16 December 2012

Africa: Doha Talks Fail Africa

Photo: Emmanuel Gbemudu/IRIN
Women with a dug-out canoe in front of their flooded homes in Toru-Orua in Bayelsa state, Nigeria after the worst floods in 35 years.


This year's United Nations' climate change conference was held in Doha, Qatar, from 27 November to 7 December.

The conference included the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 18) and the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 8).

The three items that have received particular attention during the long process of the climate negotiation since last year's Durban Climate Conference were the establishment and financing of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and formulating a new global climate agreement.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was launched at the 2011 UN Climate Change Conference held inDurban,South Africa. Despite its establishment, it continued to be empty; it is due to begin dispensing money in 2013 to help developing countries cope with climate change. Rich industrialised countries have failed to deliver on their financial pledges and the issue was back on the table during the latest conference.

Republic of Korea is chosen to host the Green Climate Fund competing with Germany,Mexico,Namibia,Poland and Switzerland. The election of the Republic of Korea is widely acclaimed by most as the country's track record on the field of green economy is remarkable.

However, still, there are crucial issues yet to be resolved regarding the GCF apart from the success in choosing the host country. Along with the empty treasury of the Fund, the issue of its governance remains contentious as industrialised countries want a board of 24 representatives, 12 each from industrialised and developing nations, to run it; developing countries think it should be under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which gives every country an equal vote.

The UN negotiation on how to curb the green house gas emissions that are heating the planet started in 1995 and, at itshigh pointin 1997 produced the Kyoto Protocol, the only climate treaty that obliged dozens of wealthy countries to cut their emissions.Dohawitnessed its extension up to 2020 as expected.

Following the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, Europe andAustraliasigned on, but previous industrialised signatories, such asJapan,RussiaandCanadarefused to commit themselves for the extension agreement. It is understandable, in fact, that this division leavesKyotoweakened, though alive.

At last year's meeting in Durban, South Africa, countries agreed that, instead of grinding on with Kyoto, a new treaty would be forged by 2015, entering force by 2020, obliging all countries, rich and poor, to tackle climate change.

Thus, Doha achieved a major accomplishment in closing down older negotiations, such as achievement on the second commitment period for Kyoto Protocol, and start working on the 2015 treaty.

The Durban outcome last year set the deadline of 2015 to conclude negotiations on an agreement that would take effect by 2020. Hence, the next three years of negotiations on the treaty will be the hardest in the 20 year history of climate change talks because the world has changed enormously since 1992, when the UN convention on Climate Change was signed, and 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol enshrined a stark division between developed countries-which are required to cut emissions-and developing countries, which were not.

Failure to reach agreement on this timetable would mean that countries would still operate under theCopenhagenandCancunagreements, which, eventually, means backsliding to the starting point which the world cannot afford to do. However, questions do remain about whether the international community could afford to conduct protracted negotiations on the issue at this critical time of increasing natural calamities in many parts of the world, most of which are related to the effects of climate change.

Africa is the main victim of the negative impacts of the changing climate. The continent is witnessing and experiencing the severity of extreme weather events that are becoming more intense with increased frequency. Hence, African countries presented themselves as a group to negotiate on the climate change forums by formulating common positions of negotiations in advance.

These include, an ambitious legal commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the termination of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) after successful conclusion of its work, concrete financial support for adaptation actions and technology, concrete and ambitious actions in curtailing global emissions as well as a future legal outcome based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities.

The conclusion of the Doha conference gives little for Africa as well as complicates its future negotiation course in many different ways.

In terms of financial requirement, the "Fast-Start Finance" program of 30 billion dollars promised during the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 has not fully materialised. It is criticised that even the little money delivered was not new or additional, but come out of development aid.

Progress on a long standing commitment for rich countries to contribute 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help poor nations cut emissions, and adapt to a warmer world, was also put off for a year. In this regard,Africafailed to score a winning point.

Concerning the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, Africa won to secure it with an eight year extension period. While Africa, along with others, keeps the breath of the Protocol, its existence is very weak with a refusal for the extension of previous industrialised signatories such as Japan, Russia and Canada along with the United States which previously did not ratify the protocol. However, it is better to have a weak protocol than having none at all, for Africa.

The biggest gain forAfrica, though it would make the road ahead very difficult for it, is an agreement for a new treaty to be forged in 2015, and enter in to force by 2020. This would create a chance for all major emitters to get a comprehensive binding deal in 2015.

Hence, the coming three years will be very difficult for Africa because of the complexities of the international negotiations ahead. To cope with such complexities, Africa should prepare itself very well starting from creating awareness among its people to building the capacities of its expertise in understanding the detailed issues of negotiation.

Time is of the essence; African countries should start their work from now to withstand the shortcomings they have in terms of expertise and know how and do their homework in a very fashioned way.

Be that as it may, a new front has opened for Africa to dwell on. Doha agreed to establish a process to look at compensating poorer countries for loss and damage suffered because of climate change, something wealthy countries have long resisted. This is widely accepted as Doha's chief achievement.

This principle of "loss and damage" as has been explained, is a mechanism where rich countries help poor countries with cleaning up after extreme weather events caused by climate change. The principle is widely celebrated because until now developed nations stopped short of accepting responsibility for the damage caused by climate change elsewhere.

Even though adopting the principle is a huge step, the big fight is again for the cash. As early commitments of "Fast- Start Finance" were not met, negotiating for the compensation for the loss and damage incurred will also be a huge task for Africa to withstand.

Since the exact details of the loss and damage scheme, including how much developed countries will have to pay, are expected to be worked out at future meetings of the UNFCCC, it will force Africa to preoccupy itself in multi-track negotiations that would have the danger of overlooking the detail technicalities as a result of shortages of expertise in the fields. This would definitely result in the unsatisfying future climate change agreements for Africa since it would not negotiate efficiently in a focused manner.

In general, the Doha conference, while registering modest results, finally ended without any firm commitments on reducing carbon emissions, which Africa advocates most, nor on climate change aid, another key topic for Africa to be discussed and expected to be agreed upon at the summit.

Hence, the conference was a disappointment for Africa, whereas the coming three years will be an uphill struggle in the history of the continent's climate change negotiation.

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