UNFCCC/COP 15 Registration Lines: Not as horrible as you’d think.

I had heard horror stories that the line could take up to two hours to get through, but I made it through in only 45 minutes.  The registration process consisted of showing my passport for identification, stating which group I was with, and then getting in a separate line to have my name and picture printed on a flimsy piece of paper attached to a burgundy lanyard labeled “UNFCCC” (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).  I am very worried that my legendary clumsiness is going to destroy my pass before the end of the week.

While waiting in line I heard various interesting conversations taking place around me—and curiously enough they were all in English, despite that only one man was a native English speaker.  In the coil of the snake-line to my left, an American professor of environmental law was explaining the policy framework behind deforestation on indigenous lands to a young Indian man and woman.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assigns 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions to deforestation, and therefore the development of the REDD program is hoped to offset this major source of climate change.

The United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries Programme (UN-REDD) will give a numerical, monetary value to forests based on their carbon storage capacity—how well they serve as “carbon sinks.”  UN-REDD is “aimed at tipping the economic balance in favor of sustainable management of forests”—in other words, developed countries may have to pay developing countries to reduce emissions caused by deforestation and degradation.

Recent discussions, however, say that this could be detrimental for forest-dependent indigenous communities.  Although REDD could offer support to these communities, many fear that giving monetary value to forests will bring about additional land-grab conflicts if government laws do not recognize the rights of these indigenous communities—which, sad as it is true, occurs in many developing nations around the world where the economic interests of the majority of the population overruns the human rights of the minority.

Behind me, a Chilean-converted-to-Canadian was arguing with a Frenchman about the possible “cap-and-trade” carbon policy.  The Chilean felt that a cap-and-trade system, as attempted by the European Union, would not be sufficient as a stand-alone way to curb climate change, because of the exorbitant amount of “big business” corruption that can occur.  In the cap-and-trade model, each sovereign nation who signs the proposed UN bill would set a baseline amount of carbon dioxide that may be emitted.  Corporations or industrialized countries that emit/pollute more than the “cap” amount must then “trade” carbon credits with other corporations or nations that emit less and have spare credits.

The Frenchman argued that the cap-and-trade policy had not worked in the European Union because it was not strict enough, nor was there a sufficient jurisdiction monitoring the system.  Further, he said, the only way to manage a public good (such as clean air) was to use economic market mechanisms, because often public goods left in the hands of individual governments are neglected.  He then tapped the man standing in front of me, who had claimed to be Danish twenty minutes prior, and asked “Don’t you have a cap-and-trade system here in Denmark?”

“Yes and no,” the Danish man responded.  “We don’t call it that, but it essentially works that way.”

“Do you believe that it works? Or did it fail like the EU cap-and-trade system?”

“Oh yes, it works,” said the Danish man.  They then got into more specifics, and by this time the Chilean agreed that economic models work well for public goods, but that is why a simple cap-and-trade system cannot stand alone.  It must be supplemented, he said, with a carbon taxation policy which would encourage further reductions by big carbon emitters—I think I tend to agree with his dual-model scenario.

In the snake line to my right, I was delighted to hear Spanish being spoken, although I later realized as I eavesdropped that one of the two women speaking was not a native speaker (I think her native language was actually Portuguese).  The Portuguese woman was asking details about the recent UN climate negotiations that had occurred in Barcelona, Spain.


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