffed and held there through the night (presumably until the negotiators had gotten safely to their beds). It was minus 7 degrees outside.

All of this is so wrong.

Why has this all gone so horribly wrong?

3 issues come to the fore. Barak Obama in his final statement touched on the same three points that cut to the crux of the problem.

As counsel acting on behalf of the people of the planet, I present an emergency application for remedial steps to be imposed in time for the next COP.

The Peoples Reasons:

1. The system as it currently stands does not work. As has been demonstrated with the comprehensive failure of the 187 ratified parties to uphold the binding Kyoto Agreement, it is pointless to sign up to any type of new agreement, especially an even weaker non-binding one.

2. Utter lack of transparency of proceedings. In these climate negotiations, we have evidence that documents were suppressed and meetings held behind closed doors. We call for full and frank disclosure to be implemented so that everybody knows what is happening and we can collectively come to informed decision making. We call for any information which is of potential assistance to be publicly disclosed all to scrutinise. If pertinent and relevant, concealment of evidence and process cannot be an option.

3. There has been a complete disintegration of trust. Accusations of secret meetings, the implementation and use of excessive policing laws, the ousting of NGO's - all this and more bear the hallmark scars of the collapse of trust. It is pertinent to remember that the politicians and heads of state are there to represent us, the people.

The Peoples Proposals:
1. Change the approach from business as usual to rapid transition.
a) Instead of market provision agreements, implement binding international public trust doctrine law. This would ensure a shift from business opportunities being put first to planet protection being foremost, with direct responsibility and protection provisions implemented which identify duties and obligations. Mechanisms for restorative and ecological justice can then be put in place which if ignored are actionable in a court of law;
b) cut the damaging subsidies ($300 billion per annum which props up the fossil fuel industry), replacing them with emergency subsidies for the rapid roll-out of clean energy solutions (with each nation putting in place the required emergency legislation to facilitate this);
c) replace the word sustainability with responsibility in all documents.

2. Change the procedure from hidden to transparent.
Transparency and accountability procedures be implemented at all levels. The onus will be on the UN to give full and frank disclosure of all proceedings. Any information which is of potential assistance shall be disclosed all to scrutinise. In a court of law the onus is on the defendant to ensure that all procedures and all documents in the negotiation process are open to public scrutiny at all times. This must be the norm for the UN. Closed door meetings be banned. Specific application will have to be heard to determine whether there is exceptional reason for public interest immunity to apply, with right to appeal.
a) all negotiators to be under the age of 40 - they are the ones who are going to have to live through the outcome;
b) all negotiations are filmed live for real-time public access;
c) the public who are in attendance at the COP will be given the ability to vote on issues as they arise to give real-time indicators of their views into the process to assist with negotiations;
d) all leaders make themselves available to their people at some point during the COP to account for their progress.

3. Establish trust between our leaders and between the politicians and people.
This will be achieved in part by implementation of the above suggestions, but more steps are required:
a) banish the 3 tier system (negotiators = participants, NGO's = observers, the remainder are excluded) and treat all who attend as participants;
b) de-criminalise the process. Cancel the police powers which alienate the process;
c) ensure gender balance at all levels - 51% of the world is female, but 96% of the negotiators at top level are male. With more female input we would have a better balance of proposed solutions
d) provide for, listen to and act upon the voice of the people - those who come with wisdom, the indigenous voice, the activists, those who have travelled to the negotiations out of the personal agenda that they care for the planet and want to find an equitable solution. All voices be fully acknowleged and embraced, not marginalised;
e) ensure enough time for negotiations and for rest. Leaders allocating just 2 days to the process has proven to be useless. Decisions made on 48 hours worth of concentrated sleep deprived negotiations lead to desperate and misplaced responses (as COP 15 demonstrated);
f) implement and subsidise supportive mechanisms that are required on a basic level: sustenance and nourishment for all, intellectually, physically and spiritually. For example, more events be open to the public online and on ground to demystify the various aspects of the process (the People's Climate Summit to be implemented at each COP with even more accessibility to all, with more voices being heard from all arenas), good affordable fresh organic food (too many activists were starving by the end of the fortnight due to exhorbitant basic living expenses), more host family support (5,000 people stayed with host families in Copenhagen), massages for participants...

