Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Copenhagen Showdown Looming

The major developed countries have come to consensus that they have no agreement on climate change. Coming out of the Barcelona (Spain) climate change talks last week, there is no framework for agreement on the level of cuts in carbon emissions, money to be spent to address the impact of climate change on the developing world or on the management of the global fund on climate change. Meanwhile, African and other developing country officials and activists are becoming increasingly unwilling to abide continued delay in reaching a binding agreement on climate change. As a result, next month’s meeting of 192 countries in Copenhagen, Denmark, appears headed for serious conflict.

The critical element in the current deadlock arises in the United States, where Congress, primarily the Senate, is unable to come to agreement on climate change legislation before the Copenhagen meeting. Consequently, President Barack Obama has said he is unwilling to make a binding commitment on the United States. Such a premature commitment could derail efforts to pass the Administration’s climate change plan by building resentment among members of Congress who would feel their authority had been preempted. In the absence of a U.S. commitment, the other major developed nations are reluctant to enter into a binding agreement.

The Barcelona talks and their aftermath revealed significant differences among the developing economies on how to tackle climate change. Wealthy country pledges on cuts in carbon emissions range from Norway’s 30% to Japan’s 25% to the European Union’s 20% to the United States’ 14-20% to Russia’s 10-15% to Canada’s 6%. Aside from being vastly different in the amount of emissions cuts, there is no consensus on a target date to achieve these goals. Lumumba D-Aping, the Sudanese chair of the Group of 77 developing nations, said developed countries must cut emissions by at least 40% by 2020. “Anything south of 40% means Africa is destroyed,” Di-Aping said.
Developing countries also are supposed to pledge to cut emissions by 2020. Indonesia has pledged to cut emissions by 26%, China by 20% and Mexico by 8%. As for African countries, few, if any, African countries are ready to make significant pledges of cuts in carbon emissions without a guarantee of international financial support. Moreover, there is inconsistent and allegedly unreliable information on climate change’s impact on such areas as water supplies.

On the matter of financing of climate change efforts, African and other developing countries insist on a fund of US$400 billion a year, while the European Union is pledging at most €100 billion Euros a year. There is no consensus among the world’s other major economies on the level of support for climate change programming. Furthermore, there is no developed country-developing country agreement on who will manage these funds. Di-Aping said his group wants the United Nations to manage the funds, while the World Bank is apparently preferred by developed nations.
The United States and other developed countries want to postpone an agreement on climate change programming. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Singapore this past weekend, the chairman of the Copenhagen conference, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke, said a full, international agreement on climate change was definitely not possible by next month and that the goal should be an agreement before the current Kyoto treaty expires in 2012.

Not all developing country leaders refuse to accept delay in order to push for consensus on an effective climate change policy. Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho is chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, and he said it is more important to take the time to negotiate a comprehensive, binding arrangement on climate change mitigation. “We do not want a compromise deal, “ Sekoli said. “If it takes a year, even two years, then we will continue talking. A bad deal is not a good deal for Africa or vulnerable countries.”

A deal that slows the impact of desertification in Africa, halts the erosion of coastlines and reverses the disastrous cycle of drought and flood will take work on both sides. African governments will have limited ability to press their case without solid information on the impact of climate change, and any position on the carbon emission cuts in the developed world has to be based on science appropriate to African circumstances. Rigid positions expressed as ultimatums will not be helpful in this situation. Meanwhile, no part of the world is more affected by climate change than Africa. Island nations such as Seychelles face a steadily rising sea and could disappear at some point at current rates of sea rise. Consequently, inordinate delay by developed countries in coming to agreement on a climate change response will not be taken lightly by Africans – nor should it be.

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