Copenhagen-Obama’s Dirty Tricks Sacrifice Africa

On the ninth day of the Copenhagen climate summit, Africa was sacrificed. The position of the G77 negotiating bloc, including African states, had been clear: a 2C increase in average global temperatures translates into a 3–3.5C increase in Africa. That means, according to the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, “an additional 55 million people could be at risk from hunger”, and “water stress could affect between 350 and 600 million more people”.Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it like this: “We are facing impending disaster on a monstrous scale … A global goal of about 2C is to condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development.”

And yet that is precisely what Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, proposed to do when he stopped off in Paris on his way to Copenhagen: standing with President Nicolas Sarkozy, and claiming to speak on behalf of all of Africa (he is the head of the African climate-negotiating group), he unveiled a plan that includes the dreaded 2C increase and offers developing countries just $10bn a year to help pay for everything climate related, from sea walls to malaria treatment to fighting deforestation.It’s hard to believe this is the same man who only three months ago was saying this: “We will use our numbers to delegitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position … If need be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent … What we are not prepared to live with is global warming above the minimum avoidable level.”And this: “We will participate in the upcoming negotiations not as supplicants pleading for our case but as negotiators defending our views and interests.”

We don’t yet know what Zenawi got in exchange for so radically changing his tune or how, exactly, you go from a position calling for $400bn a year in financing (the Africa group’s position) to a mere $10bn. Similarly, we do not know what happened when secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Philippine president Gloria Arroyo just weeks before the summit and all of a sudden the toughest Filipino negotiators were kicked off their delegation and the country, which had been demanding deep cuts from the rich world, suddenly fell in line.We do know, from witnessing a series of these jarring about-faces, that the G8 powers are willing to do just about anything to get a deal in Copenhagen. The urgency does not flow from a burning desire to avert cataclysmic climate change, since the negotiators know full well that the paltry emissions cuts they are proposing are a guarantee that temperatures will rise a “Dantesque” 3.9C, as Bill McKibben puts it.

Matthew Stilwell of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development – one of the most influential advisers in these talks – says the negotiations are not really about averting climate change but are a pitched battle over a profoundly valuable resource: the right to the sky. There is a limited amount of carbon that can be emitted into the atmosphere. If the rich countries fail to radically cut their emissions, then they are actively gobbling up the already insufficient share available to the south. What is at stake, Stilwell argues, is nothing less than “the importance of sharing the sky”.

Europe, he says, fully understands how much money will be made from carbon trading, since it has been using the mechanism for years. Developing countries, on the other hand, have never dealt with carbon restrictions, so many governments don’t really grasp what they are losing. Contrasting the value of the carbon market – $1.2 trillion a year, according to leading British economist Nicholas Stern – with the paltry $10bn on the table for developing countries for the next three years, Stilwell says that rich countries are trying to exchange “beads and blankets for Manhattan”. He adds: “This is a colonial moment. That’s why no stone has been left unturned in getting heads of state here to sign off on this kind of deal … Then there’s no going back. You’ve carved up the last remaining unowned resource and allocated it to the wealthy.”

For months now NGOs have got behind a message that the goal of Copenhagen is to “seal the deal”. Everywhere we look in the Bella Centre, clocks are ticking. But any old deal isn’t good enough, especially because the only deal on offer won’t solve the climate crisis and might make things much worse, taking current inequalities between north and south and locking them in indefinitely.Augustine Njamnshi of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance puts the 2C proposal in harsh terms: “You cannot say you are proposing a ‘solution’ to climate change if your solution will see millions of Africans die and if the poor not the polluters keep paying for climate change.”

Stilwell says that the wrong kind of deal would “lock in the wrong approach all the way to 2020” – well past the deadline for peak emissions. But he insists that it’s not too late to avert this worst-case scenario. “I’d rather wait six months or a year and get it right because the science is growing, the political will is growing, the understanding of civil society and affected communities is growing, and they’ll be ready to hold their leaders to account to the right kind of a deal.”

At the start of these negotiations the mere notion of delay was environmental heresy. But now many are seeing the value of slowing down and getting it right. Most significant, after describing what 2C would mean for Africa, Archbishop Tutu pronounced that it is “better to have no deal than to have a bad deal”. That may well be the best we can hope for in Copenhagen. It would be a political disaster for some heads of state – but it could be one last chance to avert the real disaster for everyone else.

