COP17: Buzz words in translation

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Katie Nelson
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Joined: 11/23/2011
COP17: Buzz words in translation

Throughout the last two weeks I've been getting acquainted with the particular lexicon of UN climate change negotiations.  Below is a sampling.  Note the occassionally conflicting definitions. 

1.5C (n.) One type of emissions target being discussed at COP17.  Last year at COP16 in Cancun, it was agreed upon that if carbon emissions result in a global temperature rise that exceeds 1.5C, climate change will have irretrievable consequences. 

ambition gap (n.) 1. Refers to the variety and relative strength of different carbon reduction goals proposed by countries around the world.  2. Also refers to different degrees of commitment for respective countries to follow through on their stated goals.  

balance (v.)  To ensure that climate change measures for developed and developing countries are “fair.”  This fairness can take two forms: 1. To suggest that a single blanket standard be imposed on all countries.  2. To consider to differentiated responsibilities for countries based upon their historic contribution to carbon emissions and climate change, as well as their current economic standing. 

clarity (n.) 1. A state where official UNFCCC texts are streamlined (see below).  2. Conversely, a state where those same texts are specific enough to be interpreted straightforwardly.

differentiated responsibility (n.) A position often taken by developing countries to argue that they have historically produced less carbon dioxide and therefore should have more conservative emissions targets than developed countries.

historical responsibility (n.) (See differentiated responsibility.)

inclusive (adj.) An aspired condition for the negotiations process that has several interpretations:  1. Describes need for developing countries to meet emissions targets just like developed countries,  2.  Expresses a desire for developing countries to have a respected voice in the COP process,   3.  Also represents developing countries plea for climate change funding. 

Indaba (n.) Informal meeting modeled on a South African tradition where chiefs air frustrations and brainstorm solutions in a constructive dialogue.  At COP17, countries participating in the Indaba generally devolve into demands.

legally binding (v.) There are two types of legally binding agreements being discussed this year—those modeled on Kyoto and those that go beyond.  1. Under Kyoto legally binding refers to compliance measures to ensure that developed countries meet their emissions targets.  These compliance measures basically require a country that fails to meet its emissions targets to achieve them the following year while meeting additional penalty targets.  2.  Others call for more robust legally binding measures in the form of economic penalties.

peak year (n.) This is one type of carbon emissions target being discussed at COP17.  It would set a goal in the form of a year beyond which global carbon emissions will decrease.

real issues (n.) When countries tire or grow frustrated with textual discussions about commas, parenthesizes, and terms, they demand that the conversation moves to climate change’s real consequences for real people.

streamline (v.) To remove “unnecessary” safeguards, acknowledgements, responsibilities, and requirements from official UNFCCC texts.  Instead, streamlining calls for the documents to be made as generalizable and as vague as possible. 

support (n.) A noun that can be given and taken away.  Two interpretations include: 1. Vocally endorsing other countries’ stated positions during negotiations, 2. Financial backing.

transparency (n.) Often arises in debates where countries do not trust one another.  Fears include economic disadvantages and corruption.  The term is used in negotiations to call attention to the need for countries to monitor their own actions but be accountable to a neutral UNFCCC body. 

M.S. Candidate

Environmental Studies

University of Montana