Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Africa is Smarting from Copenhagen

The Copenhagen Accord has been described as an essential beginning or meaningful or fruitful or a coup d’état or a suicide pact.

Many stories will be told for many generations about what went wrong and who is proximately or ultimately responsible for this global debacle. In hindsight it is hard to understand how such a delicate and complex negotiation process could be accomplished amidst the multitude of delegates, chaos and confusion that that descended upon Copenhagen.

Carbon, the culprit in global warming, is inextricably bound with the wealth and might of nations. National interests, especially economic growth and national development, naturally triumph over any notions of ‘good faith’ negotiations and planetary responsibility. It is all about sovereign rights. How much carbon a country spews out into the atmosphere is easily a matter of national sovereignty, entangled with entitlement and national obligation to deliver material prosperity to respective national constituencies. Barack and the Wen Jiabao are merely elected representatives of their nations and must ultimately watch the public opinion needle.

National carbon emissions are strongly correlated with GDP. African countries are the least emitting. African countries have the lowest GDP. African countries are the poorest on the planet. And African societies and fragile economies are the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. Yet Africa has contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions. My heart bleeds for Africa. But what has held Africa from polluting its way to progress just like everyone else?

Global warming and its impacts, like all things that have held back and tripped Africa’s march to progress and prosperity, such as slavery or colonization or apartheid or corruption or poverty or disease or hunger or desertification or drought or illiteracy or war have been caused by others (especially the west, and lately China and very soon India and Brazil and Africa’s very own South Africa).

And so, Africa delegates and heads of state descended upon Copenhagen united in victimology, rights and entitlement. The African position was built on the demand that huge sums of money be made available by the rich nations to increase Africa’s adaptation to the impacts of global warming. Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the chief G-77 negotiator and a Sudanese reckons that developing countries need short term financing to the tune of $400-$500 billion annually, including $200 billion in special drawing rights in IMF, to address climate change.

Then enter Judas Iscariot who for 30 pieces of silver urged for scaling down on payments ($50 billion down from $400 billion). Meles Zenawi argued that his “proposal dramatically scales back our expectation of the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such fund.” I do not endorse Meles Zenawi stranglehold on Ethiopia’s political space but I think his was a more open minded, realistic and flexible position. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and African Union spokesman in Copenhagen Meles Zenawi has been accused of selling out on Africa’s interests.

A US-lead initiative dubbed the Copenhagen Accord seems to have derailed Africa’s gravy train. Under the Copenhagen Accord, countries will spell out their pledges for cutting carbon emissions by 2020 by February 2010, rich countries will deliver $30 billion in aid for developing countries over the next three years and most importantly, the accord recognises the need to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the accord as an “essential beginning”. US President Barack Obama described the accord as meaningful. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the conference yielded significant and positive fruits.

But Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping was scathing and somewhat undiplomatic in his assessment of the Copenhagen. According to Lumumba, the draft text of the accord “asks Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries. It is a solution based on values, the very same values in our opinion that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces”. Equally disappointed but much less vitriolic were the small island states such as the Maldives and Tuvalu. Venezuelan delegate, Claudia Salerno Caldera thought the outcome a coup d’état against the authority of the UN.

Why does Africa think climate change compensation payout is the universal panacea that will solve the deep socio-economic and ecological crises wrought by decades of corruption, ineptitude and misrule? Similar cash transfers (handouts or aid) have been made to Africa for HIV/AIDS relief, universal primary education and child and maternal health intervention. The evidence is that this model only benefits a kleptocratic political and business elite. There is so much Africa can and must start doing now to ameliorate the effects of global warming that does not need external financing. These actions include panting trees, water storage, breeding for drought tolerance and better coordination and disaster preparedness.

Africa now has an excuse and something and someone to blame for all of its ills. Copenhagen and Meles Zenawi, Judas Iscariot.

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