Climate Change: Poor and Vulnerable Countries Demand Compensation
Published on Tuesday, December 7, 2004 by Inter Press Service
Climate Change: Poor and Vulnerable Countries Demand Compensation
by Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES -- ”For our countries, climate change is more catastrophic than terrorism.” This was how the delegate from Tanzania summed up the stance of the world's 48 least developed countries at the 10th Conference of Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-10), which opened Monday here in the Argentine capital.

The Tanzanian delegation's sentiments were echoed throughout the opening session of the conference. Almost all of the countries whose representatives took the floor expressed their satisfaction over the imminent entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, the first international instrument aimed at reducing so-called greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global warming.

During the opening session of COP-10, which has brought together 5,400 delegates from 189 countries, the Argentine minister of health, Ginés González García, was designated the conference chair.

Joke Waller-Hunter of the Netherlands, the executive secretary of the U.N. Climate Change Convention, noted that this year is also the 10th anniversary of the convention's entry into force, and presented the report published to mark the occasion, ”The First Ten Years”, an overview of the advances made so far and the challenges that still lie ahead.

Waller-Hunter reported that between 1990 and 2000, there was a 6.6 percent global reduction in man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, three of the so-called greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, raising the earth's temperature.

This global warming is considered by most scientists to cause long-term climate changes that are already underway and could have potentially disastrous consequences.

Waller-Hunter warned, however, that the global reduction in emissions hides actual setbacks.

This reduction came about because the so-called transition economy countries suffered a severe decline in production during the time period in question, as a result of switching from socialist to market economies.

On the other hand, if one were to look specifically at the industrialized countries - which are responsible for the massive contamination of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution, 200 years ago - there was actually an average seven-percent increase in emissions between 1990 and 2000.

The entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, scheduled for Feb. 16, will be a ”first step” towards the goal of long-term mitigation, said Waller-Hunter.

Through the Kyoto Protocol, 30 industrialized developed nations have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2012 to levels 5.2 percent lower than in 1990.

Australia and the United States - two of the world's largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions - have not ratified the treaty.

At the same time, however, the delegates to this conference will also be working towards concrete measures aimed at adaptation to climate change.

Mitigation and adaptation have been the two main focuses of negotiations over the last ten years. However, most efforts during that time have concentrated on mitigation, largely due to the resistance of the industrialized countries to finance the prevention of detrimental effects of climate change in the poorest nations.

But the balance has begun to shift over the last three years, and many of the delegates at this conference trust that adaptation will be a central theme of discussions, particularly in view of Russia's recent ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

Given that the current accumulation of greenhouse gases is primarily due to the industrialization of a handful of nations, particularly the United States and Europe, the Climate Change Convention clearly establishes the responsibilities of different members of the international community.

According to Waller-Hunter, the developing countries must identify their main vulnerabilities, while the industrialized countries will have to provide ”concrete support”.

There are 100 million dollars available for adaptation programs, which are being transferred to a number of countries.

The Swiss delegate, speaking in the name of the European Union, reaffirmed the bloc's support for a fund for adaptation initiatives created in COP-7, held in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2001.

”We will live up to the commitments we assumed in Morocco,” he said.

But there has been a flood of demands from the different blocs into which the developing countries are grouped in the United Nations.

The Group of 77 (G-77) developing countries plus China, the bloc of the least developed countries, and the small island states - which could disappear as the sea level rises due to global warming - called for the international community to live up to the pledged transfer of financial and technological resources to mitigate the impact of climate change.

In the name of the G-77, the delegate from Qatar said that with the entry into effect of the Kyoto Protocol, a new era of international cooperation is beginning. But he called for more effective action to address the needs of many countries that already have heavily damaged ”socioeconomic infrastructure.”

UNFCCC Annex 1 countries - the industrialized nations that share the commitment to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 - must live up to their responsibilities and assume their commitments with regards to funding for adaptation, said the Qatari delegate.

The representative of Tanzania said in the name of the least developed countries that for the poorest of the poor, climate change is nothing short of catastrophic, and added that there were not even enough funds to carry out assessments of critical areas where defenses must be built up against damages that have already begun to occur.

The delegation from Tuvalu, a nation of coral atolls in the western Pacific Ocean that sit no more than five meters above sea level, spoke in the name of the small island states, saying the group is disappointed with countries like Australia and the United States that are parties to the UNFCCC but have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol that would obligate them to cut emissions.

Tuvalu said it would like this month's gathering to become ”the conference of adaptation” that would give special attention to concrete projects and the necessary financing to carry them out.

Floods, more frequent and more intense tropical storms, drought in temperate zones, the expansion of tropical diseases and the rising sea level are just some of the impacts of climate change that will have to be confronted with early warning systems, dikes, floodwalls and barriers, alternative crops and other projects.

Kenya lamented that it took so many meetings to draw special attention to an issue of such crucial importance to poor countries.

In Africa, there are no success stories involving technology transfer, and the rules of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), administered by the World Bank, should be revised, because they require co-financing in order for projects to be approved -- a hurdle for many poor countries, the Kenyan delegation complained.

The United States, which withdrew its signature from the Kyoto Protocol, said it had taken a different route towards curbing pollution. But the government of President George W. Bush is fomenting investment in the development of technology that will lead to the same objective, said the U.S. delegate.

COP-10 runs through Dec. 17 in the ”La Rural” exhibition center in Buenos Aires, which has been surrounded by a heavy police guard. Environment ministers and the heads of the national delegations will meet Dec. 15-17.

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