August 21, 2008
Climate Change Negotiations
The crusade against global warming continues this week in Ghana as negotiators meet to talk about encouraging developing nations to join the fight.
The world's poorest countries are more worried about providing food than the uncertain long-term effects of climate change.The weeklong U.N. climate conference starts Thursday. Around 1,600 delegates and environmental experts from more than 150 countries will work towards an agreement to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases. Scientists believe the gases trap the earth's heat; a process that has caused more severe tropical storms, harsher droughts in arid areas and melting ice packs in the Arctic.
U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said it's important the talks are being held in Ghana, where climate change is already being felt.
It's reported that rainfall has decreased 20 percent in the last 30 years. He said rising sea levels threatens to swamp up to 385 square miles in the Volta Delta.
A Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted last year, that Africa will be among the worst hit continents if average global temperatures rise unchecked. 250 million people would be subjected to water shortages by 2020.
U.N. negotiators have a December 2009 deadline to complete one of history's most complex international accords. It has an ambitious goal of cutting in half the amount of carbon dioxide discharged into the atmosphere from transportation, industry and power generation.
The agreement would succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. At least two years is needed for ratification to ensure an easy transition.
The burden of reducing emissions fell on 37 industrial countries that agreed to cut emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, according to Kyoto.
However, the United States called that accord unfair, and questioned why powerful economies such as India and China were exempt from obligations. The leaders of those countries say they did not cause global warming, and their first priority is to lift their people from poverty.
That gap must be bridged, says Harald Dovland, the Norwegian chairman of a key committee on updating Kyoto.
"We know what we need on a global level in terms of reductions," Dovland said. "We cannot continue forever saying this is an issue for the industrial countries, and no one else should do anything."
Delegates hope to begin drafting treaty language to be adopted at the next meeting in December in Poznan, Poland, when specific targets will be discussed for reducing carbon emissions.
Dovland said his group would hold its first discussion in Accra on the economic and social "spillover effects" of steps to control climate change.
Countries that rely on tourism are worried that travel will become more expensive if carbon taxes are put on airlines.
Oil-exporting countries have historically been most concerned about the economic impact of measures to curb the use of carbon-laden fossil fuels.
The global focus is shifting toward the spillover effects of biofuels and other factors increasing food prices.
The shape of the current climate talks was adopted at a major conference last December in Bali, Indonesia.
Accra is the third conference since then. Another five are scheduled before an agreement is due to be wrapped up in Copenhagen, Denmark, during 2009. The intensity of negotiations reflect mirror political divisions over many of the thousands of details that require agreement.
Dovland says the Accra talks will falter "unless we come with a spirit of cooperation, trying to resolve things instead of making things more and more complicated."
"The political pressure isn't strong enough," said Kathrin Gutmann, policy coordinator of the WWF Global Climate Initiative. "A lot of governments don't have positions yet and are going through internal processes where ideas are still festering."
The countries behind the change are South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland and Norway. They all have offered detailed proposals on issues from financing to help poor countries adapt to climate change, to regulating carbon emissions of international shipping and air transport.
The major obstacle is to persuade the big players like the United States, India and China to worry less about their self-interest.
Countless negotiations spanning several years have shown the limits of what countries are willing to sacrifice, said De Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change and the man overseeing the negotiations.
Rich countries like the U.S. refuse heavy burdens on their economies, and developing countries do not want constraints on their growth.
"If you don't meet those basic criteria you are not going to achieve success," he said.
Image 2: Lake Volta, Ghana (NASA)