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ENVIRONMENT: Africa Builds United Position for Copenhagen

Omer Redi Ahmed

ADDIS ABABA, Aug 25 2009 (IPS) - An African Union proposal demanding billions of dollars in compensation for the impacts of climate change is taking shape.

It is time for Africa to aggressively engage with climate change negotiations to ensure its interests are met in the designing of global responses, said African Union Commission chair Jean Ping.   AU officials say the lack of a coordinated stance on global warming by African governments has placed serious limitations on Africa's ability to negotiate in the past. To put this right, a meeting to formulate a common stand ahead of the Copenhagen meeting has just concluded in the Ethiopian Capital, Addis Ababa.

African experts on climate change and high-level representatives of AU member states have recommended Africa demand between 67 billion and 200 billion U.S. dollars annually in compensation.

Details of the plan have not been released, so it is not yet known how CAHOSCC intends to calculate how much each developed country would be expected to pay, or for how long; or how the plan proposes money should be allocated to various parts of the continent. Or who will oversee its expenditure and accountability.

More information is expected once the proposal is approved by African heads of states, who are expected to consider the plan at a meeting in Tripoli, Libya on Aug. 31. Ethiopia has been nominated to lead a united position as the head of the recently-formed continental delegation – the Conference of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) – to spearhead climate change-related negotiations.

CAHOSCC comprises of chairpersons of the AU and the AU Commission, representatives of Ethiopia, Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Chairpersons of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment and Technical Negotiators on climate change from all member states.

"Trillions of dollars might not be enough in compensation. Thus there must be an assessment of the impact before the figure," said Dr. Abebe Hailegabriel, acting director of the AU's rural economy and agriculture department.

Impacts on Africa

Experts say Africa contributes little to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming, but the continent is likely to be hit hardest by the droughts, floods, heat waves and rising sea levels forecast if climate change is not checked.

"Africa's development aspirations are at stake unless urgent steps are taken to address the problems of climate change," Ping told the participants. "Climate change will fundamentally affect productivity, increase the prevalence of disease and poverty… and trigger conflict and war."

Ethiopia's team at the Addis Ababa meeting, headed by Neway Gebreab, chief economic advisor to Prime Minster Meles Zenawi, proposed their country lead the negotiations by CAHOSCC.

"Ethiopia has proposed itself because it has very much been interested on issues surrounding climate change in relation to Africa; it has had some links with authorities and experts in this field, and believes (the country) can put these valuable insights at the service of the continent," Neway told IPS.

AU officials seem to share this view.

"Ethiopia is key because its leadership understands the issues of climate change and is interested," Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, AU commissioner for rural economy and agriculture told journalists.

Earlier this year, Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi called on rich countries to compensate Africa for climate change, arguing that pollution in the northern hemisphere may have caused his country's ruinous famines in the 1980s.

A study commissioned by the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum that was released in May said poor nations bear more than nine-tenths of the human and economic burden of climate change.

The 50 poorest countries, however, contribute less than one percent of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say are threatening the planet.

Africa is the region most at risk from global warming and is home to 15 of the 20 most vulnerable countries, the study indicated. Other areas also facing massive disruptions include South Asia and small island states.

Developing nations accuse the rich of failing to take the lead in setting deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and say they are trying to get the poor to shoulder more of the burden of emission curbs without providing aid and technology.

A new climate treaty is due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December. But a senior U.N. official has warned the discussions risk failure if they are rushed.

Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said only "selective progress" had been made towards trimming a 200-page draft treaty text in Bonn earlier this month, one of a series of talks meant to end with a U.N. deal in Denmark.

On the African front, Tumusiime believes the decision by African leaders at the AU Summit in Sirte in July that Africa should be represented by one delegation in Copenhagen defending a united stand and demanding compensation is an indication of new appreciation of the issue of climate change.

Africa has to this point been a passive observer in designing global responses to climate change. "The situation right now is different. African leaders have recognized climate is a very important issue," she told IPS.

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