Climate change: the moral question
The African Group of Negotiators at the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP17) has vowed to resist efforts to bury the Kyoto Protocol.
This came as South Africa’s Nobel Peace laureate Emeritus Desmond Tutu drew parallels between climate change and apartheid, as the Durban climate change conference opened on Monday, highlighting that the phenomenon has assumed a moral dimension.
Archbishop Tutu led a religious rally on the eve of the 12-day UN climate talks where he urged people to unite against climate change in the same way they opposed apartheid.
Climate change will hit poor nations in Africa the hardest, spawning extreme weather events like droughts and floods as well as increasing vector-borne diseases.
In a worst case scenario, Small island nations and cities could be swallowed in rising sea levels as glaciers melt.
“Africa will not become the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol,” Victor Kabengele wa Koudilu, one of the chairs of the Group and lead negotiator of the DRC said.
Kabengele declared: “The African Group would like to state loud and clear that it will not allow African soil to become the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol.”
He reiterated Africa’s position, adopted by continental Heads of State and Government, that developed countries should “take ambitious, legally-binding, quantified emissions reduction commitments in the second commitment period of at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; and between 80–95 percent by 2050”.
Kabengele added: “Regardless of the views of our partners, the African Group is of the firm view that the planet cannot afford to waste thirteen years of negotiations.”
The Working Group is seeking a new legally-binding agreement on emissions reductions to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.
The 1997 Kyoto is the only international legally-binding agreement and there are fears that if a successor is not found soon, global temperatures could rise above the two degrees level that scientists have warned could threaten the very existence of the planet.
Turning to the moral aspects of the matter at hand, Archbishop Tutu said: “Now we are facing another huge, huge enemy… an enemy called global warming, climate change.”
He said climate change would affect both the rich and poor alike. Similarly, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called for “real moral leadership” in addressing climate change.
He said in a video message: “The moral crisis is as real as ever. The effects of environmental pressure and change are more and more felt day by day, especially by the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet.
“And we need as never before real moral leadership from our governments, from the international community.”
Williams challenged rich nations to make good of their pledge to provide US$100 billion to help developing countries adapt to climate change and mitigate the damage.
The paradox that rich nations have contributed most to climate change due to industrial gas emissions but will suffer less effects while least polluting developing nations informed the groundbreaking Kyoto Protocol.
That agreement compels major polluters to cut their emissions and help poor countries adapt to climate change.
However, developed countries have not stepped up to the plate and refuse to commit to drastically cut emissions and are now vying for the death of Kyoto Protocol which expires next year. They now argue that a new deal has to come in 2020.
They are wary of agreeing to a binding emissions cut regime as this will affect industrial activity and the economy and national interest.
Powerhouses Japan, Russia and Canada have already said they will oppose any new deal while the EU says it is unwilling to agree to a deal without the US, which in turn says it won’t agree to any deal without China. Some members of the United States Congress doubt the existence of human influence on climate and ridicule international efforts to deal with it.
The question remains whether any moral sense will ever prevail.
Research has shown that climate change may result in Africa failing to produce its staple grain foods around 2090, but cooler climes in the north will have gotten warmer and more conducive for agriculture.
According to a report released on the sidelines of COP17, and studied by the UN Economic Commission’s information and communication service, the current finance available for Africa and other developing countries for climate change adaptation is “not commensurate to the scale required to implement the activities agreed to in the UN climate convention”.
“For example, the report points to the US$29.2 billion pledged since 2009, and states that only between US$2.8 and US$7 billion is ‘new’ or not previously pledged… “While 97 percent of the promised US$30 billion has been pledged, only 45 percent has been ‘committed’, 33 percent has been allocated, while a mere seven percent has actually been disbursed.” The Association of Small Island States (ASOSIS), which is in Durban for the talks, says moral sense must prevail.
Chairwoman of the association Dessima Williams was quoted by AFP saying: “To fulfill our moral and ethical obligation to protect our people, AOSIS will here in Durban reject any outcome that cannot ultimately safeguard our livelihoods and guarantee the survival of our nations.”