Blame game heats up

The UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen is a last ditch effort to save the world from global warming. Yet the road to Copenhagen is riddled with hurdles. Can we reach the finish line in time, ask Faranaaz Parker and Yolandi Groenewald

In the foyer of the conference centre at the Hotel Maritim in Bonn, Germany, where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held international climate change negotiations last month, some intrepid soul had strung up a massive banner, perhaps to help negotiators keep the bigger picture in mind. “Survival is not negotiable,” it read.

But it seems the message did not get through. David Turnbull, executive director of Climate Action ­Network International, said there has been a dramatic lack of progress in formal discussions and no tangible results. “This is a very large gap between what’s on the table and what’s needed to avoid catastrophic climate change,” he said.

Indeed, very little was left on the table at Bonn.

On the final day of the session Michael Zammit Cutajar, who chaired discussions at the session, pointed to fruitful talks on clean technology transfer and the reduction of deforestation and ­degradation as points of convergence. But on the most high-profile topics of emission reductions and the allocation of funds for climate adaptation programmes, opinions diverged sharply.

Scientists agree that emission must be reduced between 25% and 40% of 1990 levels by 2020 to keep global warming below 2C. The parties involved in the negotiations have accepted these findings but they have been slow to respond.

Developing nations say industrialised countries can and must respond, not only because they have the highest emissions, but because they are responsible for historical contributions to carbon emissions.

These countries have been ­spewing carbon into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution and developing countries say they should compensate for this by cutting emissions at least 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2020.

These sorts of back-and-forth arguments between developing and developed nations on who should cut how much frustrated many in Bonn.

South African lead negotiator Alf Wills did not mince his words about what happened in Bonn. He said South Africa was disappointed that some developed countries came to Bonn unprepared to negotiate on mid-term targets under the Kyoto Protocol, legal text for the amendment of the protocol to provide for the second commitment period, or to respond in concrete terms to developing country proposals on technology and funding.

“But we are nevertheless hopeful that we will achieve an ambitious outcome at the end of the year in Copenhagen,” he said. “To this end, South Africa will continue to make all efforts to work towards a successful outcome.”

He said developing countries were ready to move into full negotiating mode.

“Unfortunately, because of the absence of concrete targets and commitments from our developed country negotiating partners, substantive progress under the Kyoto track eluded us during this negotiating round in Bonn,” he said.

“The atmosphere cannot afford for some developed countries to continue to play hide and seek with their numbers for funding and mid-term quantified emission reduction commitments.”

He called on the developed countries to come to the next round of negotiations in two months’ time with targets that at least try to reduce emissions to a minimum of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 for developed countries as a group.

He said South Africa looked forward to the full “re-engagement of the United States in the multi-lateral negotiations”.

The Mail & Guardian understands that South Africa’s environment minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, has been very disappointed with the proposals made by the US so far.

The US offered to cut emissions 15% from current levels by 2020. This may be a huge step for the US but is actually only a return to 1990 levels. In contrast, the European Union offered to cut emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 30% only if there was a global agreement to do so.

Europe and the US have agreed that public funding is required but have failed to commit to a figure. At one point during discussions the Philippines commented that it was hearing “sweet music” from the EU but not the sweet words of “commitment” and “finance”.

Jonathan Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change for the US, tiptoed around the issue, saying that although there is a real need for financial assistance among the least developed countries (LDC) and island states “there are a number of countries that are using this as a negotiating gambit”.

Tasneem Essop, international climate policy adviser to WWF South Africa, said it was disappointing that the industrialised countries “didn’t come [to Bonn] with more ambitious targets for themselves yet had expectations that there were targets set for the more developed countries”.

The US and Europe have demanded that more developed countries, like China and India, also commit to emission reduction ­targets.

India hit back saying capping emissions would mean capping development in countries where poverty is still widespread.

“India is a more advanced developing country yet one-third of the world’s poor are in India,” said Surya Sethi, energy policy adviser to the Indian government.

Making their small voices heard among the clamour were the small island states and LDCs, which are asking for even greater reductions of up to 45% by industrialised ­countries. Ziaul Hoque Mukta, Oxfam’s Bangladesh coordinator, said the influence of these states, which are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, has increased dramatically this session. Bangladesh was one of the countries that called for the LDC Fund, which subsidises national adaptation programmes, to be increased from $200-million to $2-billion.

South Africa and Brazil went further, asking industrialised countries to commit $200-billion to the fund by 2020.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.
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