Last year large areas of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, were underwater and on the verge of being evacuated. Fast forward nine months and the capital is now host to the latest United Nations conference on climate change from 30 August to 5 September, talks which are also entering deep water. The outcome could determine whether or not the Kyoto protocol sinks or swims and with it many flood prone countries around the world.
The 2011 floods in Thailand were the worst in 50 years and afterwards Thailands Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawtra, said “We need to learn a lesson from the big flood last year”. That lesson is that once rare and extreme weather events associated with climate change are now increasingly becoming a part of everyday life for many vulnerable people around the world.
In the case of Thailand the floods claimed over 800 lives, directly affected over 2.5 million people and cost the insurance industry an estimated $20 billion. It is a salutory lesson that the 164 delegates from around the world attending the Bangkok conference would do well to remember as they negotiate the agenda for the next round of climate talks in Qatar in November in their working groups and round table discussions.
Although the conference is not decision making, over the next week they will discuss a range of important issues from extending the existing Kyoto protocol which runs out at the end of the year to a detailed work plan for a legally binding climate change agreement post 2020. Also at stake are whether developed countries who not a signatory to Kyoto will adopt stringent targets, the role that developing countries should play in climate mitigation and funding new forms of climate finance including the Green Climate Fund.
I’m covering the talks on behalf of Practical Action and am lobbying the delegates to attend an event we have organised at the climate talks in Qatar on 28 November. Entitled “learning the lessons from flooding in climate adaptation” it will highlight the work that Practical Action is doing around the world with flooding victims in countries from Bangladesh to Peru. For many of them climate change is already a reality and whatever the outcome at Qatar, putting serious money into climate adaptation measures over the next few years will be critical.
Elizabeth Kitchen, who works for the Department of Energy and Climate Change and is representing the UK at the talks, is confident of a deal at Qatar. She said ” We will get an 8 year deal to extend the Kyoto protocol, then we can concentrate on the real challenge of getting a legally binding long term deal post 2020″.
Her optimism is not shared by all the delegates. In the plenary session Nauru representing the Alliance of Small Island States or the 44 countries whose very survival depends on getting an outcome said “We have three months left to deliver a Kyoto plus outcome. It cannot be window dressing or full of accounting tricks and conditionality. Kyoto runs out on the 1st of January 2013. But there are still so many unresolved issues from ambition to the length of commitment period”.
The meeting at Bangkok will be critical to ironing out those details. A failure to do so will result in the Kyoto protocol being buried in the sand in Qatar.
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