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4 thoughts on “Copenhagen-Obama’s Dirty Tricks Sacrifice Africa

  1. The villains of this moral fable are easily identified.
    The United States, deeply in conflict with its own conscience, has, despite the convictions of President Barack Obama, failed to realise that with great power comes great responsibility. It may eventually emerge as a hero, but right now it is failing as a global leader.

    Canada and Australia are closer to the dark side, battling at every turn to block a deal that might threaten the structure of their carbon-intensive economies and blaming the developing world for insisting on the special responsibility of the rich.
    In the meantime China’s new status as a superpower has never been more evident than it is in Copenhagen. Threats on Thursday by the world’s biggest carbon emitter to pull out could either save the conference or ruin it.

    As for the Europeans, they have been smugly superior, as usual, but their insistence on extending the Kyoto protocol into a deal of any kind has been destructive.

    Amid these great power squabbles are the clear victims — the small island states that will sink beneath the waves if sea levels rise as they are expected to. They stand to lose everything, and speeches by the presidents of the Maldives and Nauru have been heart-wrenching.

    The Africa group, too, is brutally exposed to the impact of climate change and ill-equipped to cope. African leaders too have been on the side of a tough deal.

    South Africa, as ever, was trying to play the mediator.

    Robert Mugabe said at the conference that he couldn’t understand why Western nations were so concerned about human rights and so blithe about climate change.

  2. (AFP) – 3 hours ago
    COPENHAGEN — Fury erupted at the Copenhagen climate talks Saturday over a draft accord agreed by a select group of leaders, with some delegates comparing it to the Nazi Holocaust and Biblical betrayal.
    “It is asking Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dependence of a few countries,” said Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping of Sudan, chairing the Group of 77 and China bloc of 130 poor nations.
    “It’s a solution based on values that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces.”
    Dia-ping’s comments triggered a storm of protests from the floor, with Sweden calling them “absolutely despicable”.
    Ed Miliband, Britain’s climate minister, condemned the “disgusting comparison” which he said “should offend people across this conference whatever background they come from.”
    Tensions crackled over the draft agreement that was crafted after talks between around two dozen leaders on the sidelines of a summit on Friday, including US President Barack Obama and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao.
    The agreement contains a commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), but did not spell out the important stepping stones — global emissions targets for 2020 or 2050 — for getting there.
    Tuvalu’s Ian Fry, whose country is one of the most at risk from global warming, said the agreement amounted to Biblical betrayal.
    “It looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future,” he said to applause in the chamber which sat through the night.
    “Our future is not for sale. I regret to inform you that Tuvalu cannot accept this document.”
    But after an adjournment lasting several hours, the accord then cleared a major hurdle when the climate conference agreed to “take note” of the accord, a move that analysts said would allow the pact to take effect.
    Much of the anger was directed towards Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, the conference’s chairman, who was accused of overseeing a stitch-up.
    Venezuela’s representative Claudia Salerno Caldera said that Rasmussen was “going to endorse this coup d’etat against the United Nations”.
    “Those of us who wish to speak have to make a point of order by cutting our hands and drawing blood,” she added, before opening a red-stained palm.
    Rasmussen, looking uneasy in his chair, faced a barrage of criticism during the highly charged session which was convened several hours after Obama said he had reached a political agreement with around two dozen fellow leaders, including from China and India.
    Cuba accused Obama of “behaving like an emperor,” adding that the Havana government would not accept the draft declaration.
    The plenary session was temporarily suspended after Costa Rica demanded explanations for key text that had disappeared from a draft resolution while the leaders’ wrangling had unfolded.
    That text said countries would strive for a “legally binding” agreement in Mexico City at the end of 2010 — a position supported especially by Russia, Canada and Japan in order to lock the United States into a treaty.
    Green activists said they suspected the vital words had been deleted as a quid pro quo to placate the United States.
    Obama flew out of Copenhagen late Friday before any decision among the 194 members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on whether to accept the draft agreement.

  3. Thank u muiguithania.
    I did not understand what this climate thing was all about in Copenhage. I live in Gatura in Thika near Ndakaini dam. It used to be a very cold zone when I came in 2001. Malaria was foreign here but now, men, women and children are dying everyday because they don’t have resistance. Houses were build to compensate for the low temperatures but now they have become incinerators. The serene green vegetation is gone and in a few years time I may see a tea zone in a semi desert.
    The west is just trying to justify their survival the same way the nazis were trying. Its just 9 years since I came here. What will be the temps here in another 10 years?
    Patrick.

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