NewsNorth AfricaClimate Change: It's important that Africa does not pay the price

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Posted on Wednesday, 10 December 2014 16:45

Climate Change: It's important that Africa does not pay the price

This week is when it is hoped that there may be some progress on some of the more contentious issues in the high level segment of the climate negotiations in Lima.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the opening ceremony said it was important that countries reach a common understanding on the scope and status of their commitments (INDC) under the new agreement, that there is progress on climate finance.

Africa cannot be giving in, giving in, giving in, giving in...

"There is still a chance to stay within the 2ºC limit, but the window of opportunity is fast narrowing. All countries must be part of this solution, all of society must be engaged. It's time for transformation".

Ban is seeking an accelerated work on loss and damage, support for adaptation in developing countries and for all countries to ratify the Doha Agreement.

The Doha Agreement brings into effect the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Early this week, a draft text for the ADP was circulated and there was some optimism with Africa Group spokesperson Seyni Nafo saying, "We are engaging, we are more structured than ever, we have text on most of the issues that are at heart in the group, and we made good progress last week."

But while key contentions outlined by the Secretary General still need to be hammered out by negotiators, it is likely that some of these issues will not be resolved in Lima.

Works on pre 2020 negotiations have yielded little progress on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, with a few ratifications of the Doha Agreement and very low mitigation targets.

In the meantime, there is still nothing to indicate whether commitments for the 2015 agreement will be for mitigation only, or also for adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building, as included in the Durban Platform.

Carbon budget vs time

Finance remains an overall sticking point. There is contention around an ex ante review of commitments based on science and equity, which, according to Tasneem Essop of WWF, is critical. "If the UNFCCC doesn't do one, then civil society will".

The most dramatic game is perhaps the one playing out around differentiation of the commitments that countries are called to make.

Some parties are attempting to redefine a key concept in the negotiations that accounts for historic responsibility and the capacity of different countries to address climate change.

As mitigation expert Malte Meinshausen explains, the science shows that there is only 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide left in the carbon budget if the world is to remain within a global warming limit of 2ºC. And at current rates of emissions, we have about 30 years left.

The faster the carbon budget is used up, the sooner carbon will have to be phased out.

Meinshausen says, "At some point emissions have to go to zero. If we emit too much, we have to go negative."

There is some room for other greenhouse gases such as methane, because of their shorter lifespans in the atmosphere, but for carbon dioxide, there is no room to play, according to Meinshausen.

He says that it is possible to exceed the carbon budget and then go negative very rapidly, and this is one of the options in the current text.

However, carbon sequestration is not proven on a large scale, and there would have to be significant improvements in the technology to be able to support a removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Because of this very limited carbon budget, it is understood generally that all countries need to mitigate.

Per capita emissions

But the climate convention, through its principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities, acknowledges that some countries have contributed very little to climate change and therefore have no or lower obligations to mitigate.

This principle is coming under strain from some countries who are calling for the addition of the word "evolving" to reflect that the global economy has changed since the convention was signed, and that emissions from some developing countries have increased, and are continuing to increase.

Many developing countries acknowledge this and accept responsibility to mitigate, as shown for example by mitigation commitments from China and South Africa, and India's commitment to grow its renewable energy sector.

where having not caused climate change Africa is doing the best it can to make sure that it plays its part

However, it is still important to consider the historic responsibility, and the per capita emissions. For example, although China is the world's largest emitter, it is also the world's largest country, and its emissions per person are significantly lower than those of the EU or the US.

Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute explains further that the capacity of countries to address climate change is also important in discussions of equity.

"You need to focus on responsibility and capacity because they are politically divisive, ethically salient and quantitatively important.

"So you would have to assess the historical contributions of different countries to climate change, and then also assess the tools and finances and knowledge of countries to assess their capacity to deal with the problems".

The relative distribution of wealth and income around the world is shifting. But when countries are compared, says Kartha, something that has to be recognised is what they are using their emissions for.

While the US uses its emissions for consumption, China and other developing countries are using their emissions for infrastructure and development. And part of those emissions are spent on products that are consumed in other countries, which makes responsibility for those emissions a little unclear.

Even with recognition that developing countries need to develop, there is a need for all countries to reduce their emissions.

What this means, says Kartha, is that a country like India is reducing is emissions rapidly at the same level of income that the US had when it entered its fossil fuel intensive industrial revolution and was increasing its emissions.

Renewable and energy efficient technologies do make a transition to a low carbon pathway possible, but the higher costs mean that there is need for support for developing countries, and developed countries have an obligation to provide this support, under the climate convention.

Brazil's proposal

Brazil put a proposal on the table, referred to as the Concentric Circles Approach that is intended to support differentiation in the commitments that countries will make.

There are three layers or circles, which include countries that have different levels of responsibility and capacity.

The inner circle is for countries that have an obligation to mitigate, as well as to support mitigation and adaptation in other countries.

A second circle is for countries that have some mitigation, adaptation and support commitments.

The third is for countries that are encouraged to take action specific to their national conditions, but will have no obligations for mitigation.

This last circle (the third) includes the least developed countries, and the first would include developed countries.

Countries in the second and third circles determine whether and when they are able to move into the inner circles as their economies and levels of development grow.

Brazil's ambassador, Antonio Marcondes says about their rationale for the proposal, "We are looking for an enhanced regime, we are looking for a better, more effective, better functioning regime. We consider that it is high time to give a stop to legislating and to enter into an effective implementation mode".

He said that the UNFCCC should be preserved intact, "Durban never agreed that we should change the convention. Durban agreed to have a new agreement that is applicable to all under the UNFCCC, so we are not rewriting the convention.

"What we are proposing with this concept of concentric differentiation is a way to break the gridlock and a way out of what could be a stumbling block, and to overcome the possibility that some countries are putting forward to self-differentiate themselves".

He says that there should never be backsliding by countries on either their commitments or their obligations.

Brazil intends to deliver its INDC next year, but as Marcondes says, "We are a developing country and we are looking at staying for some time within the second circle of actions".

Not charity

"As you recall, the Durban Platform is about enhancing action, so that we don't go in the opposite direction. And that's really important for us," says South Africa's Ambassador Nosipho Mxakato-Diseko.

"Above all it's important that Africa does not pay the price. Africa cannot be giving in, giving in, giving in, giving in...

"Finance for climate change is an obligation that comes from the principles of the convention in a context where having not caused climate change Africa is doing the best it can to make sure that it plays its part.

"So climate finance is not charity, it's not Official Development Assistance, it's a legal obligation first and foremost. The trick is to make sure as we go forward that it's included in the agreement.

"We are willing to do our part as Africa, but there are also legal obligations on the other parties to do their fair share".

South Africa also intends to submit its INDC next year.

Overall, while there is a sense of movement in the negotiations, these critical issues are some distance from resolution.



Rehana Dada

Rehana Dada

Rehana Dada is a journalist and filmmaker who covers global change, development and earth sciences. She works in government and non profit sectors in research, communications and project management through her small company, Sea Witch. She is a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship alumna at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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