Global disagreement on climate change – consequences for the South

SANF 19 no. 55 – by Neto Nengomasha
Major disagreements erupted at the recent global talks about climate change in Madrid, Spain, leaving the South to question whether such meetings are worthwhile or mere talk shows, and meanwhile suffering the consequences such as drought and floods.

The African Group of Negotiators wanted targets increased for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and predictable financing mechanisms provided for adaptation.

African negotiators at the 25th Conference of Parties (COP 25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) further wanted clarity on loss and damage, but this was left hanging as consensus remained elusive throughout the conference.

Despite several appeals from the developing countries of the South, the industrialized North failed to provide sufficient assurance that they would reduce emissions and mobilize adequate and predictable finance for countries at risk to respond to the impacts of climate change.

The hostile negotiations leave the countries of the global South worried about whether industrialized countries, who are the main global polluters, will fulfil their commitment of mobilizing US$100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

The disappointing outcome of COP 25 comes at a time when scientists are indicating that the world is running out of time to act, with global greenhouse gas emissions having reached a record high this year and showing no signs of slowing.

According to a new report on The Global Climate, significant changes in the global climate have occurred in the last five years, suggesting a renewed threat of climate change impacts and variability.

The report by the World Meteorological Organization released ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit held in New York in September, reveals severe changes in climate since 2015, including dramatic changes in temperature, sea level rise, and extreme weather events.

The report shows that 90 percent of “natural” disasters experienced in the period 2015-2019 are related to weather, with developing countries being the most affected due to limited adaptive capacities and resources.

Speaking soon after the conference, the UN Secretary General António Guterres expressed his dissatisfaction at the outcome, saying “the international community has lost an important opportunity to show increased targets on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

Further, the small island states accused countries such as Australia, United States, Canada, Russia, India, China and Brazil of failing to submit revised plans that show increased targets to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep the rise in global temperatures under 1.5°C this century.

Reinforcing the sense of division, India, supported by China, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, took a hard line on the promises made by industrialized countries in previous agreements before the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

India and other countries insisted that the industrialized countries should show evidence that they have fulfilled the pledges made on cutting down carbon emissions in the years up to 2020, and if they have failed to meet the targets, these should be carried over to the post-2020 era.

However, the global North saw this as a tactic for countries to go back to the way things were before Paris, where richer countries were expected to do more work while emerging economies such as China, India and others do less. The negotiations were thus marred by divisions and self-interest.

Another critical issue that was expected to be agreed at COP 25 was to finalise Article 6 of the Paris Agreement dealing with international carbon trading. Some countries wanted to retain the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) carbon credit system set up by the Kyoto Protocol while others opposed the move.

The CDM allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to earn certified emission reduction credits, each equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide.

The credits earned can then be sold to developed nations to allow them to emit more carbon dioxide, thereby generating income for the developing countries.

A final deal was deferred until 2020 amid disagreements over details of carbon dioxide accounting rules, which revealed a rift among countries supporting greater targets and those satisfied with the current status.

Between January and April 2019, southern Africa faced several weather-related phenomena such as Tropical Cyclones Desmond, Idai and Kenneth, which caused extensive flooding in the Union of Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Cyclone Idai, recorded as one of the worst tropical storms to ever affect Africa and the southern hemisphere, claimed hundreds of lives and left a trail of destruction, including severe damage to key infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools and clinics.

Over 800,000 hectares of cropland as well as crops and seed stocks were destroyed by the cyclone, while about 3.3 million people were left in need of immediate humanitarian assistance such as food, shelter, clothing, potable water, sanitation and medical support.

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