Some scientists are warning that development progress in the world’s poorest countries could be halted or even reversed by midcentury unless bold steps are taken to slow climate change, prevent further environmental damage, and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations.
In fact, this view is outlined in some detail in the United Nations Development Programme’s ‘2011 Human Development Report’, which was launched in the lead-up to South Africa hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP 17), in Durban.
It states that, by 2050, the average human development index could be between 12% and 15% lower than the current baseline in sub-Saharan Africa than would be the case if efforts were made to deal with global warming’s impact on food production and if inroads could be made to reduce pollution.
“Environmental deterioration could under- mine decades of effort to expand water, sanitation and electricity access to the world’s poorest communities. These absolute deprivations, important in themselves, are major violations of human rights,” the authors of the independent report state.
One such impact points to maize and wheat production in Southern Africa falling sharply by 2030.
It is against the backdrop of this potential threat that world leaders head for Durban, South Africa, for the latest round of climate change talks.
The COP 17 negotiations will start on November 28 and will, no doubt, also be strongly informed by the prevailing political, economic and social challenges and not only the scientific evidence that points to the far-reaching consequences for climate.
Process & Events
The talks themselves should also be seen more as part of a process, which now spans decades, rather than as an event.
In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the UNFCC, to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were, by then, inevitable.
By 1995, the countries realised that emission reduction provisions in the con- vention were inadequate and, hence, launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change.
Two years later, the Kyoto Protocol, which legally binds signatory developed countries to emission reduction targets, was adopted. The protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and terminates at the end of 2012.
The world is following up on the so-called Bali Action Plan that articulated an agenda to reach an “agreed outcome” on a number of issues in the climate negotiations by December 2009, in Copenhagen, which did not materialise.
What happens beyond 2012 is one of the key issues governments of the 195 parties to the convention are currently negotiating.
However, it has also been generally accepted that the outcome in Durban will not result in a legally binding final agreed outcome, but would instead be the next step to reaching an agreed outcome.
The growing differences between the developed and developing countries to commit to emission reductions are fuelling this perception, more so in light of the changing dynamics of the world economies in the fallout from the continued European countries debt crises, and with the rapid growth of India and China.
Japan, the US, Canada and Russia indicated that they would not be party to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, with the US remaining outside the bounds of the protocol, which it refused to ratify.
A decision on the form to be taken by the post-Kyoto Pro-tocol framework lingers on – whether a second commitment period is agreed or a new framework altogether is adopted.
Developed countries (Annex 1) favour a new framework that basically puts more responsibility on mitigation by emerging economies like China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.
If these countries are not fully on board, then a number of powerful Annex 1 countries are ready to move away from the protocol, says Professor Godwell Nhamo, researcher and programme manager for the Exxaro chair in business and climate change at the University of South Africa.
“However, the arguments on equity in the climate space will be raised once more, drawing from the fact that developed countries caused the problem and they must do more,” he argues.
“There has been a wrong turn from Rio with regard to the UNFCCC of 1992 in terms of climate equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities. Instead, the market-based mechanism has been favoured at the expense of the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
“Even if the aspects raised here will not be mentioned as set out here, at the back of the minds of African and other negotiators from developing countries will be the notion of ‘polluter pays’ and issues of equity and justice in climate negotiation,” he explains.
KPMG resource economist Rohitesh Dhawan describes the negotiating of a future international agreement for post-2012 as a significant but, nevertheless, contentious issue.
He believes that it is theoretically possible for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to be achieved if the European Union (EU) and all the Group of 77 (G77) countries vote in favour of this.
This is because decisions on the Kyoto Protocol are taken on the basis of majority, and not on the basis of consensus, as is the case for the broader UNFCCC.
“However, the sticking points preventing this from happening are EU demands in return for their support for a second commitment period.
“These demands are likely to include an agreement that the second commitment period will only be a stepping stone to a new and broader international agreement in the future, and a definitive role for market-based mechanisms. Both of these issues have proven to be unpalatable to some members of G77 in the past,” Dhawan explains.
Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) chief negotiator Alf Wills says the success of COP 17 cannot be determined solely on the principle of achieving a legal binding agreement. “This conference is about building structures of economies. It is not simple like the Doha negotiations, but it is about trade, finance, technology and so many other issues,” he explained.
