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Durban 2011 Faces a Twin-Challenge

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COP 17 Logo By Tetteh Hormeku*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

The global climate change conference in Durban, the sunny city of South Africa, from November 28 to December 9 will bring together representatives of the world's governments, international organizations and civil society. The UN hopes that discussions will advance, in a balanced fashion, the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the Bali Action Plan, agreed at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at COP 16 in December 2010. At stake is whether the world can agree to a global deal that will tackle climate change taking into account the principle of equity and justice.

ACCRA (IDN) - The Durban climate change conference end of November finds humanity at a critical crossroads. Apart from the small and dwindling band of climate sceptics, there is now widespread agreement that there is, in the words of African civil society groups "increasingly little time left to take the actions required to avert further catastrophic effects of climate change". Governments everywhere need to take action now.

And yet, the impression is that what to do has become trapped in increasingly heated and for most ordinary people, unseemly, contestation. Developed countries have historically been most responsible for global warming and have benefited from the kind of economic development that is behind global warming. They have most of the resources to help address it, but are attempting to wrangle out of the international treaty obligations that they undertook in this regard.

Developing countries, with fewer responsibility and resources, but already most threatened with the devastating floods, droughts, and other effects of global warming, are insisting that developed countries meet their obligations.

As most civil society organisations across the globe see it, the obligations of developed countries, and the financial and technological transfers that they have to make to developing countries, are not an act of charity or good will: the developed countries owe a debt for plundering the world’s resources and endangering the earth in the process.

It is not only equity that is implicated in this contestation. It also happens that the proposals put forward by the developed countries, and loudly trumpeted from Copenhagen to Cancun, will not do what the science says is required to keep the planet safe for life.

The goal of keeping global temperatures to a two degree centigrade limit is no longer sufficient to the task; nor are the targets pledged by developed countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (targets which will in any case not even achieve the two degree goal).

Equity and Science

Durban thus faces a twin-challenge: to meet the requirements of both equity and science. For Africa, which happens to be the host continent of this important meeting, this is doubly significant. The science says that Africa's geo-physical characteristics make it liable to warm by one-and-half times the global average. Any more warming beyond a critical threshold will in the words of the Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan, then Chair of the G77, result in the "incineration of Africa".

The African continent is also home to countries and populations with the least developed overall capabilities to meet the challenges of climate change. Its agricultural and productive systems still rely mainly on rain and other natural cycles and are thus vulnerable to floods, drought and other extreme weather conditions and disruptions of established patterns.

At the same time, it lacks the technological systems and industrial capacities to enable it to cope with these disruptive patterns. When the floods recently hit Australia, the country mobilised its own means to evacuate affected populations to safer grounds; and the roads were intact for use after the waters receded.

In Africa during such floods you might find a pregnant woman hanging on to a tree waiting to be plucked to safety by helicopters supplied by a friendly nation. Whatever exists in the name of roads will have been washed away with the floods.

In such circumstances, the ultimate challenge of climate change is both to arrest global warming and at the same time enable the build-up of overall domestic capacity, especially among African and other developing countries.

This requires many things, not least the transformation of current systems and methods of production which privilege the comfort of a few elite above the needs of the vast majority of people everywhere.

Most immediately, it requires a set of decisions by governments which, again in the words of African civil society, all add up: decisive action to keep the global temperatures at safe levels as dictated by science; provide space as well as financial and other resource support for sustainable developments of all countries and peoples; and ensure effective compliance with commitments.

This is the task for Durban.

*Tetteh Hormeku is Head of Programmes, and lead on international trade and economic policy issues, at the Africa Secretariat of Third World Network (TWN-Africa). He holds an LLM (Master of Law) in international economic law, with specialization in international trade and investment issues. A version of this article appeared in a special issue jointly produced by Pambazuka News and African Agenda, a publication of TWN-Africa. [IDN-InDepthNews - November 5, 2011]

Picture: COP 17 Logo | Credit: UNFCCC

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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