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28 June 2017 04:03 (South Africa)
Politics

Together we're stronger: poor nations force temporary halt to Copenhagen talks

  • Branko Brkic
    branko3048 a ray
    Branko Brkic

    Brkic is the founder and editor of The Daily Maverick.

    He has edited magazines on business and politics, technology, and wildlife. He has also published fiction and non-fiction books, most of them in Serbian. Though he has never pretended to be a reporter, his wide knowledge of politics (especially in America), combined with his experiences in a disintegrating Yugoslavia, gives him an unusual outlook on events in South Africa.

    Despite the vowel-poor surname, he tells anyone who asks that he hails from Hyde Park, Johannesburg, having spent most of his adult life in South Africa.

    Recent columns:

  • Politics
copenhagen walkout

The tempers approached combustion on Monday as 135 of the world’s poorer countries brought the global climate conference to a temporary halt when they threatened a conference walkout, insisting richer nations were failing to cut their greenhouse gases enough to make a real difference.

While this move was ultimately more tactics than fundamental principle, and by Monday afternoon the talks were back in session again, the very threat of non-participation called attention yet again to the difficult, awkward balance between poor and rich in Copenhagen.

Helping keep tempers in check, Mama Konaté of Mali told the media that the “killing of the Kyoto Protocol, I can say, will mean the killing of Africa. Before accepting that, we should all die first.” Helpful, that. Where's the apocalypse when you need it?

And inside the conference hall, two women dressed as angels held signs aloft, saying "Don't Kill Kyoto" as photographers took their inevitable human interest shots since nothing else was going on until other climate activists showed their solidarity by forming a giant human chain that snaked through the Bella Center.

But in reality, this move to halt the discussions was largely an effort to shift the focus of the conference’s agenda onto the responsibilities of the industrial countries and make emissions reductions the first item for discussion as world leaders begin arriving Tuesday. As Kim Carstensen of the World Wildlife Fund said, “I don't think the talks are falling apart, but we're losing time.” Jake Schmidt, director of international climate programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, echoed Carstensen, saying, “This is all part of the negotiating dynamic, especially as you get close to the end game.” 

The conference is due to conclude on the 18 December and as the end gets closer, some 110 heads of government or state will be on hand for what almost certainly will be a tumultuous finish. On Monday, too, UK PM Gordon Brown announced he would go to Copenhagen early in an effort to “inject momentum” into the talks. It is amazing negotiating tactics loom so large at, well, a large, complex multinational negotiation. Or, as one of the characters of “Casablanca” would have reminded us, “I am shocked that there is gambling in this casino.”

As part of the effort to bring things to a halt, African delegates had released a statement declaring they were “outraged with the lack of transparency and democracy in the process” and Jairam Ramesh, India’s chief negotiator, said the Group of 77’s temporary walkout was prompted by frustrations with how conference leaders had been managing the negotiations. Ramesh pointed to Connie Hedegaard, Danish conference president, as the villain of the piece. Ramesh said Hedegaard was attempting to abandon negotiations that would continue rely upon the 1997 Kyoto Protocol’s formulation.

Under the Kyoto agreement, developing countries do not, now, face limits on their emissions. Promoting an alternative, something richer nations are pushing for, could introduce carbon dioxide restrictions on poorer nations as well. As a result, the question of whether to continue to follow the Kyoto Protocol’s line - or to abandon it - has become a key fault line in Copenhagen.

Monday’s turmoil happened just as US energy secretary, Steven Chu, announced at a Copenhagen press conference that industrialized countries would spend $350 million over five years — including $85 million from the United States — to spread renewable and non-polluting energy technology in developing countries. This plan, the Renewables and Efficiency Deployment Initiative, has come from a partnership nurtured by the Obama administration, and bringing together the countries responsible for at least 85% of greenhouse gase emissions.

Photo: U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu speaks at a trade expo featuring eco-friendly products in Copenhagen December 13, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong

The four main elements of this initiative are:

  1. Encouraging health and economic benefits from cutting the use of “guttering” kerosene lamps;
  2. Enhancing labeling and standards for high-efficiency appliances;
  3. Web-based exchanges to coordinate the deployment of clean energy technologies; and
  4. Support for the World Bank’s Strategic Climate Fund to boost and held finance national renewable energy projects.

But, given the demands, now, for hundreds of billions of energy and climate aid, a program of hundreds of millions may not spread enough love, even if every bit of aid really could help.

Developing nations continue to stress, naturally, that the rich have a moral duty to help the poor deal with the consequences of global warming – drought, floods, major storms, population dislocations – that derive from rich nations’ greenhouse gas emissions. 

The imperative for making progress, however, got a bit of a momentum from former US vice president Al Gore and the Norwegian and Danish foreign ministers as they described a new report that gives a 75% probability the Arctic ice cap would melt – entirely – in the summer, in as little as five to seven years from now.

By J. Brooks Spector

For more, read the New York Times, the AP, the BBC, and the Washington Post

For more information on climate change policy issues, readers should also check out the Peterson Institute for International Economics' special section on climate change.

Main photo: A Greenpeace activist dressed as one of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" rides along the parliament building during a brief protest in Copenhagen December 13, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

  • Branko Brkic
    branko3048 a ray
    Branko Brkic

    Brkic is the founder and editor of The Daily Maverick.

    He has edited magazines on business and politics, technology, and wildlife. He has also published fiction and non-fiction books, most of them in Serbian. Though he has never pretended to be a reporter, his wide knowledge of politics (especially in America), combined with his experiences in a disintegrating Yugoslavia, gives him an unusual outlook on events in South Africa.

    Despite the vowel-poor surname, he tells anyone who asks that he hails from Hyde Park, Johannesburg, having spent most of his adult life in South Africa.

    Recent columns:

  • Politics

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