Course set for 2015 global climate pact

After 14 days of talks and negotiations among 194 nations, a marathon UN climate conference came to a weary close in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Environmental activists protest outside the just-ended UN climate control conference in Durban.
Environmental activists protest outside the just-ended UN climate control conference in Durban.

What has been achieved from this conference? The results are still not clear, but on the surface, it would appear that the main achievement was approval by 2015 of a roadmap towards an agreement that would bring all major greenhouse-gas emitters, in both developed and developing countries, under a single legal agreement.

The accord would then be operational from 2020 and become the focal point in the fight against climate change. Effectively, this would mean that countries like China and India, who have become huge emitters of carbon but do not have Kyoto constraints as they are developing countries, will have to come into line with global commitment. The United States, the world’s second highest source of man-made carbon, also has no legal restraints as it refused to ratify Kyoto in 2001.

The forum also launched a “Green Climate Fund” to help channel up to $100 billion a year in aid to poor, vulnerable countries by 2020, an initiative developed under the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.

Preserving Kyoto

South African Foreign Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who chaired the talks, said: “I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today.”

“The Durban deal is a solid step in the right direction. It preserves Kyoto for now, but more importantly, lays a path toward a more balanced agreement,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a US think tank.

UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres was upbeat, tweeting the words of global icon, Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done. And it is done!”

However, the harsh reality is that no real commitment for emission reductions from rich countries came out of COP17, only commitment towards a new agreement, keeping the Kyoto Protocol on life support until it is replaced. The new roadmap is yet to be developed, and will still have to become legally binding. One of the major issues to be agreed upon will be apportioning carbon constraints among rich and poor countries. Current measures to combat carbon emissions are falling far short of the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F).

The agreements reached at COP17 will not change the current prediction of three-four degrees in the Earth’s global warming, or five-six degrees for Africa by 2100. Bottom line is that people around the world will experience an increase in climate extremes such as floods, droughts, rising sea levels.

African death sentence

“Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International. “An increase in global temperatures of four degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide.”

The final text said parties would “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”.

Environment Africa’s representatives, Innocent Hodzonge and Barney Mawire, attended one of the side events at the COP 17 where a group of African NGOs discussed common understanding of the negative climate change effects in Africa and how to work collectively for future positive actions to combat climate change in Africa. An African NGO declaration was drafted by the team and presented to the main COP 17 meeting.

The NGOs discussed issues around why the Kyoto Protocol was not adequate especially with GHG emissions of China at 23% and USA at 18%, major emitters were not bound to carbon cuts and what was needed was a new roadmap to a new agreement.

“The question remains, will the largest polluting countries agree to this new roadmap with real heart and commitment or will the goal posts be shifted once again?” asks Charlene Hewat, CEO of Environment Africa, a Southern African NGO. “Africa, especially the poor and vulnerable, will be heavily impacted by the negative effects of climate change and what is needed is adaptation measures to be taken seriously and implemented in a meaningful way”.

In a pre-COP17 communication, organisers requested NGO participants to come up with a visual poster which would portray as an organization ‘who you are’, ‘what you stand for’ and ‘what projects or work you do to help combat climate change’.

Post published in: Environment

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