Copen-hope or Copen-hype

Ikenna Okonkwo

COP 15_1The Climate conference in Copenhagen is barely 8 weeks away. The heat is on for world leaders to seal a good deal that will lead to something more than just rhetoric in the effort to combat the warming climate. Like the Kyoto conference in 1997, the most probable line of action will be the setting of binding emissions reduction targets and funding for adaption and mitigation efforts especially in the developing countries.

A sign of things to come is the news that the just concluded Climate talks held in Bangkok, Thailand ended without progress on the pressing issues of emission targets for rich countries and financing for the poor ones leading to doubts in some sectors as to the possibility of an agreement before the Copenhagen conference. In spite of the promises made by world leaders at the UN summit in September, there are still serious questions about political commitment to tackle this issue.

A Question of Trust

The EU seem eager to agree to binding emissions reductions targets, which is compatible with their desire to develop renewable energy resources and decrease their dependence on foreign energy. They have been accused though of failing to honour the promises made at the Kyoto conference.

The United States under Obama has committed itself to significant emissions reductions targets and greater investment in renewable energy. But, as has been the case with other ambitious policies of the Obama regime, will the actions match the rhetoric? As was the case at the Kyoto conference, the US is still not happy with limiting emission reduction targets to the the developed countries leaving out the likes of China and India who are large CO2 emitters but still considered as developing countries.

China, is now the top emitter of Carbon Dioxide but still considers herself to be developing and even though Hui Jintao has promised that China will play its role mitigation efforts and indeed China announced earlier in the uear series of domestic measures to this end, he also made it clear that China’s first priority is the development of her citizens.

Some, especially in the UN, consider asking poor countries to take on binding cuts as unrealistic. But as poorer countries industrialize their CO2 emissions will increase. India is now the 4th largest emitter and her emissions are projected to double or even triple in the next 30 years. Either developing countries do something now to manage their emissions or they can leave it for later, when it may be too late.

A question of accountability

As Paul Kagame said at the UN summit on climate change in New York in September, “Africa will probably have the greater and more severe impacts from climate change than other parts of the world- but less resources to mange this challenge.” Any agreement at Copenhagen cannot and should not leave Africa’s interest at the periphery. The tendency is to blame the ‘rich world’ for the climate situation and placing the responsibility on them for the mitigation. Mohammed Nasheed president of the island republic of Maldives, one of the countries most threatened by climate change proposed ‘binding emissions reduction targets for developing nations’ and ‘binding targets for developing nations’ only ‘providing the rich world gives the tools [technology and finance] to do so.’ If Africa is going to make sacrifices for the climate with her scarce means then she must be given the help to do so. This help will naturally boil down to aid; aid which is unfortunately likely to be swallowed up in bureaucracies if not in personal pockets. It is again a question of responsible leadership. To use the words of Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai there is need for ‘an accountable institutional mechanism and equitable governance structures to channel resources efficiently and ensure responsibility, transparency and accountability.’ The question funding is also one of the unsettled issues on the way to Copenhagen. It is still not clear how generous the industrialized countries will be in providing the expected funding. Many developing countries are already trying to mitigate and adapt domestically to climate change whether or not they receive funding. It is hoped that these domestic steps would be part of an integrated bargain in Copenhagen.

President Yar’Adua was unavoidably absent at the UN summit on climate change in September and though a Nigeria Delegation was present at the talks in Bangkok, it still seems that formulating a united African position for Copenhagen has been left to the likes of Kenya and Rwanda. This is sad as Nigeria will also be affected by the expected effects of rising temperatures. Rising sea levels are a threat to the coastland areas which includes commercial hub Lagos and the oil producing Niger Delta. Desertification another effect is already a problem in Northern Nigeria. Negotiations to reduce emission are bound to affect the amount of crude oil our customers are going to be willing to buy from; and oil is the mainstay of our economy. Nigeria should be interested in arguing for a deal where she would not end up worse off.

A Question of Scientific Credibility

There is also the question scientific doubt about the certainty that the present rising temperatures are anthropogenic or just part of the documented cycles of temperature changes the earth has experienced throughout her history. Or even the certainty that reductions of emissions will have any effect on the warming trend. This is important as it will determine the choice of whether to put more emphasis on mitigation (through emission reduction targets) or adaption to the situation.

Now supporters of these views are few and have largely been shut out of the debate. It is expected that true science has to be unbiasedly open to all the points of view until proven wrong beyond reasonable doubt. What is at stake is scientific credibility which will be affected if this whole issue ends up being oversold. The current politicization of the science of global warming is uncomfortable. For the sake of scientific credibility sceptical views should be given a proper hearing. The tendency to brand them as people with ulterior motives or as being ‘under the payroll of the industry’ goes against the freedom of free inquiry. Even so the sceptic still at a disadvantage as credible argument against accepted wisdom requires, as did the development of the accepted wisdom itself, large-scale resources which can only be supplied by the research institutions that depend on research funding that will be guaranteed by the status quo, and are therefore careful to shut out all dissenting views.

There may not be a final solution at Copenhagen as is hoped, but there should at least be steps towards one. For this there is need for that much needed solidarity among nations. And the need to respect the autonomy of individual nations to chose the best means to tackle climate change domestically. For the sake of the environment and the generations to come, these issues have to be looked into.


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