Copenhagen Climate Change Summit Stillborn?

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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

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

2020.

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

emissions.

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

hazard.

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

States.

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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