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Report from Copenhagen: Africa demands that wealthy nations step it up

Posted Dec. 9, 2009 / Posted by: RConnors

By Kate Horner (cross-posted from Open Left)

Yesterday, African activists as well as members of African parliaments attending climate negotiations in Copenhagen demanded that wealthy nations step it up.

Directly following a meeting with the Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping, who heads the main developing country negotiating bloc here, during which he outlined the contours of a potential bold new African position on the climate negotiations and new findings on the dire impacts of climate change on African livelihoods, a group of African activists initiated an impromptu demonstration in the halls of the Bella Center (where the climate summit is taking place) shouting, “2 degrees -- suicide; 1 degree – 1 Africa.”

The draft agreement currently under discussion seeks to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but probably wouldn't achieve this goal. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 2 degree temperature rise globally would cause a 3.4 degree rise in Africa. Such an increase in temperature would lead to widespread devastation, including predictions of a 50 percent reduction in crop yields in some areas, cutting food output in half and leaving more than 600 million people without adequate water supplies. Massive damage to coastlines, rural communities and cities would also be consequences.

Discussions in Copenhagen have thus far focused on proposals that would unfairly and disproportionately allocate the Earth’s remaining atmospheric space to the rich, industrialized world, even though it has already polluted the most and owes its prosperity to cheap dirty energy. This disproportionate allocation would deny poor countries the atmospheric space needed to develop and condemn people in them to suffer -- and even die -- under the impacts of climate change.

To exacerbate what is already a tragic scenario, the wealthy world is so far committing only paltry funds to assist developing countries in deploying clean technology and adapting to climate change impacts. As Lumumba Di-Aping said in reaction to the current proposals from the U.S. and other rich counties that bear most of the responsibility for causing the problem, “You can keep your money because it’s not even enough the buy the coffins of all those who will die.”

During the demonstration, the African activists declared their support for African delegates who are demanding bold, aggressive action. They asserted that they would not allow Africa to be divided as it has been so many times before.

The demonstration and Lumumba's speech were the boldest and most powerful statements I have witnessed in my several years of attending international negotiations. The briefing by Lumumba on his new proposal on the impacts of climate change in Africa brought a room full of grown men and women quite literally to tears.

One thing that's upsetting is the pressure developed countries are putting on poor countries to accept the extremely weak terms of the current negotiations. Yesterday news leaked that the Danes, who are hosting and presiding over the climate conference, have prepared a draft text that totally ignores the demands of developing countries.

Instead of acting in a fair and balanced manner and using its leadership role as President of the Conference to come to an agreement through the established process, Denmark instead resorted to unjust back-room deal-making to accomodate the positions of the wealthy countries like the US and European Union members. Denmark has a long tradition of being fair and balanced in international affairs. In introducing the “Copenhagen Accords,” the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen has betrayed this long-held tradition.

After reviewing a leaked draft of the Danish text with colleagues from Friends of the Earth and other civil society groups, I would say that the Danish proposal is a kind of marriage of U.S. and European Union climate proposals. It does not reflect the interests of all countries taking part in the UN negotiations.

There is an ongoing negotiating process under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the treaty that is the basis of the current summit) that is designed to incorporate the views and interests of all countries in hopes of reaching a fair and balanced agreement on key issues. The Danes and other rich countries, namely the U.S. and members of the European Union, have resorted to unjust back-room deal-making to accommodate their own political interests. This must stop.

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