Africa, Climate Change, Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT-AFRICA: Seeking a Common Position on Climate Change

Newton Sibanda

JOHANNESBURG, Jun 12 2008 (IPS) - The Twelfth African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) ended five days of deliberations today with governments and civil society agreed – separately – on the importance of developing a common position for Africa at next year's climate change talks in Copenhagen.

"Climate change is the defining human development and security issue of our generation. Those responsible should compensate the people whose livelihoods have been destroyed as a result," said Ewah Eleri, director of the International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development in Nigeria.

Eleri was speaking at a joint press briefing on the sidelines of the conference by 20 civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the continent. The groups said Africa contributes least to greenhouse gas emissions, yet millions of Africans were being forced to daily deal with devastating impacts of climate change. Eleri said mandatory compensation must be paid to Africa by global polluters.

He was particularly critical of the suggestion that African governments should obtain loans to fund climate change adaptation. "You don’t burn someone’s house and then offer them a loan to rebuild it," said Eleri.

Omokaro Osayade, project officer for environmental group Friends of the Earth Nigeria agreed. "Just as Africa is emerging from a horrible debt trap, we could be re-indebted by developed countries and told to use loans to deal with the horrible damage that has been done to us. We are opposed to re-indebting of the African people by way of climate adaptation loans."

The CSOs called on developed countries to contribute at least one percent of their gross domestic product to the climate change adaptation fund. It is estimated that at least $1 billion is needed to help Africa adapt to climate change.

Environmental groups raised several key issues for African governments to address such as the failure of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to deliver the benefits promised to African countries. They said that the CDM simply allows rich countries to continue polluting in exchange for funding projects in developing countries.

They also identified a need for investment in affordable renewable energy technologies so that African states can develop their economies with low carbon emissions, and called for precautionary regulations to ensure that the development of biofuels does not threaten food security in Africa.

Inside the conference proper

The formal outcome of the conference was in some ways more circumspect. African environment ministers agreed to establish a work programme with clear milestones for the development of a common position. Delegates proposed that an African expert panel on climate change be formed, on which senior officials will work in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme, the New Economic Partnership for African Development secretariat and the Commission of the African Union to define African focal points for the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Algeria will host the first meeting of the panel in October 2008; and a special session of environment ministers to adopt a final common position at the end of June 2009 in the margins of the 13th African Union Summit.

The conference proposed that Africa should seek agreement on a future global emissions reduction regime under which all developed countries would by 2020 reduce their emissions to 35-40 percent below 1990 levels, and by 2050 have cut emissions dramatically to between 5 and 10 percent of the 1990 baseline. These emissions targets are what is believed to be necessary to stabilise the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere – the level which scientists at the influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate global warming will cause no more than a 2 degrees celsius change in global average temperature and thus avoid catastrophic effects.

"The Bali Action Plan and Bali Roadmap offered Africa the opportunity to build consensus on the complex issues of climate change and sustainable development, to the benefit of the continent," said South Africa’s environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk. He succeeds the Republic of Congo’s Environment minister, André Okombi Salissa, as chair of AMCEN for the next two years.

"We will ensure that we go to the negotiations united because that is what we want as Africans to be united. A lot of countries in Africa have already committed themselves to cutting carbon emissions by 2050. We want developed countries to commit themselves to the 2025 emission targets," van Schalkwyk said.

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