Monday, July 19, 2010

Will Cancun restore faith and confidence in climate change negotiations?

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

[Nairobi] December 6, 2009 was thought of as significant day that was going to grip the attention of world with focus glued to the Bella Center in Copenhagen where the United Nations Climate Change summit was taking place until December 18. The expectations were both high and low.
The roadmap to Copenhagen was mostly on haggling over the reaching of a legally binding agreement on Green House Gas emissions reduction with set targets that becomes effective when the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012 or a politically binding one.
Denmark hosting the summit had been rooting for politically binding agreement instead of legally binding protocol and wanted a plan to delay any deal to mid-2010.
This came against a backdrop where some of the western countries were reluctant for an agreement that will compel them to meet certain targets on emissions reduction and the United States refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is case in history.
US president, Barack Obama, acknowledged on November 13, 2009 that a legally binding deal was impossible in Copenhagen. Worth noting was the fact that he had to first deal with a reluctant Senate to pass domestic laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions before he could agree to an international deal, a requirement that has stalled the talks.
Obama’s comments were received as serious blow to efforts aimed at getting meaningful agreement by the close of business on December 18 “We do not need a politically binding agreement as it will give room to big GHG emitters like the US and Canada to get away with it,” said Tove Marie Ryding of the Greenpeace
Her argument was that the 2007 report of the Inter-Panel on Climate Change by climate change scientists was clear that if the world does not act now and drastically reduce Green House Gas emissions, there will be serious socio-economic and environmental disaster that includes sea level rise, extreme climatic cycles like prolonged droughts and flooding, upsurge in disease burden, among many others.
According to the then executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yves de Boer, the Copenhagen agreement was to include a set or package of forward looking and “politically accountable” conclusions.
These were to include a list of individual 2020 targets for industrialised countries, what major developing countries will do about growth paths and limiting emissions, what individual countries will commit to in terms of a start up funding, formula on how cost of future adaptation and mitigation will be shared and Conference of Parties decisions on capacity building, mitigation, adaptation, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and a new institutional arrangement where necessary.
GHG Emissions reduction
At this fifteenth edition of the Conferences of Parties aimed a getting consensus and agreement on reduction of GHG said to be causing global warming beyond required level was not just be the burden for the developed word but also what the developing countries can do to mitigate the situation and to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change..
Scientists in 2007 said the developed countries-the major contributors to atmospheric pollution through emission of dangerous gasses like carbon dioxide and methane-must reduce their emissions by 20-40 percent compared to 1990 when climate change movement started by 2020.
But they said thereafter that they underestimated it and that glaciers were now melting at a much faster rate; that the reduction should move up to 80 percent.
“We listen to science and when scientists say that glaciers are melting at a very fast rate; that we are moving to a tipping point where major changes may occur, we realise the urgency of getting legally binding agreement out of Copenhagen summit with clearly set targets,” said Ryding.
She said scientist are also saying that by the end of this century, if it remains business as usual, there could be sea level rise of 2 meters wiping out many small island states.
Climate change scientists and some western political establishments are also arguing that the developing countries where China is fast industrialising and currently ranked the highest polluter in the world must reduce their emissions.
Climate change reductions pundits are proposing a 13-20 percent reduction compared to Business As Usual. “The developing world can emit but not increase and move towards a greener development direction,” Ryding concurred. But the Copenhagen meeting ended up in botched-up discussion that succeeded in having no success for tangible for GHG emissions reduction and only creating huge mistrust among nations of the world, especially the developed against the developing world
Replacing the Kyoto protocol.
As we move to COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, the search for a new legally binding deal, led by the United Nations though the US argued could not be reached in Copenhagen and that there was need for more time to hammer appropriate agreement hence the need for political binding outcome will be one of the main issues.
Those who argued that a politically binding agreement would be suicidal as it is essentially non- enforceable will be rooting for second commitment off the Kyoto Protocol in Cancun.
They argue that, save for its weak compliance mechanisms, it is the only legal global climate change agreement that has a set of rules to be relied.
“What we need is a complete legally binding agreement and ambitious targets for emissions reduction and finances for adaptation,” Paul Erik Lauridsen of CARE Denmark said. He said the developed countries must accept to reduce their emissions but the developing world must also have their targets.
The African position through the Africa Ministerial Council on Environment is that the Kyoto protocol must not be replaced but strengthened. Much haggling is expected on this at the negotiations.
Adaptation Needs
Another issue expected to dominate the proceedings is the financing of adaptation by the developed north in the global south being pushed by the developing word who have contributed very little to the global warming but are the most vulnerable and worst hit by impacts of climate change.
They argue that the purpose of adaptation financing and availing of appropriate technology to the developing nations by the developed world is not to lift them out poverty but protect the poor against effects of climate change caused by the industrialised countries as they developed over the years.
Green peace’s Ryding says its estimated that adaptation will cost about US$ 150 billion annually but the developing world are demanding an agreement out of Copenhagen for about US$ 200 billion annually for adaptation. China and India that are emerging economies are more for technological transfers from the west for green development to adapt rather than financial assistance.
The developing world position is that the developed world should pay up for global warming since they made their wealth out of industrial pollution.
Twenty percent of global emissions are from destruction of tropical forests and their protection is being considered one of the major solutions to tackling climate change. But forest, because of their life supporting services, has many people depending on them and removing them all over suddenly would lead to serious socio-economic disasters.
The issue is expected to also feature prominently at the conference, especially who shod benefit from the money coming out of forest protection; will it be the central government or the indigenous people who have been living in the forest for centuries.
Massive attendance
The Copenhagen meeting had a massive attendance estimated at over 15,000 delegates that included President Obama of the USA. More than 20,000 NGOs registered for the summit while accreditation for journalists was in excess 5,000. It is not yet clear whether Cancun will draw such a huge crowd but it will definitely be an important summit expected mostly to restore faith and confidence in climate change negotiations

**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi journalist and the Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor for .He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at or

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