Copenhagen Climate Change Conference: What is in it for Rwanda?

A United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place from the 7th to 18th December, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark with a view to establishing an ambitious global climate agreement for the period from 2012 when commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expire. Representatives from 192 countries in addition to representatives of organizations, researchers and scientists will attend the conference.

A United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place from the 7th to 18th December, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark with a view to establishing an ambitious global climate agreement for the period from 2012 when commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

Representatives from 192 countries in addition to representatives of organizations, researchers and scientists will attend the conference.

According to Connie Hedegaard Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and President of the upcoming conference, “If the whole world comes to Copenhagen and leaves without making the needed political agreement, then I think it’s a failure that is not just about climate.

Then it’s the whole global democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.”

According to Yvo de Boer Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the four essentials calling for an international agreement in Copenhagen are: how much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases; how much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions; how is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed; how is that money going to be managed?

If Copenhagen can deliver on those four points I’d be happy” he was quoted as saying.

Much of the debate will be and has been about Carbon emissions, particularly on part of industrialized nations, which has been singled as the most sources of green-gases that is contributing to global warming and who should pay for the damage and how much. Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans since the mid-20th century and its projected continuation. Global surface temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C during the last century while IPCC report indicates that the global surface temperature will probably rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the 20th  century was caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

Simply put, the earth receives energy from the sun mostly in the form of visible light. About 50% of the sun’s energy is absorbed at the Earth’s surface. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb most of the infrared radiation emitted by the surface and pass the absorbed heat to other atmospheric gases through molecular collisions.

The greenhouse gases also radiate in the infrared range. Radiation is emitted both upward, with part escaping to space, and downward toward Earth’s surface.

The surface and lower atmosphere are warmed by the part of the energy that is radiated downward. Over the last 100 years the average global surface temperature has risen by about 0.74°C. Human activity since the Industrial Revolution has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It is reported that CO2 concentrations are continuing to rise due to burning of fossil fuels and land-use change. The concentrations of CO2 and methane have increased by 36% and 148% respectively since the mid-1700s.

These levels are much higher than at any time during the last 650,000 years

The greenhouse effect is the process by which absorption and emission of infrared radiation by gases in the atmosphere warm a planet’s lower atmosphere and surface. It was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824.

An increase in global temperature will cause sea levels to rise and will change the amount and pattern of precipitation, probably including expansion of subtropical deserts.

The continuing retreat of glaciers, extreme weather events, species extinctions, and adverse effects on agricultural yields. In the longer term, the biggest uncertainty is climate change.

As well as changing temperatures and increasing frequency of severe weather events, growing water scarcity will have a dramatic effect on global farm yields.

In Rwanda many of us remember the heavy rains when “Nyabarongo river flowed over the bridge” due to unusually heavy rains attributable to El Nino phenomenon or continued delayed rains which when they come behave like the rains lost their bottom and  do wash away crops and houses instead of helping plants to grow.

Elongated droughts in the region particularly northern Kenya, Uganda and southern Ethiopia leading to withered crops and deaths of live stock have contributed to higher food prices, might lead to migrations and social instability while dwindling water sources will be a source of conflict in the future.

With the continued melting of polar ice, people in countries like Netherlands and Bangladesh that are said to be below sea level may one day disappear under the sea. Whereas Rwanda’s (and other underdeveloped countries) emission of green is negligible compared to the giant polluters we bears the effect global warming.

Mozambique, Niger and Zambia have been selected as pilot countries for the “Strategic Climate Fund (SCF) financing” programs related to climate change adaptation from the World Bank.

They will each receive up to 50-70 million US dollars in grants and/or very low interest loans to help integrate climate risk and resilience into their core development planning.

Another fund, the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) finances mitigation carbon technologies Morocco for its goal to reduce energy consumption in buildings, industry and transport by 15 percent by 2020 and Egypt for wind power and low carbon urban transport systems.

Together, the two funds constitute the Climate Investment Funds (CIF). Their joint investments in the six African nations total 1.1 billion US dollars.

“Climate change has the potential to turn back the clock on hard won development gains across the continent,” said Katherine Sierra, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank.

In a recent report, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) predicts that the effects of climate change would add an additional 20 per cent to the child malnutrition rate by 2050 and that, agricultural productivity investments of more than $7bn would be needed to offset this effect.

The defining issues at Copenhagen should be the signing a more comprehensive treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005, the US, probably the biggest polluter and a non signatory to the Kyoto Protocol making commitments to reducing its carbon emissions and concrete commitments on climate change financing and its management.

Incentives to countries that take measures to mitigate effects of climate change like forestation and reforestation should be discussed and agreed on.

The use of food crops for bio-diesel should be discouraged because the increase in food prices in developing nations adversely affects many sections of nations for example the Egyptian food strikes.

Turning US, Brazilian and Canadian wheat or corn into biodiesel will have an impact on many poor countries.

According to Steve Wiggins, agricultural economist and research fellow at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute, “If we have oil prices in this higher range, then bio-fuels will be almost unstoppable unless you start legislating against them, and producing bio-fuels on a large scale tends to push up the price of food.”

Many African delegates have accused rich countries of making little progress with curbing greenhouse-gas emissions and have demanded reductions in green-gas emissions of more than 40 percent from developed nations by 2020 over 1990 levels. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga was quoted as saying that, “I am very pessimistic about the outcome of Copenhagen.

Up to now no firm commitment has been made by developed countries to support developing countries’ to adapt to the effects of climate change.

African countries strive for an international fund of 200 billion dollars a year to help poor countries deal with the consequences of climate change.”

It remains to be seen what Rwanda and other poor nations will benefit from the Copenhagen Conference and one can hope like Odinga that “common sense is going to prevail”.