Africa says do what science requires

By Bryan Walker 05/11/2009

The desperation that poorer countries are feeling over climate change was dramatically displayed at Barcelona this week when the African bloc walked out of the official negotiations towards a Copenhagen agreement.  Their complaint, reports the Guardian, was that the rich nations’ carbon cuts were far too small to avoid catastrophic climate change. The demand is that the rich countries adopt the science-backed target of a 40% overall cut on emissions on 1990 levels. So far, rich countries have pledged an aggregate of less than 10%. The US, the world’s second biggest polluter, has pledged to cut around 4% on 1990 levels, or 17% on 2005 levels.

Bruno Sekoli, head of the Lesotho national climate office and chair of the least developed countries group of the world’s poorest nations, had this to say:

“Africa had no choice because of the reality of climate change. The negotiations have been going a long time and have not shown much progress. It’s not about money. Climate change is an issue of life or death for us. The developed countries have to shift policies. A bad deal is not good for Africa or vulnerable countries.

“The impacts of climate change have come too soon, so soon. I am scared to think of the consequences.

 ”Africa and Africans are dying now while those who are historically responsible are not taking actions.”

Algeria, which chairs the Africa group, said  rich countries were “more concerned with political and economic feasibility” while the poorest were “struggling to survive” with climate change.

The resultant rescheduling of sessions at the meeting has meant that 60% of the remaining time will be devoted to discussion of emission cuts. The Guardian reports that the African move was credited with reminding delegations that the ultimate point of the talks is to reduce emissions.

Camilla Toulmin, in Climate Change in Africa, which I reviewed a couple of days ago, worried that in spite of all its problems Africa will be marginalised in the global climate change discussions.  This action at Barcelona suggests that marginalisation is not going to be accepted. Nor should it be. “If you are an African country you have much more at stake than a rich country. They are rightly confused by the talks and angry,” commented Saleemul Huq, head of climate change at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

Three things about New Zealand struck me when I was reading about the Barcelona drama. The first is that our government has expressed satisfaction that it’s somewhere in the middle of the pack in the sadly inadequate response of the rich nations to the emissions cuts required.    Second, the Algerian accusation that that rich countries are more concerned with political and economic feasibility identifies the dominant theme in New Zealand government thinking at present, as Nick Smith regularly demonstrates.  Third, the NZIER report, welcomed by Smith, claimed that emission reductions were a low priority for New Zealand. The insularity of such a statement stands out all the more offensively against the pleas of the countries already feeling the effects of climate change.

Thanks to Hot Topic commenter Macro for directing my attention more closely to the event.  The youtube clip he provided a link to is well worth spending a couple of minutes watching to catch a sense of the drama.