Planet getting warmer, but UN climate talks lack urgency

SANF 13 No 42 – by Egline Tauya and Neto Nengomasha

New global reports on climate change have confirmed that the planet is rapidly getter warmer due to human activities, but climate negotiators have been rapped for showing little urgency.

There was not much progress at the UN climate talks held recently in Warsaw, Poland, aimed at negotiating a binding climate change agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Although the talks in November ended with a roadmap to establish a new global treaty by 2015, there was little optimism that this would lead to real change in the dynamics as the key countries that continue to pump the so-called “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere show little inclination to change their ways.

Rather they are offering cash to “mitigate” the impact on developing countries of the South, who bear the impact despite contributing little to the problem.

Global agreements are not so much about addressing the causes of climate change, but providing financial packages to help developing countries to “adapt” to the changes.

The language of “intentions” is used, rather than commitments, and the Reuters news agency reported from Poland that while almost 200 countries kept alive hopes for a global deal in 2015 after overcoming disputes on cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and aid for poorer nations, the meeting was “widely criticised as lacking urgency.”

Meanwhile, leading global and regional organizations have released reports saying the world is getting hotter, sea levels are rising, and there is strong evidence that neither are naturally occurring phenomena.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that 2013 has been one of the hottest years on record and that it is “virtually certain” that humans are driving the potentially devastating changes.

The WMO, tasked with collating global meteorological data, said in its annual statement on the Status of the Global Climate 2013 that the average global land and ocean surface temperature this year is 0.48o C higher than the average from 1961 to 1990.

The first nine months of this year were as hot as 2003, and warmer than 2011 and 2012. The two warmest years recorded to date were 1998 and 2010.

“All of the warmest years have been since 1998 and this year once again continues the underlying, long-term trend,” the WMO secretary-general said. “The coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998.”

The WMO also noted that global sea levels are at a record high and have been rising 3.2mm a year since satellites began recording this data in 1993.

Arctic sea ice has recovered from its record low cover of 2012, but 2013 is still listed among the years when global sea ice has been at the lowest levels.

Mount Kilimanjaro in northern United Republic of Tanzania, often regarded as Africa’s barometer of climate change, has lost almost all of its famous snow cover, thus impacting severely on its ecosystem and the surrounding farming community that relies on its fresh, abundant water.

The total area covered by snow on Mt Kilimanjaro decreased by six-fold from 12 square kilometres in 1900 to two sq kms in 2000.

Evidence of climate change is starkly visible in the disappearance of glaciers on mountains near the equator in East Africa where glaciers are found on two other mountains in addition to Kilimanjaro – the Rwenzori mountains in western Uganda, and Mount Kenya in Kenya.

More than 50 percent of these glaciers have disappeared, while larger glaciers, particularly on Kilimanjaro, have been fragmented.

The anticipated five percent decrease in rainfall due to climate change will affect people and all forms of wildlife, including plants and animals, according to the last environment report issued by SADC and partners.

The Southern Africa Environment Outlook (SAEO) says that climate change impacts are already evident and include changes in water availability, food insecurity, sea-level rise and the melting of ice cover.

The book says that climate change, including global warming, is well underway, with average temperatures in the region having risen by more than 0.5o C over the last century, and the 1990s deemed the warmest and driest ever. In addition, the frequency and severity of droughts and floods have increased.

With nine of SADC’s 15 Member States having a total of more than 15,000 kms of coastline, the region would be severely affected by sea level rise, estimated to reach 15-95 cm by 2100. While much of the sea level rise will be due to the melting of ice cover in Greenland, mountain glaciers around the world also continue to melt.

SAEO projects crop yields to drop by as much as 10-20 percent in some parts of southern Africa as the region becomes more arid, and predicts the spread of the malaria-carrying Anopheles female mosquito to parts of Namibia and South Africa where it has not been found before.

Increasingly violent cyclones are forecast to hit the island and coastal states, especially in the Mozambique Channel. The reportcautions that it is not possible to predict with any degree of certainty the exact timing, magnitude and nature of expected climate changes under the effects of global warming.

The array of adaptive responses ranges from purely technological such as sea defences to managerial such as modified farm practices, to policy including regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Indigenous knowledge systems play a key role in addressing these changes at community level, as these systems have been used for centuries to forecast the weather and to protect water, land, forests, animals and birds from excessive exploitation.

The topical issue of climate change as tackled in the Outlook is strategic in guiding debate and policies on this global phenomenon in southern Africa.

The impacts of climate change are already widespread in the region, ranging from social to economic and environmental.

The range of malaria is expanding, while habitat for wildlife is changing, and access to water for domestic, industrial and agricultural use is becoming a challenge due to over-extraction of underground water.

Scientists are more confident than ever that humans are causing this, and other sources stress that large corporations are mainly responsible, through burning of fossil fuels in the industrial north.

However, following 13 days of intense negotiations, the Warsaw conference produced a lukewarm outcome that did not address immediate concerns of developing countries.

The conference agreed on a multi-billion dollar framework to tackle deforestation, and the fledgling Green Climate Fund is projected to channel financing for this purpose.

While most of the causes of climate change can be far from the point of impact, deforestation, which is high in southern Africa, has a major impact on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The UNFCCC conference, known as the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19), agreed to set “a pathway” for governments to work on a draft text of a new global climate agreement, which will be tabled at COP 20 in Peru in 2014, described as an “essential step” in a seemingly endless string of talks about talks on the global climate.

This process is expected to be completed by the time global leaders meet again for climate change talks at COP 21 in Paris, France in 2015, and could be enforced by 2020.

However, various factors are expected to influence progress towards the proposed new global climate treaty.

Developed nations promised in 2009 to increase aid to developing countries to help to cope with climate change to $100 billion a year after 2020, from $10 billion a year in 2010-12. But in Warsaw they rejected calls to set targets for 2013-19.

A draft text merely urged developed nations to set “increasing levels” of aid, to be reviewed every two years.

The United Nations plans to host a Climate Summit in New York later in 2014.

Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region. 

This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.

SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985.      Email:     

Website and Virtual Library for Southern Africa  Knowledge for Development