Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Developing countries given raw deal at Copenhagen climate change conference

Ahead of the Copenhagen summit world leaders were in agreement that a lot remains to be done if the perils posed by global warming are to be reversed. They were also in agreement that there is a need for the international community to take concrete and cohesive action to combat climate change.

Hailed as the largest UN gathering, the conference, held from December 7th to 18th last year, and attended by 119 heads of state, was touted as the ideal platform through which all of these concerns would be addressed to take the world forward after the lapse of the Tokyo protocol in 2012. Developing counties had gone to Copenhagen hoping for firm and binding commitments on the side of the developed countries, especially towards funding and technological exchange. They had hoped that the conference would, among others, set clear targets on emission reductions from developed countries, and most importantly, extract firm and binding commitments from developed countries towards providing financing and technology transfer for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

But, alas, it was not to be. Instead of guaranteeing funding, the accord garnered a non-binding collective agreement from developing countries to provide initial funding of up to US $ 30 billion, and further mobilize US $ 100 billion a year by 2020 to tackle global warming. The developing countries were in for a rude awakening, a legally binding agreement was not on the cards.

What was hyped up as a landmark conference eventually fizzled down and ended with a whimper, amidst cries of unfair play from the third world and, on the other hand, wide smiles and pats on the back from industrialized countries.

“The failure of the political process in Copenhagen to achieve a fair, adequate and binding deal on climate change is profoundly distressing. A higher purpose was at stake, but our political leaders have proven themselves unable to rise to the challenge,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

When addressing the media at his ministry headquarters on Monday, Environment Wildlife and Tourism Minister Kitso Mokaila said, “the Copenhagen conference was a dismal failure. We had hoped for firm commitments from the developed countries. The fact is that Botswana and the rest of the underdeveloped countries are paying for the gains that were made by those who feathered their nests.”

Mokaila is not alone in his assessment. Many observers have dismissed the accord as a weak political agreement that was hastily hammered to give credence to an apparently failed conference. Developing countries were particularly incensed that the pact was borne out of exclusive meetings held by a number of rich countries and the big four emerging economies ÔÇô China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. Worse still, instead of formally endorsing the accord, the conference only “took note” of the political agreement, and pushed aside prepared texts from years of climate negotiations.

“Everyone didn’t get everything. But this decision is an essential beginning. We will try to turn it into a legally binding agreement as soon as possible,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Mokaila, together with other climate change commentators, have however said that the accord’s shortcoming are more glaring that its achievements. The accord is not legally binding; neither does it commit industrialized countries to rigorous targets. At this point the accord does not elaborate how the much touted US $30 billion is to be divided up amongst individual contributors.

For the US and other developed countries, the accord calls for the submission of quantified, economy wide emissions targets for 2020. Developing countries will submit plans outlining appropriate mitigation actions by January 31 for them to qualify for funding.

Said Mokaila in conclusion, “While the issue if climate change is of paramount importance to Botswana, our government has far greater responsibilities of providing Batswana with education, health, infrastructure and basic needs. We are still grappling with HIV-Aids and poverty. These remain our greatest responsibility.”

Perhaps Mokaila’s words mirror the frustrations that developing countries have to go through in dealing with developed countries. With projects like Mamamabula and the Morupule, Botswana should seek new technologies that will allow her to reduce carbon emissions. But it is important that the quest for reduction of carbon emission should not in any way hamper our economic development.

“We must be allowed to grow our emissions, peak and thereafter decline. A preferred date for Botswana is 2030 given our Morupule and Mmamabula projects,” said Mokaila.

It is, therefore, important, he said, that developing countries forge alliances so that they are better represented at such fora. At the same time, for small countries like Botswana, while important, global warming mitigation might not be plausible in the short term because of lack of alternatives. This country is still a long way off in establishing solar energy, despite the fact that we enjoy a lot of solar heat. We are still a long way off in exploring and exploiting the methane gas deposits that abound in our country. A lot of public education still needs to be done to educate people about climate change.

It is only with the support of the industrialized countries, through finance and technology transfer, that developing countries will be able to institute activities to militate against global warming. Until then, says Mokaila, Botswana’s options are limited, while her responsibilities remain.

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Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.