4. The next COP be in 6 months.
Such is the urgency of the problem, a year is too long to wait to begin again - six months should be the absolute latest. When all of the above is implemented, then we will hear Barak Obama and all our leaders making a speech worthy of a standing ovation.

With enormous thanks to all the people of the planet who helped with their proposals for a good COP. Together we can make this happen. Sign up to become a Trustee of Planet Earth here

Friday, December 18, 2009

Become a Trustee of Planet Earth

Last year I addressed the Untied Nations on the need for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights. One year on and Bolivia is now going to run with this idea. This week I am in Copenhagen for the Climate negotiations, but they look set to collapse. So, today I am launching a Planet Earth Trust for us the people to sign up to. Help me, with many millions of others, find the solution for life of all beings.

The planet is our capital asset and we the people have a responsibility to ensure that this asset is protected, not exploited. We can do that by being trustees for the planet. When humanity becomes the trustee of the planet and holds the asset in perpetuity for use of all beings, as guided by the principles, life is assured for us all.

This is a Planet Earth Trust, in which we the people are Trustees and All Beings are the Beneficiaries. Become a Trustee at

COP 15 a cop-out?

I am currently in Copenhagen for the International Climate negotiations, and everything hangs on a balance today, the last day. Here is some information on what I have been saying and doing whilst here. You can also watch much of what I am up to at Positive TV

Yesterday George Monbiot and I called on COP15 to become accountable and transparent to the people. I asked for the next COP to provide real-time video streaming of the negotiations, not that the politicians remain behind closed doors. I also called for a referendum by the people. Bolivia has been brave enough to run with this idea today! You can have your say by answering the following questions on their website


h3. 1) Do you agree with reestablishing harmony with nature while recognizing the rights of mother earth? YES or NO

h3. 2) Do you agree with changing this model of over-consumption and waste that represents the capitalist system? YES or NO

h3. 3) Do you agree that developed countries reduce and reabsorb their domestic greenhouse gas emissions for temperature not to rise more than 1 degree Celsius? YES or NO

h3. 4) Do you agree with transferring all that is spent in wars and for allocating a budget bigger than that used for defense to climate change? YES or NO

h3. 5) Do you agree with a Climate Justice Tribunal to judge those who destroy Mother Earth? YES or NO

Click here

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Planetary Slavery alive and well in Copenhagen

3 days left of this year's COP 15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, and negotiations are at stalemate. The voice of the people is loud - but the problem is you can only really hear it 1 mile or so down the road from the Bella Centre, where the official negotiations are taking place, in Klimaforum, where the People's Climate Summit resides. It's a bit like the Edinburgh Festival - the more innovate stuff happens on the fringe. So it's become the people v's the politicians: the former is to be found downtown in old warehouses and a public gymnasium in the red light district, the latter is outside the city housed in a sterile conference centre surrounded by maximum security (I know - I failed to get in to hear a side event last week).

There was a small chink of light. This year a climate express train ran from London to Copenhagen with select invited peoples such as various UN Climate Ambassadors (Roz Savage), film makers (Age of Stupid), some UN bods, loads of press (from Treehugger to Die Welt) - and me. So, I had a chance to have a private audience with Achim Steiner of UNEP - an opportunity I would not have so easily stepped into otherwise, but few of the 100,000 who marched on the streets on Saturday will ever have the chance to burn his ear.

COPs are remarkable events. It works like this: inner circle are the negotiators and the country reps - they are the participants. Then you have the NGO's - they have observer status (quite literally as well as metaphorically, the NGO's are on the periphery of the negotiations) - they are both housed out at Bella. Back in town there are a host of others - lobbyists (650 oil lobbyists are reported to be in Copenhagen) of all hues, activists, organisers and particpants of the coinciding conferences, topical shows, exhibitions, speaker events, films, food, reports, workshops and the best ever flamenco.

These are the conclusions I have reached whilst here:

We must stop treating the planet as a business.
Our legal basis for all environmental protection is failing to protect the planet. Instead, it is clear that the environment rarely benefits - rather it is only business that really benefits. The COP negotiations are proving to be little more than a profit making machine, with money to be made by trading and power being vested in privatised and/or governmental entities. If we used the internationally recognised (and simple to implement) Public Trust Doctrines of law to protect the planet we would have a true and effective system of governance. But the problem is too many people at the COP negotiation table believe that the only way forward is to treat the planet as a business. This is despite the fact that we actually have the legal mechanisms we require to protect the planet - but they are not being used.

