Monday, September 21, 2020

Discord in the earth song

In the week that the world’s attention shifts to Copenhagen where the UN Climate Change Conference takes place December 7 ÔÇô 18, ringing in the ears of world leaders meeting in the Danish capital will be the words of Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives.
“We don’t want a global suicide pact,” Nasheed was quoted in a recent edition of the US newsmagazine TIME. “We want a global survival pact.”

Nasheed’s worry is not entirely unfounded. Maldives is a low-lying Indian Ocean nation that could be swamped by global warming-caused flooding.

The sentiment and sense of urgency is shared by most of the developing world, which will be amongst the most vulnerable to climate change, though they produce a fraction of the carbon emissions of the United States and European countries. That also happens to be the message that Botswana is carrying to Copenhagen.
But there is a problem. There is deadlock between developed nations and developing ones. Developing nations refuse most responsibility for climate change, arguing that warming is primarily the fault of rich industrialized countries, and want the developed world to take on strict short-term emissions reduction targets. Developed nations, led by the United States, argue that fast-growing developing nations like China and India will emit the vast majority of future carbon emissions, and that any deal that exempts them from action ÔÇô as the Kyoto Protocol was interpreted as doing ÔÇô is a farce.

“For us, the basic question is, what do we do that is in Botswana’s best interest, as well as take care of the environment?” says Kitso Mokaila ÔÇô the minister for environment, wildlife and tourism ÔÇô ahead of his departure as part of the Botswana delegation that will be led by Vice President Mompati Merafhe. “As we go to Copenhagen, we’re basically saying ‘let’s stick to Kyoto [Protocol] as it was. Let’s stick to the key elements and legally binding instruments [of the Protocol] because that’s the only solution’.”

For Botswana, and the rest of the developing world, sticking to the Kyoto Protocol means insisting on emission reductions of 45 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2050, and 85 ÔÇô 95 percent by 2080. The stand is informed by the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) warning that at the current emissions, the world temperature will rise by 2 degrees. A recent analysis by the Climate Group has also found that, to meet the emissions targets already agreed by nations, 9.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide must be prevented from entering the atmosphere by 2020. But these will not be enough for the deep cuts ÔÇô 80 percent or more on 1990 levels ÔÇô that many rich countries will have to deliver by 2050, if the world is to limit warming to what scientists agree is the safe limit. By then, according to the International Energy Agency, 17 technologies will have to be developed and rolled out to deliver a reduction of 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Most of that technology ÔÇô ranging from carbon capture and storage, solar power and zero-emission vehicles ÔÇô will need to be deployed in emerging economies.
“It has been documented that from 1927 to today, our minimum temperature in winter rose by 1.5 degrees,” says Mokaila. “Another 2 degrees means that our winters will be our summers, and our summers will be microwave summers.”

A situation analysis has warned that the impact of climate change on Botswana would have far-reaching and varied consequences. The effects would be felt in sectors such as forestry, agriculture, health, and tourism. These would manifest in ÔÇô among others ÔÇô decrease in crop yield (current indications stand at 30 percent decrease in maize and sorghum yield), shortfalls in water catchments, loss of rangeland cover, and increase in the prevalence of illnesses such as malaria, diarrhoea, and cholera.

It is expected that Botswana’s position at the conference will rest on the Bali Roadmap, a framework adopted in the Indonesian capital in 2007 by parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The roadmap is viewed as a comprehensive process that would lead to successful and sustained implementation of the UN Convention on Climate Change. Botswana’s position, which is shared by the rest of the developing world, is that the Bali Roadmap’s two track approach to the climate change addresses the concerns of both the developed and the developing countries. While the roadmap accommodates the developed countries’ insistence on a review of the Kyoto Protocol, it is also acceptable to those who want action now ÔÇô most of whom are to be found in the developing world ÔÇô because it sticks to issues of mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer, and finance to developing countries. It also holds that developing countries which don’t have to reduce emissions because they don’t emit, in the first place, should have a system to report what they are doing to prevent emissions.

Botswana is expected to advocate amendment, rather than outright replacement of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which had set the ambitious target that developed countries ought to reduce by emissions 50 percent based on 1990 levels. The call for amendment is backed by the argument that the developed countries have not met their reduction obligations, which they seek to avoid by proposing a new protocol.

Ahead of the conference, different suggestions have filtered through that the developed world tends to see as more favourable. These include obligations based on a country’s GDP, as well as gauging a country’s emission per capita. Both scenarios work against Botswana. With its relatively high GDP, Botswana would be landed with obligations of an advanced economy. The same applies to emission per capita, which would benefit densely-populated China, for instance, even though it is projected to overtake the United States as the world’s leading polluter. Since Botswana’s economy runs on coal-fired plants, it has been suggested that developed countries might put a carbon tax on the country’s diamonds, beef and other exports. For a country that sits on vast reserves of coal, and with grand ambitions to exploit the coal for power generation, Botswana is in a potentially dicey situation.

“We could use the coal to address our country’s electricity needs and develop our economy,” says Mokaila. “But we need to use it in a manner that mitigates emissions. There is technology that would allow us to do just that, but it’s expensive. That technology needs to be financed by somebody because we can’t afford it.”
This goes back to the developing countries’ insistence on the aspects of the Kyoto Protocol that call for technology transfer and finance.

Current estimates suggest that US$ 100 billion per year is required to assist developing countries to acquire technology to mitigate emission. Aid experts, however, warn that while there is obvious financial need to assist developing countries in this regard, such assistance should not create additional financial burden for developing countries, most of whom are already indebted to the developed west. It is in this light that a suggestion has been advanced that the “carbon financial package” should be sourced from public resources of the developed countries.

The polarised debate has led some to draw parallels with arguments over whether pharmaceutical companies should give up patents for expensively developed HIV or malaria drugs in those nations blighted by the illnesses. This has led one United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official to caution that without local education programmes, the only winners from Copenhagen will be multinational technology companies. “Capacity-development is very important ÔÇô people need to be educated and aware. You’ve got to be able to produce technologies by the south for the south, in the south,” she said. “It will not merely be technology transfer.”

Some, such as India’s policy studies professor Ambuj Sagar, argue that, “the best step would be if we stopped using the term technology transfer and started using something like innovation co-operation to signify that this is not a simple issue. It is not a hand-off from producers of technology to users of technology. We need co-operation instead of a simple reliance on markets to tackle what is an immense challenge.”

Mokaila disagrees that by insisting on financing, the developing countries are switching to the “give me” mode without lifting a finger to help themselves. Botswana, he points out, has set itself a target to grow more trees on the back of scientific evidence that repopulating the world with trees is an essential mitigating factor.

“We want to plant 100, 000 trees each year,” he says. “We have even changed our approach. We are now planting indigenous trees because they use less water and they are hardier. That is part adaptation of mitigating factors.”

Mokaila sums up the deal that the developing world hope to carry out of Copenhagen in his observation that there is no dispute about the reality of climate change. “Where we will land is where the issue is. If the developed countries refuse to act, this world is in trouble,” he says, almost echoing the words of Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives leader.


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