However, Imbewu Sustainability Legal Specialists director Andrew Gilder explains that the notion of what will be regarded as the “success of COP 17” is usually based on the perceptions of particular individuals or organisations, rather than being an objective consideration. For example, judging by the recent comments made by some civil society entities, if the negotiations fail to agree anything short of a fundamental restructuring the world economy, then this would be regarded as failure.
More realistic expectations, he said, are that firm progress will be made across the various agenda items up for negotiation, and that this progress will fuel an information future agreement on the shape and function of the international climate change legal regime.
He highlights an important point – that COP 15, in Copenhagen, was widely regarded as a failure.
“While there was no legally binding agreement at COP 15, climate change was escalated to a very high priority level on the agendas of national governments globally, and it is partly this political drive that has brought us to where we are now in embarking on COP 17,” Gilder explains.
For South Africa, Wills says, the climate change conference will seek to balance climate and development imperatives.
But, in doing so, a balance will require developing country priorities, such as the need for poverty eradication, be respected, while still ensuring a deal on the global emission reduction that is adequately ambitious to avert dangerous climate change.
For Africa, this is key – it means securing a future of economic growth, underpinned by food security and employment, as the world and the continent transition to a low-carbon economy.
This is particularly important for a continent where currently more than 90% of the poor lack access to modern cooking fuel, more than 85% have limited or no access to improved sanitation and more than 60% have no access to electricity.
But one has to consider whether South Africa’s voice represents an African position, or whether the country will bow to the pressures of its strong trade partnerships, such as those with China or the US, or its significant positioning in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) or Ibsa (India, Brazil and South Africa) blocs?
Wills tells Engineering News that South Africa is 100% aligned to the Africa position.
“Within Africa, there are a few differences, such as the market-based approach of reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) between the Democratic Republic of Congo and East African countries. But the African position is the South African position,” he explained.
Some oil-rich African countries also have certain affiliations with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Dhawan admits that the use of market-based instruments evoke polarised reactions from different African countries.
Given that African countries negotiate through various groupings, such as the G77, small island developing States and least-developed countries, some of which may have divergent views on particular topics, it is difficult to pin down a common position on all issues for a region as diverse as Africa.
In fact, in Accra, during the lead to Copenhagen in 2009, resentment emerged as to whether South Africa would speak for Africa or for itself and its emerging partners like Brics or Ibsa, Nhamo explains.
“South Africa is a global player and wants to solidify this position. The African Union has made it clear that it favours a negotiation position that prioritises adaptation. This is an aspect that would not be favoured by South Africa, which wishes to address, on equal footing, mitigation and adaptation.
“This is right for South Africa, given that it is a huge emitter. Hence, there could be instances where South Africa might have to take an observer and neutral role if hot issues relating to the adaptation versus mitigation agendas emerge,” he said.
But, Nhamo says there could be some countries that feel South Africa’s hegemonic tendencies should be checked.
Gilder warns that there is some sensitivity about South Africa being perceived as the “leader” of Africa.
“South Africa should be, and generally is being, very careful about taking on the role of the leading proponent of the African position. Only the continent can negotiate a common position,” he explains, a factor, which the South Africans have taken care, in the past, to emphasise.
While the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is the dominant issue surrounding the COP 17 negotiations, there are other key issues that are also critical to the climate change talks.
Nhamo believes that the success or failure of COP 17 will also be determined by whether fundamental issues from the Cancun (COP 16) agreements are operationalised.
Among these will be the solidification of the adaptation agenda as the supreme agenda in dealing with climate change in developing countries like Africa, the institutionalisation and governance mechanism for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the mobilisation of adequate funding for this.
Dhawan says developing countries are strongly pushing for adaptation to feature prominently, and as importantly as mitigation, on the agenda, “but this has not gained a lot of traction in recent times”.
In the adaptation versus mitigation agendas, developed countries are pushing for the elevation of the adaptation agenda, realising that the negative impacts of climate change are right on their doorsteps.
