Cartagena Dialogue Provides a Breath of Fresh Air

President Nasheed of the Maldives at the Opening of the Cartagena Group/Dialogue

“There is nothing wrong with being helped to go on living.  And that is what this[climate change] issue is all about,” stated a senior official from the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia.  I am at a ministerial gathering of 28 nations of the Cartagena Group/Dialogue for Progressive Action convening in the beautiful island of Bandos in the Republic of Maldives.  The participants are from Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Indonesia, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Samoa, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Uruguay, UK and the European Commission.  The Cartagena Group/Dialogue is an informal space, open to all countries that want ambitious and comprehensive outcomes in the UNFCCC, and that are committed, domestically to becoming or remaining low carbon.  These are “forward looking” countries, willing to work positively and proactively together within and across regional and UNFCCC groups.  The aim of the Group/Dialogue is to openly discuss the reasoning behind each other’s positions and to explore areas where convergence and enhanced joint action could emerge.  That is precisely what I see happening.

A representative from an industrialized nation stated clearly, “don’t push us, [to be even more ambitious] or you are not going to like it.”  While the words may seem a little jarring, that was not the intent.  The purpose was to make clear that negotiators and country representatives sent to UNFCCC talks can only do so much as they are at the mercy of the political winds of the countries they represent and might suffer backlash from voters.  It reaffirms that if large industrialized (and rapidly emerging) economies are to take strong action, it requires the majority of the citizens of those countries to have the will.  And while we witnessed the lack of political will to pass through climate and energy legislation before the congressional mid-term elections in the United States this week, countries small and large gathered at Cartagena have provided a glimmer of hope, giving a breath of life to the stale atmosphere that lingers within the UNFCCC post Copenhagen.  The truth is that the stiff negotiating environment of the UNFCCC rarely allows for a common space for understanding country positions and barriers to creating a comprehensive agreement.   This is especially true given such forums are reduced to a debate over choice of words in what is essentially a legal contract.  This is the second meeting of the Cartagena Group/Dialogue with regular meetings planned in the future.  The arrival of this group is also important as Copenhagen revealed that even large groupings such as the G-77 are beginning to fracture due to the rise of BASIC.  The latter’s demands conflict with many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developing Countries (LDCs) who are calling for a 350 ppm or 1.5 degree Celsius warming target.  It remains unclear what future groupings could be like within the UNFCCC and there is no formal “Cartagena Group.” The current impasse in the UNFCCC requires new alliances and I suspect with time, a “G-X” will emerge to break the deadlock.  

Ethiopia, a nation that is often recalled for chilling images of the devastation from the droughts and famines of the mid-1980s, has announced its commitment at this event to become carbon neutral by 2025.  The nation, which can be considered a cradle of humanity’s agricultural experimentation and development had only 5% of its original forest cover remaining in tact by the early 20th century has seen that percentage grow to approximately 30% today.  Last year, it planted 7 billion saplings, second only to China.  Joining it in this commitment was the small pacific island of Samoa which pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020.  The Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda pledged that the tiny Caribbean island nation would slash its emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.  Costa Rica and the Maldives also reaffirmed their commitments to go carbon neutral by 2021 and 2020 respectively.  And while no industrialized country has yet made such a commitment, Norway is developing its own carbon neutral plan for the year 2030.

The Cartagena Group/Dialogue will continue to discuss ways to deepen and enhance access to carbon markets for all nations, leverage the finance commitments from Copenhagen, and tackle MRV structuring (the measuring, reporting and verification component of mitigation commitments).  All of this is in hopes that Cancun can pave the way for a breakthrough at the Earth Summit in South Africa in 2012.  “While expectations for Cancun might not be high, we certainly cannot lower ambition.”  The Cartagena Group gathered here in one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts  made that clear.

4 Responses to “Cartagena Dialogue Provides a Breath of Fresh Air”

  1. 1 Juan H Jul 30th, 2010 at 6:18 am

    Dear Kartik, I appreciate your effort to try to share this with this group. Unfortunately, I think there are some things that incorrect or misinterpreted in your interpretation- some factual, some it is just matter of difference of opinions. Given that this blog has had no other response and that now sits under many other new post, perhaps this is not the best place to engage in a discussion, but it still blows my mind that the formation of BASIC (not naturally, but as a response to the direct pressure put on this countries), everyone rejoices in the “break-up” of the developing countries.

  2. 2 Ksingh Jul 30th, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Hey Juan! Thanks so much for commenting–I’m glad someone has! I’d love to discuss this with you at length in person next we meet. Just to be clear, I’m not “celebrating” the “break-up” of developing countries. Merely pointing out the rifts (that have probably been there for a long time, but considered more visible thanks to the emergence of BASIC–which I would agree has probably been forced to be created by the world). Of course there are many who would probably like to see the break-up happen–and are no doubt opening up champagne bottles as we speak, but I’m not entirely sure the break is here yet. As for BASIC, I would say that some countries in the group are probably gaining more than others by having the others support them in the group. Of course there are more controversial things to be said like I think China should pay India to help it transition to a low carbon economy/adapt. :)

  3. 3 Juan H Jul 30th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Indeed, a conversation to be had. I quoted “break-up” because it is rather silly to say that a group is breaking-up because 5 members, responding to international pressure, speak together. Nobody said that the European Union was breaking up when France and the UK spoke separately from the EU during the Copenhagen plenary, nor does anyone say that the G77+China is breaking-up when AOSIS, SICA, ARN, LDCs, Pacific SIDs, etc speak on their own. But the theater over BASIC unfolds with a smile from those who cheer it and yes,probably champagne bottles by those who benefit from this dramatization — meanwhile, the puppet strings run tight in Male and Addis, sadly as they do not even get the support promised.
    My 0.02, of course :-)

  1. 1 Cartagena Dialogue Provides a Breath of Fresh Air – It’s Getting Hot In Here (blog) | See the Maldives Islands Trackback on Jul 26th, 2010 at 3:15 am
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About Kartikeya

Kartikeya Singh received his Master of Environmental Science degree at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University. He is currently a doctoral candidate for a PhD in International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. His research interests include climate change and energy policy, the geopolitics of energy use, and transportation.

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