If the politicians are not going to stop the trading, we the people will have to demand it.
Last week, Bolivia offered to present the People's suggestions into COP15. What was remarkable was the convergence of belief that the group had. The Klimaforum drafting group were 100% adamant that the trading has to stop. We all wanted a) big polluting business to be made illegal, b) fossil fuel subsidies to stop and c) a global fund for restoration by communities to be set up. What we came up with in 9 hours was a far more ambitious proposal than that which the politicians have been drafting for over 15 years. Will Bolivia present the proposals made by the people?

Replace Sustainability with Responsibility.
The REDD negotiations have been stalling due in part because of the inability to define sustainability - it is a word that causes more problems than solutions. Replace sustainability with responsibility and the outcome is vastly different and vastly improved. When we stop perceiving the planet as a business but instead take responsibility, then we step into the role of stewardship. Step into the realm of stewardship/trusteeship of the planet and responsibilities can be identified and acted upon.

Let the people's voice be heard.
Our political process is not reflecting the reality of those who care. For something this important there is no real democracy. The negotiations happen behind closed doors, security is high, emergency laws are created out of fear to tighten crowd control and the politicians do not hear what the people have to say. There is no proper mechanism for the people to be heard, which in a so-called democratic world is nothing short of an infringement of the human freedom of expression and speech. Rioting is not the answer, but what else remains? Desperate times bring desperate measures. Politicians, I ask you all, let us speak, listen to what we have to say and then act on our behalf.

Hopenhagen or Nopenhagen?


As I write this, we are down to three days here at the Copenhagen climate talks. And I am afraid to say that there is almost no reason to be encouraged. Everybody has card to put on the table but no one is playing.

Actually, not everybody has cards. The Least Developed Countries, the poorest of the poor, and the Association of Small Island States, also mostly poor, have little to offer beyond their presence. Their emissions are so small they can offer little in the way of mitigation. They come asking for help to adapt as weather patterns change, storms grow and seas rise. They are being offered a tiny fraction of what economists say they will need. The only card they have to play is to pack up and leave, refusing to sign on to a national suicide pact. Their presence here is now on a hair trigger.

To gain some influence in the talks, they are aligned with a large group of developing countries that goes by the name of the G77. Other than the poorest countries, this group includes what have become known as the BASIC countries. Those letters (kind of) stand for the names of the biggest of the emerging economies. Brazil, South Africa, India and China are most prominent. These countries have emissions profiles that are distinctive for a combination of four factors. They are a significant portion of current global emissions and they represent a large portion of future emissions growth, but they do not represent a significant proportion of historic emissions and their per capita emissions levels are far below the developed world. Each of these countries has made significant pledges to slow the growth of their emissions, but refuse to set limits on growth for economies that includes hundreds of millions of people that still live below income levels of two dollars per day.

Distinctive among this group is China, now the world’s largest emitter, right behind the U.S. Largest emitter and greatest source of emissions growth, but relatively small in terms of historic emissions and per capita emissions. Chinese emissions are still one-quarter of the U.S per person. The U.S. has made China the prime target of these talks. China has proposed to reduce its emissions intensity– the amount of carbon emitted per unit of economic activity -- by 40-45% by 2020. That is a significant contribution. If implemented and assuming the U.S. gets one of the bills now before Congress passed and implemented, China will still have emissions less than half per person in the U.S. in 2020. But the U.S. is pushing measurement, reporting and verification of that promise. China is resisting throwing its economy open to outside review. I hope China will move on this issue, but it is certain they will not move before others, especially until the U.S. puts more on the table.

There is one last group of G77 countries. They are largely oil producers led by Saudi Arabia. For the most part they are here to stop anything from happening to the oil industry. They are not afraid to take undisguised action to slow or stop the process. In the end though, they don’t have enough power alone to sink these talks.

First among developed countries is the European Union. The EU is perhaps the most transparent group here. But their pledge of 20% reduction from 1990 levels is not what it seems. The EU moves as a bloc of countries and includes Eastern European countries that had high post-Soviet emissions in 1990. Many of those countries are significantly below those levels now, allowing other EU countries higher emissions while still claiming overall reductions. But the EU is likely to move to a 30% reduction if other developing countries move further.

