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CLIMATE CHANGE: Jockeying for Position in Copenhagen

WINDHOEK, Nov 2 2009 (IPS) - The global climate change caravan has arrived in Barcelona for a last round of talks before the Copenhagen summit. What’s at stake for Africa?

Floods, drought, hunger, shifting patterns of pestilence: apocalyptic challenges lie in wait should a comprehensive treaty on climate change not be reached. Credit:  Hilary Uguru/IPS

Floods, drought, hunger, shifting patterns of pestilence: apocalyptic challenges lie in wait should a comprehensive treaty on climate change not be reached. Credit: Hilary Uguru/IPS

“I hold my fingers crossed, but to be realistic I don’t see major things happening in Barcelona this week,” Peter Acquah, secretary of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), told IPS from Nairobi.

AMCEN met last week in Addis Ababa for a final conclave before African negotiators meet their counterparts from the rest of the world at the 15th Conference of Parties in the Danish capital on Dec. 7-18.

The result of the talks in the Ethiopian capital was an unambiguous “No” to the present draft for a replacement of the Kyoto Protocol by a new climate agreement in Copenhagen.

Developing nations – jointly negotiating under the umbrella of the G77 plus China – are building up the pressure on the road to Copenhagen by playing their cards close to their chest.

“Of course rapid movement becomes all of a sudden possible if the Annex I countries are willing to put some numbers on the table in Barcelona that go past the current proposed cuts in emissions,” Acquah acknowledged. “And if they come up with a realistic figure to finance the deal.”

Africa’s interpretation of the “common but differentiated responsibilities” of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a reduction of emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by the industrialised world (the Annex I countries of the Kyoto Protocol – see sidebar) by 2020, a reduction of 95 percent by 2050 and a cash injection of 1.5 percent of GDP from developed nations to compensate for the effects of climate change in the developing world.

“Africa, as the most vulnerable continent, deserves the right to full support to adapt to climate change. Africa has also contributed the least to the global greenhouse gas emissions yet its communities stand to suffer the most,” said AMCEN in a statement this week.

Climate Change - the Bigger Picture

Global warming is caused by the emission of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Most scientists agree that we can handle a two degree increase of temperatures worldwide. Beyond that, it is thought, climate change is will become unpredictable and extremely difficult to manage.

This point is likely to be reached when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeds 450 parts per million (PPM). Currently the concentration is approaching 390 PPM and increasing by three percent annually.

The Kyoto Protocol directed 37 industrialised nations (the so-called Annex I countries) to cut their emissions by roughly five percent compared to 1990 levels. The U.S. refused to ratify this accord and its emissions have increased by 20 percent, compared to 1990.

The other parties have managed to reduce their emissions according to Kyoto. Total emissions by Annex I countries were reported to have fallen by 12 percent between 1990-2005, but this is not enough. Especially since the largest drop came from the breakup and deindustrialisation of the Soviet Union. By 2007 only six of the Annex I countries outside the former USSR-bloc had reduced their emissions.

The Kyoto parties now emit roughly 25 percent of all greenhouse gasses. Rapid industrialisation of emerging countries like China and India has been accompanied by a significant rise in emissions. The developing world now contributes almost 50 percent of global emissions.

The rest is largely attributed to the US. China is the biggest polluter emitting 6.8 billion tonnes annually (21.5 percent), followed by the U.S. with 6.4 billion tonnes (20 percent). However, per capita China emits only 5.5 tonnes, compared to the 21.2 tonnes U.S. citizens contribute.

According to a recent article in the scientific journal Biogeoscience the whole of Africa emits a mere 3.7 percent of global output. This includes South Africa that emits1.5 percent of global CO2. The entire continent's carbon footprint between 1990-2004 constituted less than half the CO2 emissions of the UK in that period.

The biggest challenge for Africa is to prevent emissions through deforestation. The Congo Basin is the biggest forest carbon-sink after the Amazon rainforest, but is under threat. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that four million hectares of African forest disappears annually because of logging.

Because developing countries' contribution to the problem of global warming is historically insignificant, talks on climate change are conducted along two tracks. First there is the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocal (AWG-KP) which deals with further cuts by developed nations.

The second is the Ad-hoc working Group for Long-term Co-operative Action (AWG-LCA) which is designed to spur the developing world into taking actions against climate change.

“Such support is estimated to be anywhere between $200 and $400 billion a year, one third of which should go to adaptation to climate change,” Alf Wills, chief negotiator of South Africa and a spokesman for the G77/China group told IPS from Barcelona.

“The window of opportunity here is finite though. If global warming reaches the two degree Celsius threshold, the costs will increase dramatically and adaptation will become much less feasible. This is also why it is imperative that developed nations further reduce greenhouse gasses.”

Linda Fairhurst, Adaptation to Climate Change programme coordinator Africa for ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability recently told IPS that climate change is likely to have a devastating effect on the continent. “We are looking at serious consequences for water provision and sanitation, livelihoods, transport and energy.”

Fairhurst warned that low-lying settlements like the town of Walvis Bay in Namibia, the city of Maputo in Mozambique or Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam are seriously threatened by rising seas levels.

In August AMCEN put the cost of fighting climate change at $67 billion a year for Africa alone.

“But it’s not just about the money,” said Acquah. “It follows from the Kyoto Protocol that Africa should be provided with the means to adapt to climate change. This includes the transfer of green technology and there is little movement on that front. In Bangkok we booked no progress in the field of intellectual property rights.”

Emissions in Africa are a modest 3.7 percent of global CO2 output, mostly caused by deforestation, gas flaring and coal-fired power generation in a handful of countries. One of the main expectations for Copenhagen is that a deal will be reached on Reducing Emissions Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), which should see billions flowing into the continent to preserve rainforests and plant trees.

This money is badly needed for adaptation. A recent study by UK scientists published in the Oxford Review suggests that “the impact of climate change on Africa is likely to be severe because of adverse direct effects, high agricultural dependence, and limited capacity to adapt… Adaptation will be impeded by Africa’s fragmentation into small countries and ethnic groups, and by poor business environments.”

The International Food Policy Research Institute recently predicted wheat yields on the continent will down be 30 percent in 2050, while prices will almost double due to climate change.

“If we don’t agree on an ambitious and binding treaty we will be remembered as the generation which spent billions on credit cards, spread environmental vandalism and did nothing to confront the most intractable problem of our times,” Kim Carstensen, chief of the WWF Global Climate Initiative, fumed on the eve of the Barcelona talks. “I am sure none of the leaders would want to be remembered this way.”

But one of the major questions in the negotiations is who will commit first and to how much. The EU is willing to go to a 30 percent cap on emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, but only if developed nations will cut emissions their emissions as well.

Largest polluter China has promised to cut CO2 by a “notable margin” from 2005 levels, but demands a 40 percent cut by developed countries in return. In the U.S., a law is proposed that would cut emissions to roughly seven percent of their 1990 levels, but it’s likely the bill will be torpedoed in Congress.

African countries, meanwhile are keen to maintain a firewall between mandatory commitments made by industrialised countries and those demanded of the developing world, which they insist should be voluntary.

“Mitigation actions for Africa should be voluntary and nationally appropriate and must be fully supported and enabled by technology transfer, finance and capacity building from developed Countries,” stated AMCEN last week.

“Higher temperatures in the next few decades are caused by the historical emissions of developed countries, so they have a first responsibility,” added Acquah.

The fundamental problem is that AMCEN and the G77 include China, India, Brazil and South Africa, the emitters of tomorrow. Developed nations are adamant these big emerging economies should also commit to mandatory cuts.

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