Subsidiary Bodies of the UNdead

This afternoon I’ve been leafing through the DRAFT TEXT on COP 21 agenda item 4 (b) Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (decision 1/CP.17) (version 2) (as I’m sure you all have) trying to understand what’s going on at the most important meeting in the history of the planet. I thought I’d try and understand the great debate over 1.5°C versus 2°C using a simple word search, examining the concept which is at the root of the greatest problem mankind has ever faced – the Science.

I found just four mentions of the word “science”, and five of the adjective “scientific”. It was all pretty harmless stuff, for instance:

Article 3.1 “…to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century on the basis of equity and guided by science…”

Article 4.7c “…Strengthening scientific knowledge on climate…”

I liked this one:
Article 4.5 “..adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems…”

Which seems to suggest that, “as appropriate”, “traditional, knowledge of indigenous peoples” might be more useful than the IPCC’s general climate models. So look to your seaweed indigenous people of Britain, and don’t build shopping malls on flood plains.

This one:
Article 10.1 “…shall periodically take stock of the implementation of this Agreement … in the light of the best available science…”
may provide a handy let out for political leaders who suddenly realise what a sham the whole thing is. They only have to cite one of the many papers identifying a low (1-1.5°C) figure for climate sensitivity and they can opt out with a clean conscience.

I found only five uses of the word “scientific” as an adjective, but another ten in the title of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, plus another eight mentions for the acronym SBSTA. The body, as its name suggests, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the UNFCCC. They’re the people the UNFCCC turns to when they want some science.

So I did what any sensible person would do when they want to know more about the inner workings of the UN environment monster; I had a look at the View From Here. Hilary is an expert on UNEP UNFCCC UNDP and all the other acronyms of the UNdead, but I couldn’t find anything on the SBSTA.

I tried Google, but the first fifty hits were all official sites, mostly UN ones, or references in books. Searching Google News turned up a piddling sixteen results.

There was an article at Global Meat News (“Breaking News on Global Trading and Meat Processing”) which announced that the SBSTA:

“…is expected to be given an enhanced and more meaningful role following any agreement forged at the 21st session of the COP21 meeting. A key goal would be to disseminate low-carbon technology in the meat sector. The move was welcomed by many sector experts, including Dr Jonathan Scurlock, chief renewable energy and climate change adviser at the UK’s National Farmers’ Union, who said: ‘There’s a recognition that sooner or later we are going to have to share our technology with others. There’s no point or gain in us rearing low-methane cows if China’s industry has appallingly high rates of methane.’”

Carbon capture and storage for cows, eh? Does the RSPCA know about this?

The Fiji Times had a short article last week explaining what the SBSTA does:
“The SBI and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) are two permanent subsidiary bodies to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established by the Conference of Parties (COP) serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP).”
apparently because the Fijian ambassador is Chairperson of the SBI (Subsidiary Body of Implementation) which is the twin sister of the SBSTA.

The AllAfrica website has a story about an SBSTA report – a “completed, three-year scientific review aimed at convincing sceptics that the 1.5 degree target is feasible” which was blocked at Bonn by India and Saudi Arabia.

Then there’s a mention in the Chicago Tribune’s Jargon Buster, and three articles in Italian, two in Indonesian, and one in German, and that’s it. As far as the media are concerned, the subsidiary body that advices the COP on science is Number UNobtainable, UNknown at this address, UNdead and UNmourned.

Of course, there’s plenty of information about them to be had at their website, where we learn that:
“The SBSTA plays an important role as the link between the scientific information provided by expert sources such as the IPCC on the one hand, and the policy-oriented needs of the COP on the other hand. It works closely with the IPCC, sometimes requesting specific information or reports from it, and also collaborates with other relevant international organizations that share the common objective of sustainable development.”

So that’s about it then. Should the COP want to know anything about the science of climate change, they ask the SBSTA, who asks the IPCC, or anyone else who has an opinion on the subject and happens to “share the common objective of sustainable development.”

I had one nasty shock wandering round the labyrinthine corridors of the UN’s website, when I suddenly came face to face with the SBSTTA, “the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice”. This too is a subsidiary of the COP. Surely it must be the same body, under a slightly differently translated name? But no, it seems to be different, given that it was established under Article 25 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Its functions include: providing assessments of the status of biological diversity; providing assessments of the types of measures taken in accordance with the provisions of the Convention; and responding to questions that the COP may put to the body.”

What’s more, it’s only met 19 times, whereas the SBSTA has met 43 times. If there was any doubt about them being two different entities, it is dispelled by a quick look at their programmes. The SBSTA holds its biannual meetings mostly in Bonn, but occasionally in Buenos Aires, Marrakesh or Cancun, while the SBSTTA holds its meetings mostly in Montreal, but occasionally in Paris, Rome or Bangkok.

As an example of the work of the SBSTA, I had a look at the Report of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice on its forty-second session, held in Bonn from 1 to 11 June 2015. It’s 44 pages of “the SBSTA considered …”, “the SBSTA welcomed …”, “the SBSTA recognised …”, “the SBSTA looks forward to …” – a parody of the bureaucratic process. At the bottom of page 1 they say “Please recycle”. Thanks, I will.

They’ve been doing this for 20 years, and no-one has noticed except the Fiji Times and Global Meat News.

1 Comment

  1. Many thanks for your commendation, Geoff. And my apologies for not doing more on the SBSTA (which I have mentioned twice on my blog, albeit only in passing, rather than in explication!)

    And while I’m here … on the “1.5°C versus 2°C” front, as a Canadian, it pains (and almost shames) me to report that it was Canada’s very own recently appointed (“Because it’s 2015”) Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, the ever-smiling Ottawa lawyer (not of the environmental kind, by any stretch of the imagination), Catherine McKenna. In her very late in the lame game appointed role (of the UN designated High Level Kind) as Hollande’s choice of standard-bearer for getting 1.5°C onto the final table!

    For those who might be interested, here’s a link to some (mercifully short, for the most part) videos of McKenna in mindless “action” on the home front, so to speak:


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