Copenhagen Climate Change Summit Stillborn?
According to the latest estimates, the entire African continent was
responsible for only 3.7 percent of the world's annual carbon emissions, compared to China with 21.5 percent, the United States with 20 percent, and the European Union with 14 percent.
[Global: Climate Change]
Will the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen penciled for December
[Global: Climate Change]
collapse even before it starts?
There are red lights flashing before Copenhagen.
Reports filtering in from Spain show that the UN climate change talks in
Barcelona stalled this week with African nations arguing that rich nations
are not doing their fair share to cut down on global carbon emissions to
ease the effects of climate change.
The Barcelona talks sought to look into a number of natural remedies that
might help manage the rise in global emissions of carbon dioxide, one of
the main byproducts from the burning of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels
in electrical power plants and heavy industries.
The Barcelona meeting provided precious few signs that the major players
in the global economy would act to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions
by at least 40 percent by 2020 below 1990 levels and between 80 and 95
percent by 2050.
There is still too much disagreement on climate change issues and chances
are slim that industrialized countries will be able to put aside at least
1.5 percent of their GDP to support climate change mitigation and
adaptation in Africa.
Richer nations, except the United States, agreed at a 1997 United
Nations-sponsored forum in Kyoto, Japan, to reduce their industrial
emissions by 11 percent to 15 percent from their 1990 levels by the year
But a growing number of climate change activists from developing nations,
many of them in Africa, argue that richer nations such as Japan, Britain,
Germany, and the US --which did not sign the Kyoto Protocol--, should cut
emissions by as much as 40 percent in order to slow down climate change.
The disagreements and the boycott by the African countries indicate
nothing good for the developing world. There is doubt that the much-hyped
Copenhagen Climate Change summit will hammer a deal that will be fair,
equitable and effective.
It’s more of the same old game –more talk, more promises, little action
and of course the merry-go-round play of controversial global issues.
“They’re saying let’s focus on the real issues, which is targets for
developed countries,” Alf Wills, head of the South African delegation was
quoted saying by Reuters in Barcelona. Richer nations, he says, are using
“delaying tactics” rather than talking about how Europe and the industrial
nations can share the burden more fairly in cutting back on carbon
Martin Khor, a veteran writer and analyst says “the developing countries
have cried foul, and are expected to insist that unless the rich countries
recommit themselves to bind their emissions-reduction targets for the
period 2013-2020 at an ambitious level and within Kyoto, there can be no
deal in Copenhagen.”
Rich industrialized countries, the major culprits of carbon emissions are
showing no signs of commitment to save the world environment from imminent
collapse and to provide much needed relief to poor countries which are
being hit hardest by climate change that was not of their own making.
It’s difficult to see how the Copenhagen Summit will strike a deal on
climate change when the self-serving logic of rich industrialized nations
is vicious and clear for all to see. Climate change critics say powerful
nations still want to continue exploiting the available resources of the
world and hence cannot tie down themselves to cut emissions and compromise
the quality of the lifestyle for their people.
Africa and much of the developing world still lack resources to escape the
devastating effects of climate change. For the rest of the world
particularly here in Africa there is plenty of legitimate reason to fear
that the poor will be left to suffer, while the rich countries spend what
it takes to preserve the quality of life for the few fortunate.
Signs of the debilitating effects of climate change are written all over
Africa. Climate change is an immediate danger which is causing more
frequent "extreme weather conditions" of drought and flooding bringing
untold hardships to the poor. The ice and snow that cap Africa’s highest
peak - Mount Kilimanjaro are melting, the waters of Lake Chad are
disappearing, rainfall patterns are becoming more unpredictable and
conflicts over water resources are rising.
Climate experts warn that if current conditions persist Mt. Kilimanjaro's
glaciers, which have covered Africa's highest peak for centuries will
disappear in the next two decades.
"In a very real sense, these glaciers are being decapitated from the
surface down," Lonnie Thompson, professor of earth sciences at Ohio State
University was quoted saying on CNN.
Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of high
dependence on rain-fed agriculture. Experts say the damaging effects of
climate change will play out in the coming decades pushing the majority of
the poor into extreme poverty. Climate change will over time ratchet up
the risks and vulnerabilities of the poor in Africa and elsewhere in the
developing world exerting pressure on already over-stretched coping
strategies and magnifying inequalities.
A Care International specialist in poverty, environment and climate change
says as many as 250 million people in Africa may not have enough water to
meet their basic needs by 2020 because of climate change. He says
day-to-day impacts of climate change, such as higher temperatures and
erratic rainfall, are increasing many people's vulnerability to the
Rich industrialized countries are the major culprits of global warming
while much of Africa's share comes from mining activities of large
multinationals which export the minerals to the same rich countries.
According to the latest estimates, the entire African continent was
responsible for only 3.7 percent of the world's annual carbon emissions,
compared to China with 21.5 percent, the United States with 20 percent,
and the European Union with 14 percent.
Environmental analysts say comparing cumulative emissions, a better
measure of environmental impact, Africa’s estimated 26.7 billion metric
tons of emissions (1900-2004) were less than half the 55.1 billion tons
from Britain and only 8 percent of the 314.8 billion tons from the United
Rich countries, the major culprits are dragging their feet on committing
money to help developing countries adapt to climate change leaving them to
face the prospect of footing their own multi-billion dollar bills for
their small and tight budgets.
In Bangkok the message was the same and climate change activists called on
rich countries to pour billions into climate change matters. The challenge
is to get money on the table to meet immediate needs and develop coping
strategies but this is proving elusive and it is unlikely that developing
countries will get a firm commitment on this.
Delegates from developing nations have lined up at various climate change
summits to complain about the lack of financing and support for
adaptation, which would allow countries to implement plans and projects to
cope with climate change.
The meeting in Barcelona follows on the UN Climate Change Talks in Bangkok
which were held from 28 September to 9 October and saw increasing
convergence, streamlining of negotiating text and narrowing down of
options in the hope for a comprehensive, fair and effective international
climate change deal.
Without any clear commitment on cutting down emissions and funding for
climate change adaptation, the Copenhagen fanfare will disappoint and
leave climate change activists sitting high and dry. Without a climate
change deal, the world will run into a crisis at tremendous human cost.
"The targets of industrialized countries that are presently on the table
are clearly not ambitious enough," said Yvo de Boer, the executive
secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC). "We therefore need more ambitious targets on the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on individual basis and
urgent progress on the negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol.
"The magnitude of long-term finance has been recognized, but more clarity
on precise contributions from industrialized countries is needed ahead of
Copenhagen, above all clarity on what the prompt start-up finance will be
to unleash urgent action in developing countries.”
The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will take place in
Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December.
"Copenhagen must open the door to the common good and close the door to a
common disaster," said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer.
Africa and most other developing countries must stand firm and safeguard
their own interest to reshape the international climate change debate.
Without firm commitment by the industrialized nations to finance poor
countries to mitigate and cope with this phenomenon, the Copenhagen summit
won’t result in concrete impact. And in terms of what an appearance
amounts to for any developing country, especially in Africa, Shakespeare
put it best in Macbeth: “A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon
the stage and then is heard no more.”
Tsiko is The Black Star News's Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
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