The road to Copenhagen did not pass through Africa

With a New Year starting we ponder on what came to be known as the Copenhagen Accords as announced last month. Whether President Barack Obama knew what the global agreement he had helped to craft meant for Mama Sarah his Kenyan granny, her friends and other folks holed up in dire poverty somewhere in Kogelo Village overlooking Lake Victoria, or not, its debatable that he really cared about his African heritage. The change the world needed did not materialise Compare the address he gave during his inauguration in January 2009 with the one he gave at the Doha Copenhagen conference eleven months later, the conclusion is that leadership is no easy calling. 

With a New Year starting we ponder on what came to be known as the Copenhagen Accords as announced last month. Whether President Barack Obama knew what the global agreement he had helped to craft meant for Mama Sarah his Kenyan granny, her friends and other folks holed up in dire poverty somewhere in Kogelo Village overlooking Lake Victoria, or not, its debatable that he really cared about his African heritage.

The change the world needed did not materialise
Compare the address he gave during his inauguration in January 2009 with the one he gave at the Doha Copenhagen conference eleven months later, the conclusion is that leadership is no easy calling.

There were stark contrasts between the promises in his inauguration speech that carried hope for a brighter future and his work in Copenhagen that left millions of people from the third world hopeless and disappointed at their hour of need.

During the Copenhagen meet millions of Africans more than ever, ‘needed change’ in how the politics of climate change were conducted. They looked up to Obama to effect the change the world really needed.

After analysing the various interpretations and viewpoints of the outcomes, its obvoius that the road to Copenhagen did not pass through Africa.

Barack Obama had his bread battered principally by the USA voters most of whom are ignorant of USA’s historical responsibility to climate change.

Juggle through these competing constituents the sad conclusion is that Barack Obama led the world in the wrong direction with respect to climate change.

In order to understand  how the Copenhagen accords marginalized Africa, it is equally important to analyse Africa’s common position prior to the start of this conference.

Africans wanted the rich nations to cut emissions to at least 40 percent below the 1990 levels by 2020. Africa also wanted deeper cuts by the West to reach at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

In this common position Africans looked at the developing world’s efforts as voluntary. It favoured an approach in which third world countries would be beneficiaries of technology transfer, capacity building and funding to the tune of US$200 Billion a year by 2020.

Africans envisioned a further basket line of cash flowing from the West amounting to US$67 Billion a year for adaptation against the vagaries of climate change.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who was Africa’s chief negotiator, reiterated the need for a successful outcome in Copenhagen.PM Zenawi pointed out correctly that, ‘the climate issue has become a matter of survival that enforced Africans to speak in one voice.’

He added that Africa’s decision to speak with one voice and field one negotiation team is a first time effort in the history of the continent.

“We need to have adequate compensation for the damage done to our development prospects and we need money-not the phony money that we have frequently been promised without any prospect of it being delivered but real money that can make a difference,” Zenawi said.

As chief negotiator Zenawi set the tone by saying that, “I am determined to do so, on the one hand through reaching out to the leaders of the developed countries in a constructive and flexible manner and reaching out to major developing countries seeking their solidarity with us so that no one will be tempted to ignore our voice.”

Just prior to the conference, African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson, Erastus Mewecha said that Africa’s decision to speak out with one voice, represented by one team of delegation was a landmark decision.

‘Suicidal pact’

Africa’s negotiation team included leaders of Ethiopia, Kenya, Algeria, South Africa, Libya, DR Congo, Mozambique, Mauritius, Nigeria and Uganda.

As the talks progressed it actually degenerated into one where only a few could deliberate; meaning the West had somehow high jacked the deliberations. Those who carried Africa’s position were largely shunned aside like they didn’t matter.

What came out was a document agreed between handfuls of rich nations whilst the majority of delegates talked amongst themselves.

The Sudanese were blunt in their verdict when they said, “the ‘accord’ asked Africa to sign a suicide pact!”
Sections of international press said that it was widely perceived as an Obama brokered deal.

But the UK Climate Change Secretary Ed Milliband was the man who stepped in at 4:00 a.m to save it. On this final occasion, he was heading for bed when reports came in saying the Copenhagen meet had reached a dead end.

African and South American countries had stuck to their hard-line positions, and were leaving world leaders with nothing to sign at all.

Milliband came to the rescue but shortly after his speech UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced that a deal had been hammered. He said delegates agreed to ‘take note’ of the accords.

This was immediately greeted with choruses of disapproval. The most vocal critics called it an unfair, non-ambitious and non binding deal.

They pointed out that nothing concrete had been resolved if countries were to agree to tackle climate change and protect poor people who are hit hardest by this problem.

Critics said the weak political declaration which had brought together  a small group of countries including the United States, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, had  failed to cut emissions enough to keep global temperature below two degrees or provide the money needed for poor countries to adapt and develop sustainably. 
The EU naturally backed outcomes.
 
What’s in the agreement?

Copenhagen accords talks about a vague commitment to keeping temperature rise below two degrees and to lower emissions reduction targets. The non-binding declaration promises short-term finance for developing countries of $30billion up to 2012 and $100billion by 2020.

Critics point out that such sources are not clear.
They say that it is not known whether this money will be new, additional or where it specifically will come from.

The critics such as Tearfund believes that finance for adaptation and mitigation to help poor countries fight climate change and adapt to its consequences needs to be at least $200billion a year by 2020.

They further point out that such a line of support should be additional to current aid commitments, and developed countries must cut their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020, compared to the 1990 levels.

Meaning that much as the world needed a climate treaty from Copenhagen summit, all it got was a mere accord.

There was no hiding the disappointment. The deal that emerged after more than a year of pre-summit negotiations and two weeks of face-to-face talks was merely, in Gordon Brown’s terms, ‘a first step’; according to Barack Obama, it was ‘meaningful.’

The significance of the accord

The accord indicated that a consensus is needed among world leaders for the purposes of curbing global average temperatures not be allowed to rise beyond 2C.

It affirms that, to achieve such a target, there must be substantial cuts in carbon emissions and that the mechanism for achieving such cuts should not hamper economic progress in the developing world.

In more specific terms supporters of the deal say that it includes the first formal financial commitment by richer nations to help poorer ones adapt to the threat of climate change; hence the establishment of a fund with an initial annual outlay of US$30bn, rising to US$100bn by 2020.

Critics on the other hand say that  much of the text reads like the preamble to the treaty that was supposed to be agreed in Copenhagen, but wasn’t. In this they point out that there was no headline global target for emission cuts. Instead the accord says that national targets must be taken on trust?

Another highlighted point is that there are no incentives for countries to pollute less and no sanctions on those that pollute more. Many commitments are to be enacted ‘as soon as possible’ –which to these critics is not a phrase with much authority in international law.

In conclusion these gaps indicate more of a failure of process than ambition. A fundamental obstacle throughout negotiations lay in the question of how much the western world, which has polluted its way to prosperity, should consider itself in ‘carbon debt’ to countries that have yet to realise their industrial potential.

The West only acknowledged that debt in theory. However it is clear that the West wanted assurance that big polluters in the developing world such as China would ultimately share the carbon-cutting burden.

That stance was denounced by poorer countries as an attempt by the West to scuttle the pact altogether.

ojiwah@gmail.com

 

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