Little progress on climate change negotiations


The on-going global climate negotiations have shown little urgency, despite increasing evidence that the window to reverse climate change is closing.

Although the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Lima, Peru in December 2014 ended with a deal that forms the basis for a global agreement on addressing climate change, the question is whether that deal will prevent catastrophic climate change for most developing countries which are already experiencing the impacts with little capacity to cope.

According to the 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate, Change (IPCC) report, land surface temperatures across southern Africa have, for example, increased by 0.5˚C or more during the last 50-100 years, while the global sea level rose by 19 cm between 1901 and 2010. The changes in temperature, rainfall and rise in sea level have increased incidence of malaria in some parts of southern Africa and driven a shift in farming practices.

Most developing countries are concerned that the deal reached in Peru, dubbed the “Lima Accord”, lacks specific actions to address pre-2020 emissions necessary to limit warming to below 2˚C, the level considered by scientists as safe.

The Lima Accord states that all countries will be asked to submit plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC),” to the UN by an informal deadline of 31 March 2015. The accord, however, did not provide a structure, assessment needs or information requirements for reporting INDCs. What it means for Africa is that there is no guarantee that INDCs from developed countries, which are responsible for the past and present major emissions, would be sufficient to keep temperature rise below 2˚C.

In the 1992 climate change agreement only developed nations were obliged to reduce emissions according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. While INDCs are good, they are likely to open a possibility for every country to decide its own climate action in future, with no reference to what science, people and justice demand, and without a clear regulatory framework. This provides for voluntary commitments as opposed to legally binding commitments as was the case with the Kyoto Protocol.

More so, INDCs will likely weaken moral and legal obligations by developed countries to transfer finance and technology. The INDCs open an avenue for further expansion of the failed experiment on carbon markets, including possibly carbon credits from forests and soil, which undermine land rights for communities and would be devastating to farmers and forest communities in southern Africa whilst preventing the transformation needed.

While developed countries pressed for INDCs to be on mitigation only, developing countries contended that INDCs should include adaptation, financial, technology transfer and capacity building support from rich nations who caused the problem.

Developed countries failed to provide guarantees for specific and predictable financial support. Instead, they called on countries in “a position to do so” to offer support. Otherwise, vulnerable countries should make do with donor aid. The Lima conference reiterated the demand for developed nations to mobilise US$100 billion in climate change aid for developing nations by 2020.

However southern Africa and the rest of the continent wanted developed nations to set a clear timetable for scaling up funds year-by-year. The text in the Lima Accord merely “requested” that developed nations “enhance the available quantitative and qualitative elements of a pathway” towards 2020. This does not provide a clear roadmap for immediate action by developed countries, nor was there a commitment to urgently revisit, revise, or review commitments previously made.

Another let down for Africa was on the issue of loss and damage from climate change impacts. 

Since negotiations in Warsaw in 2013, Africa has requested to specifically include loss and damage from climate change impacts that cannot be addressed by adaptation as a stand-alone item. Developed countries, however, prefer to include loss and damage under adaptation. They fear that allowing negotiations on loss and damage would lead to them being legally required to pay compensation to developing countries for their past greenhouse gas emissions.

The Lima Accord includes conflicting statements such as “Provision for loss and damage for cases where mitigation and adaptation will not be sufficient” as one of the options and “no reference to loss and damage” as the other option to be considered in the final agreement. With such conflicting text in the Lima outcome, what is clear is that prospects for a new agreement are unlikely to favour Africa, and developed countries will eventually succeed in neglecting historical responsibility in the final agreement expected to be adopted in December 2015. – SADC Today

April 2015
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