Extreme weather events like floods, cyclones, biodiversity loss and water scarcity speak volumes for developing countries, Nhamo says. “Hence, adaptation should probably be the sole agenda and anything else must talk to this supreme agenda – be it mitigation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building or awareness raising.”
Further issues include the clarity and agreement of intellectual property rights, innovation and technology transfer and establishing REDD and implementation modalities.
A successful agreement in terms of carbon accounting, which addresses issues pertaining to measurement, reporting and verification, will be another measure of failure or success for COP 17.
“The upward adjustment of the greenhouse-gas (GHG) pledges of Copenhagen, by especially the developed countries, will count as an extra plus if this happens. The Copenhagen GHG emissions reduction pledges have been criticised as falling short of keeping the temperature rise to within the 2 ˚C to the year 2100 as required by science. Lastly, if the voice of the poor and vulnerable (ordinary citizens) could be heard, then COP 17 will also have made a lasting impression,” Nhamo says.
But the global economy is filled with uncertainty, considering the European debt crisis and the economic realities facing the US.
The impact is a cause for concern for the design of the architecture of the GCF, as well as the shaping of the COP 17 negotiations.
The GCF would disburse $100-billion a year for climate financing among developing countries by 2020.
Climate negotiations are highly influenced by the domestic political and economic realities of individual countries. This, says Dhawan, is because any decisions taken at UNFCCC level still need to be ratified by national legislatures to take effect.
“Regional and global economic uncertainty will undoubtedly affect the position and appetite of negotiators at a global level. Uncertain global economic conditions can be expected to weaken the appetite for taking strong and binding action on climate change spending of limited public funds.
“Economic uncertainty is also likely to impede progress on the issue of financing to be provided by developed countries. This is because a portion of these funds is expected to come from private sources, which are highly susceptible to prevailing economic conditions,” Dhawan explains.
And this is a “new reality”, Nhamo asserts.
“Hence, to go to COP 17 as developing countries asking for money may not be the solution. It is survival of the fittest at this point in time.”
One could only hope for the best in establishing the architecture of the fund, taking into consideration reports by the International Institute for Environment and Development that pointed to a deadlock in October.
But Nhamo makes a strong call for Africa to finance its own development agenda, including the need to address climate change.
In fact, South Africa was “not waiting for anyone” to take action on climate change, Wills says. But acknowledges that the country, Africa and developing countries could “do more” if there was support from developed countries.
In light of this, South Africa believes it has the impetus to fulfil its commitment to climate change on a national level.
This is not only evident from the country’s commitment to reduce GHGs by 34% against a ‘business as usual’ emissions growth trajectory by 2020, depending on an agreement around the global climate change regime and the provision of appropriate international financial support for such a reduction, but also from the introduction of the national Climate Change Response Policy, endorsed by Cabinet on October 12.
Under South Africa’s ‘peak, plateau, decline’ trajectory, country emissions should reach historic highs between 2020 and 2025 in a lower limit range of 398 Megatons (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent and an upper limit of 583 Mt in 2020 and 614 Mt by 2025. Emissions should then plateau for up to ten years within that range.
The aim of the White Paper is to effectively manage climate change impacts through interventions that build and sustain South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity, and to make a fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise GHG concentrations.
Gilder says the White Paper also represents a strategic and moral advantage for South Africa in the context of hosting COP 17, indicating that the country is quite ready to do its fair share in responding to climate change.
South Africa has given its key carbon- emitting sectors, including energy and transport, two years, to October 2013, to finalise ‘carbon budgets’ that are calibrated to South Africa’s aspiration to reach a peak in yearly emissions by 2025 and enable the country to begin reducing the production of GHGs from 2036 onwards.
Further, renewable energy forms a key part of the country’s Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP, which envisages that renewable- energy technologies will contribute 42%, or 17 800 MW, of South Africa’s new-generation capacity by 2030.
All of these national targets have their challenges, but form the foundation of a country focused on taking action on climate change, he says.
On the international playing field, South Africa has been extremely vocal in admitting that COP 17 will not be easy.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane, also the president of COP, says that there is “no option” but to deal with the outstanding political issues remaining from the Bali roadmap.
However, she remains hopeful that there is “political will” to ensure the success of the conference.