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WORLD: Cooking Up a Climate Deal

Analysis by Laure Pichegru and Terna Gyuse*

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 8 2010 (IPS) - Another round of negotiations towards a global treaty on climate change concluded in Bonn on Aug. 6, with activists calling on parties to rediscover a spirit of compromise and make offers rather than demands.

Middelburg power plant: activists fear South Africa's interests are out of step with other countries on the continent. Credit:  Gerhard Roux/Wikicommons

Middelburg power plant: activists fear South Africa's interests are out of step with other countries on the continent. Credit: Gerhard Roux/Wikicommons

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres said progress had been made. “Everyone understands that it’s hard to cook a meal without a pot. Governments are much closer now to actually making the pot.”

The dispute over this meal begins, of course, with the question of whether it’s one dish or two.

Je vous propose…

The battered kettle of the Kyoto Protocol has been welded together in a new draft text – between now and the next U.N. Climate Change Conference (in Mexico at the end of 2010), negotiators will see if it holds water.

“This week has given governments a final opportunity to be clear on their individual stances,” said Figueres. “Tianjin has to be the place where they make clear what their collective stance is going to be,” she said. Negotiators meet again in October in Tianjin, China.

“Parties are adding text they know will not be well received or easily resolved,” warned Mohammed Adow of Christian Aid, a member of the Climate Action Network (CAN) which groups more than 360 development and environment NGOs from 85 countries. “We need to recapture the spirit of compromise in these negotiations.”

The draft, issued in June by Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, chair of the group on long-term cooperation (the AWG-LCA), provoked severe criticism from civil society organisations, as it again implied replacing the Kyoto Protocol with a new agreement in which the mitigation obligations of developed and developing countries are treated almost identically.

“Africa has been very vocal in calling for the retention of the Kyoto Protocol, as it remains the only international agreement so far which binds industrialised countries to take some action on climate change,” Mithika Mwenda told IPS.

Mwenda is coordinator of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, which was one of the organisers of a one-day public forum ahead of the African Union summit in Kampala in mid-July, calling on governments to work “for climate justice and for a solution to climate change that keeps Africa safe, secures our development and protects our fundamental human rights.”

The risk of continued stalemate over mitigation strategies that will slow emissions of the gases responsible for global warming threatens all countries; of perhaps more direct urgency for Africa is to secure concrete results on the Bali Action Plan, enabling immediate action on adapting to climate change.

The other main course

Promisingly, negotiators in Bonn felt that the Mexico could realistically secure concrete commitments towards implementing the Bali Action Plan.

“This means countries could agree to take accountable action to, for example, manage and deploy climate finance, boost technology transfer, build skills and capacity to do this and deal with adaptation, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable countries,” said Figueres.

But to secure a generous helping from this saucepan, Africa needs a unified, articulate and effective negotiating strategy.

African negotiators have failed to maintain unity at climate change talks in the past. Mwenda singled out the South African government as working against the interests of other African countries.

“Though Africa’s priority has been adaptation, due to the vulnerability and capacity deficiency in majority of countries, South Africa has always broken ranks with other countries to make mitigation its priority,” he said.

It’s perhaps logical, given South Africa’s position as the twelfth-largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, while other sub-Saharan African countries together contribute just four percent to the overall emission of the greenhouse gas.

“South Africa is heavily dependent on coal and needs energy provision to secure its economic growth,” says Jean-Christophe Hoste, a research fellow at the Egmont Institute in Belgium.

Vulnerability to climate change effects varies from region to region or from country to country, says Belynda Petrie, chief executive officer of the OneWorld Group. OneWorld is a research and consulting company that among other things is carrying out a five-year programme studying the best ways to protect vulnerable livelihoods in Southern Africa from climate change.

“Some regions or countries are already much more water-stressed than others, requiring a significant focus on adaptation projects that strengthen water storage and flood management infrastructure, for example,” says Petrie.

Hungry for different things

Projections of climate change impacts predict tremendous damage to agricultural productivity across a continent whose people depend on growing food for their survival. South Africa is not immune to this, but its diverse economy is less vulnerable to an agriculture crisis than that of Burkina Faso or Ethiopia.

Africa’s most powerful economy’s concerns thus line up more closely with those of other emerging economies such as India and China, who are hesitant to accept any external limits on their emissions as they pursue industrial growth.

Petrie argues that many African countries lack the skills and knowledge to make their own formal submissions in the UNFCCC framework, leaving the few that do tend to take the lead. But as a result, Africa’s differentiated needs are not adequately expressed and disunity emerges in the actual negotiations.

By way of example, she offers an August deadline to apply for funds from the UNFCCC’s Less-Developed Countries Fund, (which, ironically, exists to strengthen national climate change secretariats to participate in U.N. processes, build capacity to collect and interpret data on weather and water, provide training in negotiating skills, support public awareness, and to prepare and implement national adaptation programmes).

Many of Africa’s most vulnerable states are potentially eligible, but Petrie expects few will participate.

“The result, on climate finance for example, is that the countries complain that the funding mechanisms and institutional arrangements are onerous, limiting access to funds. But these same complainants have typically not used the avenues open to them to make proposals that will contribute to rectifying these widely-acknowledged problems.”

Hoste says African countries will be unable to reach – and hold – a common position at international climate change talks as long as there are such huge economic and development differences between them.

“African countries did find a common position before Copenhagen. But this common position collapsed as soon as economic concessions had to be made.”

PACJA’s Mithika Mwenda is more optimistic. “African stakeholders greatly value the call for a unified position, and I have no doubt that the continent will approach Mexico a more organised region than ever before.”

He feels that vigilance is necessary. “Media and civil society should work more to track and monitor government and put pressure on them to ensure that short-lived gains do not let them abandon the path of collectiveness.”

*Isaiah Esipisu in Nairobi contributed to this report.

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