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The story of a failed summit: From Hopenhagen to Hopelesshagen

By Eze Anaba
The build-up to the recently concluded United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, in Copenhagen, Denmark, suggested that the world was  ready to tackle the problems of industrial development, sustainable upliftment of the developing nations and acute underdevelopment of the least developed countries (LDCs).

The summit was expected to reach a deal that would  drastically reduce emission  by the developed countries, provide sufficient deep fund for the growing of the economy- the climate change vulnerable nations- as well as guarantee a cleaner, disaster-free future for humanity.

A strong Copenhagen deal was essential to the global transition into green economic growth, away from the fossil-fuel induced growth obtainable  today, and to help the world, especially the most vulnerable, adapt to impacts that are now inevitable.

However, the hopes that the Prime Minister of Denmark, Mr Lars Lokke Rasmussen, espoused in his welcome address were virtually and almost totally dashed. The man who exuded so much optimism said, “it is not often that we as leaders get a chance to chart out a new course for our planet. One of these rare moments is right here and right now.

Whatever choices we make, whatever the outcome, rest assured that future generations will judge our future ability to translate the current political momentum and commitment and make this conference a decisive moment of change. Not a stepping stone but a real turning point.” Of course, the world got close to having a deal but just within a blink of the eye, the leading polluters of the world buckled.

Failure to act decisively on climate change this year would endanger the survival of developing countries. The need for world leaders to act was the only way to safeguard economic growth and healthy living among  billions of people in the developing and the least developed world. Science had warned that the only road to sustainable economic growth, poverty eradication and for sustainability of life was a huge emission reduction policy by the developed world. The seed of hope which the Copenhagen summit was supposed to have actualized was planted in Japan in 1997. The meeting in Japan produced a binding decision now famously known as the ‘Kyoto agreement’ or protocol.

The Protocol was initially adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of November 2009, 187 states had signed and ratified the protocol.[2]
Under the Protocol, 37 industrialized countries (called “Annex I countries”) commit themselves to a reduction of four greenhouse gases (GHG) (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride) and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons) produced by them, and all member countries give general commitments. Annex I countries agreed to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from the 1990 level.

Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey (right) at the African Minister’s meeting , at the ongoing United Nations Conference onClimate Change (UNFCCC), Copenhagen, Denmark.
Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey (right) at the African Minister’s meeting , at the ongoing United Nations Conference onClimate Change (UNFCCC), Copenhagen, Denmark.
Bella Center, the conference venue for COP15. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark
Bella Center, the conference venue for COP15. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Emission limits do not include emissions by international aviation and shipping, but are in addition to the industrial gases, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer.

The benchmark 1990 of emission levels accepted by the Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC (decision 2/CP.3) were the values of “global warming potential” calculated for the IPCC Second Assessment Report.

These figures are used for converting the various greenhouse gas emissions into comparable CO2 equivalents when computing

overall sources and sinks.

The Protocol allows for several “flexible mechanisms”, such as emissions trading, the clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation to allow Annex I countries to meet their GHG emission obligations.
Each Annex I country is required to submit an annual report of inventories of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from sources and removals from sinks under UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. These countries nominate a person (called a “designated national authority”) to create and manage its greenhouse gas inventory.  Countries including Japan, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain and others are actively promoting government carbon funds, supporting multilateral carbon funds intent on purchasing carbon credits from non-Annex I countries and are working closely with their major utility, energy, oil and gas and chemicals conglomerates to acquire greenhouse gas certificates as cheaply as possible.

Virtually all of the non-Annex I countries have also established a designated national authority to manage its Kyoto obligations, specifically the “CDM process” that determines which GHG projects they wish to propose for accreditation by the CDM Executive Board.

Despite the promises shown by this agreement the biggest polluter as at the time of signing the agreement, the United States Of America did not sign the deal which meant that it was not bound by it. This was the scenario that led nations to continue to seek ways of having a unanimous resolution that will commit nations to fighting the apocalyptic problem climate change represent. It was indeed a heart-warming thing for the world when on assumption of office, President Barak Obama signed on the side of conducive climate campaigners.

Since then, United States which had remained all the while antagonistic to major emission cuts and various other provisions of the Kyoto Protocol started considering a soft entry approach to getting to be a world player in climate politics and dynamics. Initially, under former President George W. Bush, United States had argued that its economy would be in jeopardy if it should sign on to the Kyoto Protocol.

However just as the world was warming up to the idea that US was finally going to team with the rest avert an imminent disaster, China, which has now acquired the position of major polluters of the world played a deft, dubious game and sabotage what would have been a resounding deal for humanity.

Relishing on the annual rise in its GDP, China, stood vehemently against any provision that would make it commit to

emission cut. It even stood against fixing a date for all nations to begin to make such cuts. It was apparent that China considered its economy better and much more important than the  health of billions of people in the developing and least developed nations of the world. The country cleverly hid under the umbrella of the Group of 77 to truncate the most important international legal agreement that would have been a major success for right to decent and safe livelihood.

Now that the deal has been delayed, it follows that people of the developing and least developed nations who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and with no capacity to adapt have been made sacrificial lambs of the economic gains of the developed and emerging economies of the world. Just as Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Nigeria Minister of Foreign Affairs who represented President Umaru Musa Yar Adua at the Copenhagen summit said,  failure of the Copenhagen signified a major danger for us in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

He said, “looking at where humanity is coming from, after two centuries of aggravated carbon pollution, speaks volumes about the resilience of the human spirit to mend what has been broken.  It is like we have all been sleep walking through glass doors until the retribution of nature in drought, mudslides, tsunamis, melting glaciers and disappearing lakes woke us up. We must henceforth stay awake if we are not to move towards the abyss again.

“What is at stake is of such historic proportion that COP15 cannot afford to fall apart into camps since all of humanity share a common future. While we know who the big polluters are and have not forgotten the old adage that he who pollutes must pay, we believe there is enough blame to go around. No country is without responsibility.

“Copenhagen represents an opportunity for collective atonement.  This is the only approach that can prevent what is a crisis from becoming a catastrophe. Elsewhere in the world, commentators may be inclined to refer to climate change crisis as an existential threat. For us in Africa , it is the beginning of the apocalypse that must be averted.

“Millennium Development Goals which were hardly on track now stand the risk of being completely de-railed unless the numbers are re-appraised in the context of more imaginative resources.  Our degraded soil arising from climate change is certain to encourage the perpetual company of hunger and poverty unless a major intervention which can only come from outside Africa takes place.

“By the middle of this century more than a billion people would be victims of water shortages and hunger including 600 million in Africa alone.  I understand the World Health Organisation has recently published figures to show that while we are here debating percentages of emissions that can be allowed right up to 2050, climate change, as of today, accounting for more than 150,000 deaths a year. Greenhouse Gas emissions may be the ultimate weapons of mass destruction if we go home from Copenhagen without a deal that everyone can identify with.”


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