World

Rich nations play divide and rule

Mandy Rossouw

China accuses EU of offering South Africa sweet development deals for cutting carbon emissions.

Rich countries say the spectacular economic growth of some developing nations places them on the “list of culprits” that need to make commitments to cutting carbon emissions.

Delegates at last week’s climate change talks in Accra, Ghana—ahead of the Copenhagen conference to be held in 2009 heard Australia say that countries such as Singapore, with its high economic growth, are not as vulnerable to the effects of climate change as poorer countries and have the means to deal with it better than others.

Australia wants developing countries with high growth to be placed on the same list as rich countries and to be ineligible for financial and technical support offered to poor countries.

Singapore said that such a suggestion was out of line with agreements reached at Kyoto and would not be considered. Joanne Yawitch, South Africa’s deputy from the Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism, says the proposal by rich countries is “simplistic” and does not take into account the historical advantages that rich countries still enjoy.

“Just because you now have a higher GDP than before doesn’t mean that issues of quality of life disappear in the developing world. We are still dealing with massive inequities in wealth, poverty, unemployment and a weak ability to respond to climate disasters. If something like Hurricane Katrina had to happen to us, we would not be able to recover as quickly because we don’t have the insurance, risk capacity and disaster management that they have in the United States. The national circumstances should be taken into account, not just the GDP of countries,” says Yawitch, who is also one of the negotiators for South Africa at the talks.

Indian and Chinese negotiators accuse rich countries, notably those in the European Union, of attempting to divide the developing countries—known as the G77+China—and nudging some to accept legally binding limits on carbon emissions, despite the Kyoto Protocol not compelling them to do so.

According to Indian and Chinese negotiators South Africa—which, after Nigeria, has the highest carbon emissions on the continent—is being promised more clean development projects if it strays from the consolidated stance of the G77. South Africa has the highest number of clean development mechanism (CDM) projects in Africa. Yawitch says such attempts to isolate South Africa are fruitless because these processes have not worked for Africa.

“There are big problems with the CDMs. There are capacity issues and often the countries cannot afford the transaction costs [of researching and submitting proposals].” She says that South Africa has very few CDMs in comparison to places such as Brazil and China.

The G77+China as a bloc has committed to not making any individual commitments on targets for carbon emissions, says Yawitch.

“There might be attempts to divide us, because there are divisions within the different groups in the G77. But we are clear that none of us are talking about binding targets.”

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