Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alignments Forming on Climate Change

Going into this week’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed countries made it clear that a binding agreement with specific carbon emission targets in the short-run was unlikely. But it isn’t just the developed world against the developing world on this issue. There are internal splits and realignments that could determine the fate of any future global climate change agreement to replace the current Kyoto Protocol.

The Group of 77, an alliance of mostly developing nations, has been pressing not only for a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by the developed countries, but also financial support, technical transfers and capacity building to help developing countries mitigate the impact of climate change. However, a leaked draft of a compromise agreement specifies that carbon emissions from developed countries will peak in 2020 and reiterates the call for a cut in developed country carbon emissions by 2050 to a level of 80% of 1990 emissions. A blank is inserted for a short-term level of cuts by 2020, leaving it to be negotiated later. Moreover, the agreement calls for the World Bank to control enforcement of the new climate change agreement rather than the United Nations, which developed countries regard as a backdoor way for developed countries to gain more control over enforcement.

Developing countries are finding that some of those they thought were friends may not be while those they saw as opponents could be proving otherwise. China and India have made common cause with African countries in recent years, for example. However, China, while setting an ambitious target of a 40-45% cut in carbon emissions by 2020, stresses that this is a domestic goal that is enforceable only by the Chinese government and that it will not cooperate with international monitoring efforts. India has a similar position on being bound to international enforcement and monitoring.

The main hitch in the Kyoto Protocol has been that China and India are treated a developing countries and are exempt from carbon emission limits. Given their increasing industrialization and contribution to carbon emissions, the United States in particular refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. European nations that did sign the agreement have become increasingly disturbed by the continuing exclusion of two growing industrial powers from carbon emission limits. The European Union has challenged China and India to contribute 20-50 billion euros annually to the annual goal of 100 billion euros seen as necessary to help developing countries deal with climate change.

Adherence to climate change accords has serious economic implications, since cutting carbon emissions by the 20-30% pledged by developed countries will be enormously costly – not to mention the cost of helping developing countries – and such efforts make developed country economies less competitive with unbound China and India. The potential cost to the U.S. economy is the reason why the U.S. Senate refused to approve the Kyoto Protocol during the Clinton Administration and is leery of Obama Administration climate change legislation now.

In countries such as the United States, the debate centers on the extent to which climate change is being caused by humans. More than a thousand leaked e-mails and other documents from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia show that leading scientists supporting the notion that climate change is largely caused by humans have manipulated data to eliminate contrary views. Opponents of their view have trumpeted the leaked information to prove that global warming is a fraud.

Meanwhile, Africa is bearing the brunt of very real climate change – no matter what the source, be it natural or man-made. Desertification, more frequent droughts, coastal erosion and other conditions threaten millions of Africa lives and cause devastation to African economies despite the continent being responsible for less than four percent of global carbon emissions.

In the current economic situation, it will be difficult to guarantee developed world efforts to help African and other developing world nations to fight climate change. Still among the strongest supporters of an agreement with genuine financial help for developing countries is France, a leading member of an EU that will only pledge 2-15 billion euros to the annual pot of 100 billion euros.

As the developed world nations and transitional countries such as China, India and Brazil battle over who should be under limits and what causes climate change, conditions worsen steadily on the Africa continent.

It seems the old Africa adage still holds true: when elephants fight, it is the grass that is trampled.

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