Monday, January 11, 2010

Africa May Make Climate Change Progress

In the aftermath of the December climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, pundits are picking over the results for signs of what comes next. The Copenhagen conference produced no binding results as the so-called Copenhagen Accord was not an official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change document. Those UNFCCC signatories present couldn’t come to consensus on what a binding document should require. On that basis, one might assume the conference was a complete failure and that developing countries threatened by the impact of climate change gained nothing. That view would be wrong.

One of the most significant developments from Copenhagen went virtually unnoticed, even by many of those who attended. That development was the unity (by and large) of the African delegates, who issued their own declaration on reacting to climate change. The more specific African positions taken in their declaration made the one agreed to by the conference as a whole look skimpy by comparison.

The Africans called for US$400 billion in short-term finance for climate change mitigation, while the conference position was US$30 billion. The Africans called for 5% of developed country gross national product (an estimated US$2 trillion) in long term financing; the conference position was US$100 billion by 2020. The Africans called for assessed contributions from developed countries, and the conference document referred to innovative financing mechanisms. The Africans called for all developing countries to be recipients of climate change mitigation funding, but the conference called for only “vulnerable” countries to receive funding. The Africans called for a limit in the rise of temperatures to 1.5°C, whereas the conference document referred to 2°C as the limit.

Looking at the disparity, it would be true to say that some of the African positions were non-starters for developing countries. One of the bases for the African stand on climate change in their document was their determination “to deal with the root causes of climate change, including the elimination of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production in the developed countries Parties and the dominant global financial and economic system that gives rise to these.”

There is solid ground for this contention, but turning the global economy around to a more sustainable status would be like turning the Titanic in a field of iceberg – you can hit an obstacle that will sink you if you don’t give yourself enough room and time to make massive changes in economic direction. During a global economic meltdown that has not yet come to an end, developed country governments will be reluctant to do anything that keeps unemployment numbers high, especially in the United States during an election year.

Moreover, the United States, considered the largest historic contributor to climate change, sees China and India as equally culpable for carbon emissions at this point, and like other developed nations, refuses to allow China and India to be considered developing country victims of climate change. If the United States is to be held accountable, then so too should the rising Asian giants.

Nevertheless, the unity of most of the African nations, in the face of developed country pressure and intransigence by China on monitoring of compliance and other issues, was admirable. I said most African nations because two in particular went off the reservation, so to speak. South Africa, which considers itself to have a foot in both the developed and developing worlds, signed onto the Copenhagen Accord. That apparently was not as unexpected, though, as the behavior of the putative leader of the African coalition: Ethiopia.
The Africans released a document entitled “Who does Meles Zenawi really represent?” that lays out the variance of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles with the African position on climate. Meles stood with the Europeans in calling for 10 billion euros in short-term financing, 100 billion euros in long-term financing, no assessed contributions, only vulnerable countries as funding recipients and a 2°C limit on temperature rise. Reportedly, Meles spent much of the time in negotiations with France on climate change positions.

Yet most African governments remain determined to fight for strong, binding results from the negotiations mandated by the Copenhagen Accord. That agreement, nebulous though it is generally, represents the first time developed countries agreed to long-term financing for climate change mitigation.

The African determination is spurred by the rising seas encroaching on coastal capitals, the creeping desert turning arable land into sand and sinking water tables across the continent. Words on paper alone will no longer suffice, and implementation has become a greater issue than ever before. It’s not just a matter of justice and equity for African countries; it’s survival.

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