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CLIMATE CHANGE: Africa Readies United Front for Crucial Copenhagen Talks

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2009 (IPS) - As African leaders meet in Ethiopia to discuss the devastating impacts of climate change, the United Nations has released a report warning that the economically-troubled continent will be one of the hardest hit by the ravages of global warming.

“Projected climatic changes for Africa suggest a future of increasingly scarce water, falling agricultural yields, encroaching deserts and damaged coastal infrastructure,” says the 29-page report released here.

Titled ‘Climate Change and its Possible Security Implications’, the study says that Africa is “often seen as a continent where climate change could potentially intensify or trigger conflict.”

A weeklong meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, currently underway and concluding Friday, is billed as the largest African gathering in advance of the upcoming climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in early December.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has been mandated to lead the African delegation to Copenhagen, has threatened to walk out of the negotiations in the Danish capital if the continent’s needs are not met.

Asked whether such a walkout would undermine negotiations, Hawa Sow, Africa Climate Policy Coordinator at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International, sounded more sympathetic towards Africa.

“If the (Copenhagen) deal does not respond to the expectation of African nations to adapt to climate change, (and) if it fails to provide the necessary finance, technology and capacity building, then Africa should consider not signing in Copenhagen,” Sow said.

A really bad deal could be worse than no deal at all, Sow told IPS, while monitoring the meeting in the Ethiopian capital.

The meeting, which is a joint initiative of the African Union (AU), the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (ACMEN), the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), is expected to update the common African negotiating position at the Copenhagen talks.

Rev. Gabriel Odima, president of the U.S.-based Africa Center for Peace & Democracy, told IPS the African continent “is facing a real challenge in dealing with climate change”.

Poor governance, lack of democracy, lack of political will and institutional framework are some of the challenges facing Africa.

“But threatening to walk away from the negotiations is not a wise idea,” Odima said.

He said the Africa Union should put its house in order first and come up with a workable plan to address the problems relating to climate change in Africa.

He said African leaders should check their own closets first before rushing to blame the West, he added.

According to ECA and UNEP, Africa has limited capacity to adapt to global warming.

“The region’s key economic sectors are vulnerable to climate change, and this vulnerability is compounded by existing challenges, including poverty, disasters and conflicts,” the two U.N. bodies said in a statement released here.

Failure to reach an equitable agreement in Copenhagen “will have dire consequences for Africa”, it warned.

According to the U.N. report, Africa is vulnerable to conflicts because of its reliance on climate-dependent sectors, such as rain-fed agriculture, as well as recent ethnic and political conflicts and fragile states.

Sow of WWF told IPS that Africa is one of the most affected regions, and in some ways the least equipped to deal with climate change impacts.

“Already now we see a lot of changes in weather patterns that fit to the scientific predictions of climate change impacts,” she said.

These include drought, extreme precipitation, sea level rise and coastal erosion, and glacier melt.

“We see more migration and refugees because of natural disasters – and climate change drives towards even more disasters,” Sow said.

Asked whether there should be any special consideration for Africa at the Copenhagen meeting, she said: “We would like the Copenhagen Deal to provide special help and treatment for Africa and other highly vulnerable countries.”

“But at the current state of the negotiations, we are not very confident that this will happen to a high enough level,” she added.

The 2007 Bali Action Plan on climate change defines the group of most vulnerable countries.

These include the 49 least developed countries (LDCs), of which the majority are in Africa.

Two other highly vulnerable groups are the Small Island Developing States and the countries that are prone to drought and flooding – again, African countries are in both groups.

If this is recognised properly in Copenhagen there should be special provisions for African as well as other vulnerable countries; these should focus in particular on adaptation issues, Sow added.

The Copenhagen meeting is expected to negotiate a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which laid down binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The treaty ends in 2012.

What is especially problematic is the current trend to marginalise the Kyoto Protocol, said Sow.

When developed countries talk about killing Kyoto, they are in breach of the Bali Action Plan, she stressed.

The concern is that industrialised countries might weaken their commitments even further, and that could include even less support for Africa, Sow added. “Suggestions that we can do without the Kyoto Protocol and replace it with an entirely new instrument are unproductive at this point.”

“It will take too long, and we have no way of knowing what we will get. And it is very likely that the process will just lead to a prolonged race to the bottom,” Sow warned.

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