Warsaw: En Plein Air

November 19, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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An early morning cyclist in the Old Town Market place, which was reconstructed between 1948–1953.

Warsaw, Poland. November 18, 2013:

From their elevated positions on the podiums at both official and offsite COP19 talks, presenters seem to love mentioning how many UN Climate Talks (COPs) they have attended, how much hope accompanied them at their first one, how the sense of urgency is, at this point in time, nearly unbearable.

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In Mourning. Two Polish women approaching church for memorial services for WWII officer.

Without doubt, there is a genuine craving for cooperation, a sense, for example, that if the delegates would only truly listen to the business community, if they would just sit down long enough to internalize the science, if the voices of women and the young and the indigenous were sufficiently broadcasted, something could be accomplished.

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If only brooms were enough to clean up after the global disaster we have created – unknowingly, yes. But no longer unaware.

The problem as I see it is that to gain access to the discussions means you have to astutely operate within the framework which created them, a framework which, over the past twenty years, has taken on a life of its own. A language of its own which is exclusive and excluding. Rarified and hieroglyphic. Unphathomable and boring.  

And purposely so, in my opinion. To ensure limited access.

It feels to me as if becoming literate in this language is the means by which the players maintain the requisite emotional distance from the ‘meat of the matter;’ the sheer incomprehensibility of the facts becomes de-textualized as they toss acronyms around with rapid-fire alacrity  As if our world and all its people and ecosystems were a gargantuan Rubik Cube.

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Fresh flowers forever in Warsaw.  The monument to the Warsaw Uprising.

The symbolism behind the UNFCCC decision to hold this event in Warsaw is blinding. Just think about it.  Over 85% of Warsaw was destroyed by the end of the Second World War. Estimates are that over 6,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed and another 6,000 severely injured during the 63-day long Warsaw uprising. Countrywide, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians perished in the war and over the ten year period between 1936 and 1946, the country’s population declined by 11 million.

Deaths. Displacements. Death marches. There are monuments to the horrors of Warsaw everywhere around the city.  

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The casket of a WWII soldier is placed inside church in anticipation of official funeral.

Across the Vistula River at the COP19’s venue, Stadion Narodowy, millions of lives and the future of an entire planet are being discussed in terms which mean nothing to 99 percent of us. Terms like this.

UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
COP – Conference of the Parties
LULUCF –  Land use, land-use change, and forestry
SBSTA – Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice.
AOSIS – The Alliance of Small Island States
CAIT    – Climate Analysis Indicators Tool
SWAT – Sanitation, Hygiene, and Wastewater Advisory Service
PREM     – Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network

Discussions using this ludicrous jargon as climate change roars around us.

Consider the following.

According to DARA, producers of the Climate Vulnerability Monitor, nearly 5 million deaths in 2010 were related to climate change and GHG emissions.

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The Warsaw Ghetto. A memorial outside the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

And just recently, Ioane Teitiota, who currently resides in New Zealand, became the first officially known individual to request asylum as a climate change refugee, claiming sea-level rise has made his former home on the small Pacific Island of Kiribati, uninhabitable.  

Studies have projected that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced this century by the impacts of climate change. At the United Nations, the Security Council has debated the subject, and decided it is best managed through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. Least developed countries have been encouraged to consider the migration implications of climate change in their National Adaptation Plans, and at their 2010 Cancun meeting, UNFCCC delegates stated that migration and displacement ought to be planned for in the context of adaptation. But until Mr. Teitiota came along, no individual actually stepped forward to request international protection from the impacts of climate change.

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Copernicus welcomes visitors to the Science Center, whose missions is " to encourage personal engagement in discovering and understanding the world, as well as taking responsibility for the changes occurring around us."

In a 2013 United Nations High Commission for Refugees report (UNHCR) Challenges relating to climate change induced displacement,  José Riera, Senior Adviser to the Director of International Protection wrote:

According to UNHCR’s own data, most of the world’s forcibly displaced on our books, 25.9 million people at the beginning of 2012 – 10.4 million refugees and 15.5 million internally displaced persons or IDPs – were receiving protection and assistance from the organization. The number of IDPs on UNHCR’s books is now fifty per cent higher than refugees. We believe that this trend could intensify as internal conflicts multiply and the
effects of climate change

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What remains of Warsaw’s old city walls, built in 1548 by Giovanni Batista Venetian in the alley wall between Old and New Towns.

What monuments will be erected in memory of those who die or are displaced by climate change? How will small island states, submerged under water, be memorialized? What would a Safari sightseeing junket to the scorched earth of sub Saharan Africa even look like?

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Frozen in time on the cusp of winter, captured in a courtyard just off Nowy Swiat.

I came to Warsaw to hear about climate’s impact on health. "Grim, grim, grim, grimmer," was the mantra at the Global Climate and Health Alliance, where problems with financing and pro-activity and the failure to amplify the correlation between climate change and human health continue.

Climate change will affect health in many ways:

    Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events (heatwaves, hurricanes, cyclones, massive floods), affecting health care delivery and weakening health systems;

    Famine, drought threatening food supply of millions, causing malnutrition, mortality and damaging child growth and development;

    Mass migration, with recent estimations indicating over 200 millions climate change refugees by 2050, posing a threat to social security;

    Infectious diseases, especially diseases transmitted by mosquitoes (malaria, dengue, yellow fever, West Nile Virus, etc) spreading to new territories;

    Air pollution, increasing the incidence of lung cancers, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Source

And I came to hear voices clamoring for climate justice and with hope for the Green Climate Fund and the justness of the concept of loss and damage.  

But  "… the Green Climate Fund is empty," said former Irish President Mary Robinson, founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice at last night’s World Climate Summit. "We must take action now. It’s can’t be business as usual."

Communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and the false “solutions” put forward by the Kyoto Protocol (including carbon sink projects and continued fossil fuel exploration, extraction and burning) include small island states, whose very existence is threatened, as well as indigenous peoples, the poor and the marginalized, particularly women, children and the elderly around the world.

The refusal of governments and international financial institutions like the World Bank to force corporations to phase out use of fossil fuels, and which in fact encourage accelerated use of increasingly limited fossil fuel stocks, is causing more and more military conflicts around the world, magnifying social and environmental injustice.

Just as peoples’ movements are rising up around the world against the privatization of water and biodiversity, so must we rise up against the privatization of the air, which is being promoted through the establishment of a massive “carbon market.” from Durban Climate Justice.

This is my second COP and I think it will be my last. I can recall on the bus to the Cancun Messe at COP16, early one morning on the day before the climate talks ended, speaking with a delegate who said he was heading home that afternoon. How the talks had become a circus. Just a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to be there when the conference was gavelled to a close. That’s when all the excitement happens. Kinda like one of our debt ceiling crises, only no one ever really blinks here.

The hell with the hoopla this year, I say. I’m leaving Friday morning. Before all the faux drama.

Work is being done to address climate change, of that I am sure. But the authentic work is happening in our villages and towns and cities and municipalities. It’s not making headlines.

But then making headlines ain’t what it used to be either.

Heading out for some fresh air.

Reporting from Warsaw, this is boatsie.

Miłego dnia.

Deborah Phelan

A veteran journalist passionate about climate justice and the rights of the poor, 'developing' countries, and indigenous peoples to an equal share of carbon space, human rights, and self determination and all things authentic.

Tags: climate change, climate change agreements