New Vision (Kampala)

20 December 2009

Uganda: Politics Ruins Copenhagen Deal

Copenhagen — TWO years preparing. Two weeks negotiating and two positions addressing climate change. Was two the magical number in the climate change negotiations? Well, it would have been, had the world leaders concluded both a political and legally binding agreement.

But alas. The world only got a politically binding agreement at the close of one of the most intensely dialogued climate change summits last week in Copenhagen, Denmark. Delegates lived on hope for weeks, but their hopes were dashed.

Even the attendance of world political giants in the names of Barack Obama failed to sway the talks to an affirmative outcome for all parties. Smaller political figures, some heading tiny islands but all accorded the 'head of state' status, tried to wrestle the mammoth task of agreeing to disagree, in vain.

The global chief diplomat, Ban Ki Moon, tried his hand. Nobel Laureates, including our very own Wangari Mathai, spoke. As did film star-cum politician Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and climate change rising star, Al Gore.

It was interesting seeing the mighty mingling with the wretched of the earth. But the sadness written on people's faces as the climate change victims gave their testimonies fell short of driving the world leaders to a desired destiny.

"We have lost our rain seasons," said Constance Okollet, a resident of Tororo, who attended the climate summit as a witness during a public hearing organised by Oxfam International at the Bella Centre.

"The hand of nature has furiously taken away our bountiful harvests. We have floods and droughts following each other, making it hard to survive." Pelenise Alofa, a resident of Tuvalu, a tiny island state in the Pacific Ocean, whipped her feelings into the emotions of the people who attended the public hearing.

"We are at the frontline. We will be the first to go down," she said. "We have no mountains to keep away the rising seas or rivers that could drain away the water. "We have had a rough time and to us, climate change is a matter of life and death. It is sad that some people are polluting to prosper, while others like us, are suffering."

"Why are we here? Why are we selling the rights of other people? Climate change is wrong and it is crazy taking all this time negotiating. Climate change does not negotiate," she said.

Such pain shows that climate change is not only about rising temperatures, but also about people deprived of livelihoods and homes. Asked why world leaders were not delivering people to the promised land, Desmond Tutu, a leading spiritual leader, said the answer was as simple as one word - politics.

"Let the people ask their leaders what they want and an ambitious deal will be signed," says Tutu. To deliver his point home, Tutu asked: "Why is it that when there was the economic meltdown in the US, politicians found the billions to fix the problem.

Where did the money come from?" Genesis of the climate policy The world, motivated by concerns of climate change at the earth summit in 1992, created the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. This was painstakingly negotiated because some countries like the US regarded climate change as a hoax.

As impacts of climate change gathered pace due to the rising emissions, the world gathered in the Japanese city of Kyoto and crafted the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. This, Phillip Gwage, Uganda's leading negotiator at the Copenhagen summit, says was the legal arm that defined polluters and compelled them to reduce emissions.

The first commitment period for the developed countries to reduce the emissions runs up to 2012. More reports released by the reputed Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrated that climate change was real and was happening much faster than thought.

"Science tells us that delaying significant action by even five to 10 years will undermine our ability to stay below two degrees Celsius and severely undermines the effectiveness of longterm adaptation," says Maria Mutagamba, the environment minister.

With all this at the back of their mind, two years ago, world leaders met in Bali and with prompt action on climate change on top of their agenda. They discussed life after Kyoto since the period for the first commitment was running out.

In addition to this, Kyoto accounts for only 30% of the polluters, so it was necessary to bring US and China to order since they account for much of the remaining 70% of the emissions. The Bali meeting created two outcomes: The Bali action plan or roadmap and the Long Cooperative Action Plan that was supposed to bring US and China on board.

Two working committees were assigned to work on the two documents and produce two negotiating reports at the Copenhagen Summit. Courting the US to cut emission started when Al Gore produced an Oscar award winning film, An inconvenient truth.

This brought home a compelling message that something must be done. At the same time, Obama assumed presidency of the US and brought hope to catch up after the 'lost time' of Bush's administration, which had adamantly shelved the Kyoto Protocol, describing it as one that was based on 'bad science.'

So far, the US has agreed to cut only 4% of the 1990 levels as opposed to 40% being demanded by the least developed countries and the G77 plus China.

Other negotiating blocks like the European Union are also keeping their cards on the chest, saying they will only cut 20% of their emissions of the 1990 levels.

"We are ready to move to 30%, if others are also ready to step up their own offers," says an official of EU. He added: "In particular, while fully respecting their differential responsibilities and capabilities, I would like to call on our partners in the US and China to contribute further to a successful out come."

Way forward

While the leaders adopted a political agreement, the delegates left Copenhagen like a woman with a prolonged pregnancy. The world is waiting for a legally binding treaty built on the Kyoto Protocol as the cornerstone.

It is hoped that the next climate summit in Germany or Mexico will deliver the long awaited pact. Other sources say Al Gore has recommended that the meeting, supposed to take place in Bonn, should be convened in Copenhagen six months now to conclude the unfinished business.

The two worlds have to put their differences aside. The two decisions - the politically binding agreement and the legally binding agreement - are like twin sisters that will save the planet and the millions of livelihoods in it. It is not too late for the leaders to remember the tearful face of Okollet and give the world a real deal.

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