Beyond UNFCCC: A Clarion Call for a New Climate Justice Paradigm – By Stanley Ijeoma.

As you read this article, the attention of the whole wide world is already on the city of Warsaw, Poland; venue of what I call the annual “climate reality show” orchestrated on a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] platform, designed specially to facilitate a globally binding climate change mitigating legal framework that would hold governments, organizations and even individuals to a higher level of environmental responsibility and accountability. The cast for this thriller of a Climate Reality Show cuts across scientists, activists, government bureaucrats, industrialists, politicians, journalists and various interest groups -both amorphous and crystalline. The climate debate has assumed some kind of effervescence in the last decade when it dawned on the whole wide world that it was not the fate of some fictional dramatis personae but that of ourselves, children and planet earth that hang in some kind of a dicey balance.

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While I commiserate with the government and people of Philippines for losses and damages of Himalayan proportion that Typhoon Haiyan has brought upon their lives and environment, it is instructive that scientists have already implicated climate change as prime inducer of that a calamity that struck on the eve of the COP19. It is evident that what we call natural disasters might be reactions of mother earth to the wanton breaching of the thresholds of nature –talk of planetary betrayal! As belated efforts are being made, I will not bore you with the wobbling and fumbling of the past climate negotiations but will try to make a case – prompted by the flooding of 2012 that practically brought Nigeria to her knees as well as the recent Typhoon Haiyan; for the exploration of alternative strategic options for developing countries likely to suffer irreversible loss or damage from climate change to obtain redress –away from the rather unfortunate conventional sluggish and insipid UNFCCC driven process.

In very recent years, the possibility of successful international legal reparations for climate change damage has been gaining momentum due to the unfortunate reality of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol making little progress towards limiting climate change, while real time damage to properties and livelihoods as a result of the destructive impacts of climate change continue to occur in vulnerable countries many of which are in Africa! The African Union, ECOWAS, East Africa Economic Community [EAEC] and other regional groups in Africa should, as a matter of urgency, set up a robust process of climate diplomacy that would mount pressure on the global north to urgently consider a range of options, including those beyond the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol for compensating without further delay, millions of people in developing countries especially in Africa who daily bear the huge burden and high costs of living in a changing climate caused largely by our brothers and sisters in the global north who the Kyoto Protocol tagged as Annex 1 countries.

International litigation should also be explored especially in the light of an evolving international law concept of reparations for damage that seem to encourage vulnerable countries to pursue reparations-laden strategies in international negotiations beyond the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. This is in sync with the United Nation’s post-2015 development agenda and now is the time for African countries to rise to the occasion by playing more eminent roles in birthing an enforceable international law on reparations for climate change damage. Proposals for the expected new international reparations law must not be imposed on Africans by the western countries just like MDGs and to some extent NEPAD; rather African countries should generate these proposals out of their own experiences and peculiarities because he who wears the shoes knows exactly where it hurts his toes!

The good news is that even the UNFCCC seems to have acknowledged this reality when the Cancun Climate Change Conference in 2010 decided to establish a work programme on approaches to “address loss and damage” associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change by requesting the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to agree on activities and to consider tangential issues with a view to making recommendations to COP 18 in 2012. Following COP 17 in Durban in 2011 and subsidiary body meetings the work programme on loss and damage is being designed to focus on three thematic areas namely: evaluation of the risk of loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change and the current knowledge on the same, a range of approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including impacts related to extreme weather events like Typhoon Haiyan and slow onset events, taking into cognizance experiences at all levels and the function of the UNFCCC in driving the implementation of adopted approaches to address loss and damage associated with dangerous impacts of climate change. All that is left is for African delegates to the COP 19 to roll up their sleeves and put on their thinking caps to do the hard work of bringing latent reparations provisions and clauses in the UNFCCC framework to the front burners of negotiations. This task requires top level climate diplomacy and robust alliance and consensus building to get commitments of other countries and regions that demonstrate empathy to the cause of developing countries needing genuine reparations and adequate compensations. We should be grateful for the smart idea of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to force the UNFCCC work programme to include important reference to a possible international mechanism to address loss and damage.

Even though it does not look politically realistic and administratively feasible to pursue a different negotiation pathway away from the UNFCCC platform, vulnerable developing countries like Nigeria and Philippines may need to consider implications of participating in negotiations that give them little in exchange for the reality of the dangers they have been made to endure in their daily lives. In extreme scenarios, this might carry the uninsured risk of irreversible loss of rights relating to claims for damage arising from climate change. Therefore the new climate justice paradigm proposed here must continue to follow the example of some smart Small Island States who made specific declarations and gave certain conditions aimed at preserving and maintaining their rights under international laws relating to “state responsibility” for the adverse effects of climate change at the point of joining the UNFCCC framework and Kyoto Protocol. This is even so urgent as some parties to the UNFCCC have been working to undermine the precautionary principle as well as the sacred foundations of “common but differentiated responsibility” as they relate to fashioning a responsive and sustainable globally binding legal framework to address climate change that has proved to be the defining challenge of our civilization.

Even though early reports from Warsaw regarding the near absence or passive participation of the Nigerian climate negotiation team at the opening of the COP 19 are not encouraging, the civil society and youth non-governmental organizations from Africa should, as the COP 19 negotiations take shape in the coming days and weeks; continue to emphasize and amplify the fact that state responsibility for wrongful acts must naturally attract commitments and obligations for the state to make commensurate reparations. The new climate justice paradigm we seek should be driven by the tenets of truth, empathy, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition of the actions and inactions that has brought us to the brink of extinction by climate change!

— About Stanley, Ijeoma —

Stanley Ijeoma is an African Enviropreneur and World Council for Renewable Energy [WCRE] Country Representative for Nigeria. He can be reached on Twitter @schrodingerr and on Skype at (schrodingerr).

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