Of course the meaning of 30% depends on how you count. The biggest factor on counting is international offsets. Those currently come in the form of financing projects in other countries for the benefit of emission reduction credits. A new deal could significantly expand these offsets while also including a bunch of new credits from forestry projects in developing countries. My biggest worry for the last month has been that some kind of weak forest deal will get done here and be sold to the public as saving the forest to save the climate. So far what is on the table on forests is largely a greenwash for covering up general inaction.

After the EU comes a group of developed countries called the Umbrella Group, including Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. These countries are a mixed bag. Canada is horrible and claims it is horrible because the U.S. is horrible. Russia is sitting on a load of hot air. That is the term for the emissions credits based on those higher 1990 levels that I talked about earlier. Russia can claim to reduce emissions about 40% below 1990 levels while nonetheless actually increasing emissions and selling that hot air to polluting countries. Japan under its new government might have a reasonable plan on the table but has been obstructive in negotiations. Australia and New Zealand embrace the general lack of ambition.

So it is clear, given this lack of action on the part of the rich countries that caused the climate problem in the first place, why developing countries say they need to see the rich countries move before they do.

Which brings me to the U.S. We are now proposing to reduce emissions a miserable 3-4% below 1990 levels. We have put no solid numbers on the table to help developing countries mitigate their emissions or adapt to the problem we helped create. We generally advocate for the biggest loopholes in the rules. Sometimes we even block proposals that everyone except OPEC supports. And we seem to be saying that we won’t do anything more, especially without China doing more. It is embarrassing to be an American at talks like these. I am incapable of defending my country’s actions.

What is especially frustrating is that about half of the biggest, richest environmental groups from the U.S. continue to back the U.S. negotiating position. They are like a broken record that argues that we can’t take strong action in Copenhagen because then the Senate will be scared off from passing a climate bill in the U.S. Arrgh! People used to say we needed a strong bill in the Senate to get a strong deal in Copenhagen. Now we are hearing we need a weak agreement in Copenhagen to get any bill in the Senate at all.

So it is easy to see why I say there is almost no reason to be encouraged. Almost no reason. Let me point out the cracks of light. First, other than the elites that run the show here, the world largely supports strong action on an international climate deal. The hundred thousand or so in the streets here on Saturday was just one example. Next the people I work with everyday are tireless, fierce and refuse to take no for an answer. It is almost impossible of believe that this level of dedication can fail. And finally, a solution is in the hands of one man who can change everything.

President Obama could come here and unlock a deal that is fair, ambitious and legally binding. He could instruct negotiators to stop creating loopholes and blocking honest progress. He could commit to go beyond the weak levels proposed in the current bills before Congress. He could pledge to raise funds to help the world’s most vulnerable adapt to a problem that was created by our American lifestyles of consumption. He could sign up to a deal that has real consequences for the failure to meet commitments.

The amount of goodwill that would be unlocked in the world from the result of such action would be like a flood. So many people are waiting for leadership. There is a vast ocean of positive action held back by a dam of fear and self-interest. The kind of deal the world needs is all on paper right now in brackets; it simply needs to be released from those brackets, to be agreed. The leaders of 110 countries are arriving already. Everybody necessary to tackle this greatest of all problems head on will be in the same city on the same day with the same purpose. This can still happen.

When so many people all want the same thing and their leaders fail to deliver, it rocks my faith in democracy to the core. But I am not a quitter. Let me try one more time. Let’s give this guy one more chance to really be different. We effectively have three more days there in the U.S. to ask for what we want. So I am going to ask you to help.

I know, it seems like such a weak response to such a big problem, but let’s at least try. Let’s try everything we can to get the message to Obama that we want real leadership on this issue. Many of you have been asking me if you can share my emails. I am not only giving you permission to share or publish this email anywhere you want. I am asking you to please do so. Please share this email with anyone you think might care.

Then I am asking you to make that one phone call a day until this deal is done – White House switchboard – 1-202-456-1111. “President Obama, please show real leadership on the climate issue, not just a greenwash deal. Deepen our cuts, put long-term funding on the table and stop waiting for other countries to go first. Prove that America is the world leader we always claim.”

Again, I know it is a small effort on such a big problem, a forwarded email and three one-minute phone calls. But don’t let its small nature stop you. The Earth needs people who care more than ever. Rare moments in history arise when the way forward appears as a fork in the road. We’ll never know what might have or failed to have tipped the balance.

Please give a little push with me.

Tim Ream
15 December, 2009