Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009

Karl Riber, Tree Africa Manager and Charlene Hewat, CEO Environment Africa attended the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

December 2009

Was Copenhagen, a Hopenhagen or a Nopenhagen?   highlights for me were meeting with Wangari Maathai and listening to Vandana Shiva.


Professor Wangari Maathai, Founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Laureate 2004, with Charlene Hewat, CEO, Environment Africa look on together at the launch of Google Earths Adaptation launch

Edith January, our Youth representative from Environment Africa, in centre with red glasses, joins the march for Climate Change in Copenhagen on the 12th Dec. she has been working with MS and Action Aid, our partners.

ARTICLE BY KARL RIBER:         What Happened In Copenhagen?

Are we any closer to preventing catastrophic Climate Change?

Environment Africa CEO, Charlene Hewat, and I had the privilege of travelling to Copenhagen to be part of COP 15, which had been billed as the best chance to get an agreement to minimize the impacts of climate change. Although we were not official observers to the negotiations, we were part of a large civil society presence in Copenhagen. Apart from the official negotiations, there were several other key venues, where issues were discussed amongst civil society groups, including research panels, training seminars and reporting back by delegates to the talks. For us, this was an extremely productive experience: we were able to network with people from all over the world, and especially many from Africa, who are interested in common goals and practices; and we also learned a lot about climate change, the impacts it is having, what it needed to stop it and some of the false solutions that are being promoted by some countries.  You may wonder if the carbon footprint that our trip made was worth it; that’s something that worries us, too, but we will work as hard as we can on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures in Zimbabwe to make sure that it was worthwhile.

As for what happened at the official negotiations at COP 15, sadly, the short answer to the title question of this article is: No. Unfortunately, despite dire warnings that business as usual will lead to a global increase of temperatures of over 2 degrees Celsius, political considerations trumped a commitment to saving the planet. To put this in perspective, according to the chief scientist at the UN IPCC, Sir Nicholas Stern, planetary warming of over 2C has the high probability of the following effects:

  • Up to 4.4 billion people could suffer growing water shortages
  • Falling crop yields in many developing regions
  • The Amazon rainforest could be significantly and possibly irrevocably damaged
  • 15-40% of the world’s species face extinction, and
  • Greenland’s ice sheet could begin to melt irreversibly, which would accelerate seal level rise, committing the world to an eventual 7-metre rise in sea levels.

In Zimbabwe, the expected effects include:

  • More erratic rainfall patterns and reduce rainfall overall, leading to highly variable agricultural yields and therefore increased food insecurity and malnutrition
  • Reduced hydroelectric power from Lake Kariba
  • Increased desertification of livestock rangeland
  • Increased incidence of diseases such as malaria

Dr. Dennis Garrity, Director General, World Agroforestry Centre, in between Charlene Hewat, CEO and Karl Riber, Tree Africa Manager from Environment Africa.

A stable climate, basically keeping the world the way it is today, needs to have an atmospheric level of carbon dioxide (equivalent) of 350 ppm. Today we are already at 380 ppm of CO2, but if other greenhouse gases are included, we are at 450ppm. To reduce this to a sustainable level in the next 15-20 years, we need to have emissions cuts of around 90%. Which makes the targets that governments are talking about (generally 20% by 2020 or 50% by 2050) seem not only pathetic, but also extremely dangerous. As it is, in Copenhagen almost all governments were talking about keeping global climate change to 2C. With a 2C rise, they believe, climate change will be manageable. But there is no guarantee of this. Estimates show that with 2C, there is still a 20% chance that the effects listed above for 4C could still happen. That most of the world’s leaders are willing to accept this risk is frightening. Especially when none of the major economies has a good record of meeting their past commitments.

Most people seem to blame the U.S. and China for being unwilling to make the necessary concessions to create a legally binding agreement. But there is plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone. What did come out of Copenhagen was something called the ‘Copenhagen Accord’, which is not as strong as a treaty and is not legally binding. For the 28 countries that have signed up to it, it requires them to declare national emissions targets, but there is not provision for any consequences if they don’t meet their targets. It’s like the New Year’s resolutions that we all make every year: a few of us might keep them, but no one is going to fine us if we don’t.  One other thing that the Accord does is to extend the hope of funding by rich countries to poor countries to assist them with the adaptation measures that will be needed to cope with the effects of a changing climate. Developing countries were calling for a commitment of $100 billion per year from now to 2020, but commitments made are only in the range of $10 billion per year, with the prospect of that being raised to $100 in 2020. But even those figures could be illusory, as the donor countries have not said where those funds will come from, and there is a strong suspicion that they hope to get those funds from carbon trading markets, rather than using public funds.

So what does all of this mean for Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular? We are pretty much locked in to a change of at least 2C, so we need to prepare ourselves for even more erratic rainfall, for reduced crop yields (if we continue with conventional means), more hunger and greater malnutrition, reduced grazing land for cattle due to desertification, reduced water supplies and a rapidly lowering water table and an increase in insect borne diseases like malaria. But we also need to do whatever we can to push ourselves and our leaders to make their voices heard on an international scale. It really isn’t fair that because of extravagant lifestyles in the developed world (which we all aspire to and are generally trying to emulate) and huge numbers of people and rapid growth in Asia, that the poorest countries on earth will face even more hardship. But how many of us are willing to give up our cars, our TVs or our plane flights to the UK, US, Dubai or wherever it is we dream of going. It’s not realistic to think that people in the developed world are going to voluntarily give up their lifestyles, but by taking pledges to cut our own emissions (and following through!), joining some of the online, worldwide, campaigns to convince our politicians that new rules need to be put in place and other such actions, we can try to influence the decision makers: through our words and through our examples.

There is, of course, COP 16 just around the corner. In late 2010, in Mexico, a lot of the same people will re-convene to try to hammer out a binding deal, so not all hope is lost. However, given their dismal performance in Copenhagen, can we trust them to do the right thing without putting as much pressure on them as we can?


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