Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The show has begun after an unprecedented series of preparatory meetings and fading optimism, the 15th Conference of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol has kicked-off its two-week marathon to forge a future climate agreement. The stakes are high – scientists and climate change advocates give us only a few more years for decisive action to avoid catastrophic effects that could trigger mass migration and the loss of cures of some major diseases through the loss of biodiversity and its treasures, just to mention two of the myriad of possible consequences. And a few years is a very short period of time in the world of global agreements and their ratification.
Despite all its complexities, it is commonly agreed that a breakthrough will rest on four main pillars: (1) a binding mid-term commitment by developing countries to reduce the their emission dramatically, (2) appropriate domestic action beyond existing commitment by industrialised countries, (3) equitable and predictable finance for adaptation to climate change paired with the transfer of clean technology to developing countries and (4) revised governance structure that will allow increased participation of developing countries.

Accordingly, the focus in Copenhagen will be on the two main bodies established in 2007 under the Bali Roadmap, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) with Annex I Parties being most mainly industrialised countries.

Recent pronouncements by world leaders given momentum. China announced to reduce its emission intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 and the US promised to cut emissions by a less ambitious but still progressive 17% by 2020 based on 2005 levels. The recent meeting of Commonwealth leaders made a possibly breakthrough on finance by announcing a Copenhagen Launch Fund that would start in 2010 and building to a level of resources of $10 billion annually by 2012. Last but not least, Obama’s decision to participate in the high-level segment next week instead of just stopping by after picking up the Nobel Peace Prize.

Africa probably has the most at stake as the continent predicted to be most affected by climate change. This has lead African leaders to push vocally for up to $64 billion in adaption finance for Africa alone, combined with decisive actions on emission reductions without binding commitments for African countries. But while Africa might have only contributed about 3% to global greenhouse emission that caused climate change, it can be more than a recipient of compensation for historic climate change by others; it can be part of the solution. The continent has the potential to exploit another important natural resource and become one of the biggest carbon sinks to mitigate climate changes through its forests and agriculture, which should form an essential part of any new agreement. South Africa has taken a first step in showing how African countries can contribute with its surprising
announcement to “undertake mitigation actions which will result in a deviation below the current emissions baseline of around 34% by 2020 and by around 42% by 2025”. Let’s hope for many more productive steps like this one.

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