Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Archbishop Tutu: Rich nations 'condemning Africa to incineration'

  • Archbishop Tutu attending an Oxfam International event in Copenhagen (Photo: oxfam International)

On the eve of the arrival of senior ministers and the first few heads of state at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, pessimism was rife that divisions amongst the major parties were so wide that talks may end in collapse.

Adding to developed countries' woes as talks chugged away well into the night, anti-apartheid veteran Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to the president of the talks and future EU environment commissioner Connie Hedegaard charging that the position of wealthy nations would "condemn Africa to incineration."

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Talks have all but ground to a halt in particular over the issue of the continuance of the Kyoto Protocol, which focuses on the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of the developed world.

Developing countries accuse the rich nations of wanting to scrap the protocol and force them to adopt emissions cuts as well, despite the consensus established by global negotiators years ago on the north's historic responsibility for causing the climate crisis.

Under Kyoto, developing countries are not obliged to make cuts.

One source close to the southern bloc joked: "I'm sure [current northern leaders are] wishing they had a time machine so that they could go back and shoot their negotiators who agreed to this sort of language."

However problematic the protocol may be - the US is not a party to Kyoto - poor countries say it remains the only legally binding document that has delivered emissions reductions.

Fundamentally, the south worries that without Kyoto, there will be what is known as a ‘bottom-up' approach - a series of country pledges on emissions reductions that taken as a whole do not meet the demands of scientists if the planet is to avoid catastrophic temperature change, and furthermore that will only be loosely reviewed by their peers.

What they want instead is second period under Kyoto that starts with an agreed global emissions reduction target that matches what the science demands and that is then shared out equally amongst the world's countries - the ‘top-down' approach.

For their part, the EU and other industrialised parties insist that there is no point in moving forward with a second commitment period under Kyoto without Washington on board.

Southern delegates however argue that there is no reason why President Barack Obama could not sign on to Kyoto under a second period, or make comparable commitments.

Following the temporary boycott of discussions by African nations backed by the wider G77 grouping over this issue on Monday, delegates came back to the table at the promise of continued discussion on both the protocol and a parallel track intended to focus on long-term financing for adaptation to climate change and paying for green development paths for the global south.

But informal discussions with environment ministers on the Kyoto track on Tuesday ended without new targets. According to those familiar with the talks, when the German co-facilitator, environment minister Norbert Roettgen, asked industrialised countries if they had any suggestions on how they could boost their emission reduction targets, the room went silent.

1.5 degrees

Separately, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon ran into trouble for encouraging delegates to put their heads together to deliver a deal that limits the rise in global temperatures to two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A growing chorus of developing nations have been taking a harder line that the rise be limited to 1.5 degrees. They said Mr Ban, as UN chief, should have been more even-handed and not endorse one position or another.

At the same time, expressing the frustration felt in other industrialised capitals, New Zealand's negotiator, Tim Groser blamed small developing nations for derailing the talks and denounced such positions as "extremist tactics".

In a letter to Ms Hedegaard seen by EUobserver, Archbishop Desmond Tutu quoted assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that said that a global target of two degrees means for Africa a rise of 3.5 degrees.

"A global deal of about two degrees is to condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development," he wrote, adding: "And then of course there is the matter of funding mitigation and adaptation."

While informal discussions are expected to continue well into the night, on Wednesday, negotiators must kick everything up to the level of ministers and heads of state.

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