No cash will be a COP-out

The COP17 climate change conference will be little more than an expensive, hollow talkfest unless firm financial commitments are forthcoming, leading non-governmental organisations (NGOs) warned this week.

Amid predictions that no binding deal will be reached on reducing global carbon emissions, the NGOs said rich countries need to put their money on the table at the Durban meeting. They expressed disappointment about the annual G20 meeting of major world economies, which took place in France late last week and failed to finalise ways to finance the Green Climate Fund.

“The G20 could have turned talk into action with agreed sources of finance but that was not achieved,” said Greenpeace International’s executive director Kumi Naidoo. “With no agreement on any long-term sources of finance, the Green Fund is an empty shell.”

The fund was established last year, with rich countries promising to mobilise $100-billion a year by 2020 to back action in poor countries that will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change.

“The fund currently stands empty, so governments must now decide where the money needed to fill it will come from,” said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.
“The G20 could have done more in pushing funding mechanisms but it made forward steps, something that Durban would do well to seize on.”

G20 leaders said in a communiqué that they recognise innovative sources of finance are needed to fight climate change in poor countries. Progress was made on a proposal that funds be raised through a tax on large financial transactions by banks in Europe. Dubbed the “Robin Hood tax”, it could generate almost €60-billion a year.

Crucially, the United States has backed away from its previous objection to the tax, Hobbs said. South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Ethiopia also swung their support behind the proposal, which is being championed by France, Spain and Germany.

There is also growing support for a carbon charge on international shipping and aviation. Championed by South Africa, France and Germany, the proposal could generate around $40-billion a year by 2020 and help to cut carbon emissions in the ­transport industry.

“Momentum on both potential sources of climate finance is growing but needs further high-level political backing to be realised,” said Hobbs.

The G20 gave the nod to a third proposal, which would see governments phasing out subsidies for fossil fuel development worth an estimated $10-billion a year. Greenpeace said no progress on the proposal has been made since it was first accepted by the G20 two years ago.

The department of environmental affairs, which is leading South Africa’s negotiations at COP17, was unable to say this week what financial commitments it hopes to secure at the conference.

It has been estimated that hosting the talks, expected to draw more participants than last year’s Fifa World Cup, will cost South Africa about R320-million. The treasury committed R200-million and the rest is expected to come from donors.

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department for international relations and co-operation, which is chairing the talks, said it is not a waste of money that could have been spent on more pressing development needs.

“South Africa is working on consolidating its position as a key regional and international player and the hosting of this conference will go a long way in entrenching our stature as a strategic player internationally,” he said.

Up to 20 000 participants from 194 parties are expected to take part in the conference and related side events, bringing benefits to the hospitality industry, he said.

Hobbs said the cost of inaction on climate change would be far greater than those associated with hosting COP17.

“Progress would benefit South Africans and the entire African continent, in particular the most vulnerable people. A bad situation is set to get a lot worse if urgent action isn’t taken now to both slash carbon emissions and invest in the resilience of poor people,” he said.

China makes up quarter of global emissions
Milestones on the Road to Durban this week included:

  • Global carbon emissions last year rose by 6%, or 564-million tonnes, on 2009 levels, according to a report released by the United States energy department. China made up nearly a quarter (24.6%) of emissions, and the US accounted for 16.4% and India 6.2%. Other nations that experienced a rise in emissions included Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Poland and Kazakhstan. In Europe there was an overall moderate growth in emissions and some countries lowered theirs, including Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Slovakia, Spain, New Zealand and Pakistan.

  • With little hope that COP17 will deliver a global deal to halt the rise in carbon dioxide emissions, the European Union has proposed a new road map that would lead to a global treaty by 2015. This would “give countries more time to comply with international climate-protection obligations and to introduce the corresponding monitoring,” European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard told the Austrian daily Der Standard.

  • Although it is generally accepted that the Durban gathering will not yield a “legally binding, final, agreed outcome”, it would be the next step towards an agreed outcome, said the department of environment affairs’ chief negotiator, Alf Wills. He said South Africa’s position will be to balance developing-country priorities, such as the need for poverty eradication, with ensuring a deal on global emission reductions that are adequately ambitious to avert dangerous climate change.

  • Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu announced that he will host a “We have faith—act now for climate justice” rally and concert in Durban on the eve of COP17. “Apartheid seemed an overwhelming challenge but we mobilised and defeated it. We need the same passion and determination to defeat climate change,” Tutu said. He will hand over a petition to COP17 chairwoman Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, urging negotiators to reach a fair and binding agreement.

  • Backing up its call for South Africa to end its “addiction to coal”, Greenpeace activists entered the Kusile power station’s construction site in Mpumalanga, chaining themselves to the fence and scaling a crane. Three were arrested and charged with forced entry. “The True Cost of Coal”, a report released by Greenpeace in late October and compiled by the University of Pretoria, indicates that Kusile’s external and hidden costs to South Africa could be between R31.2-billion and R60.6-billion a year.



For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements. She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga. An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation. She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive. She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice. Read more from Fiona Macleod

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