Climate hot spot in Bali

Posted by Laura Grant on December 3, 2007
Posted in Green News

Government ministers and officials from more than 180 countries are meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali over the next two weeks to debate ways to deal with climate change.

Environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk will reportedly be attending for South Africa, although there’s been next to nothing about that in the local media. Interestingly, Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change official, said in a Mail & Guardian interview last week that South Africa, through Van Schalkwyk, “is a frontrunner in climate change negotiations”, and is taking the lead with Brazil “in finding solutions for developing countries to grow their economies and fight climate change at the same time”. That’s good to know.

The aim of this huge UN-hosted conference, which started today, is to try to agree to formally launch negotiations on a UN pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions that will replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. It sounds like tricky stuff. It is hoped that they will be able to conclude the negotiations on a new climate framework by 2009 so it to be ratified by the time Kyoto comes to an end.

Looking back through various speeches and media statements, Van Schalkwyk has said in the past few months that South Africa’s Cabinet mandate is to agree on a Bali roadmap that will outline a process to conclude negotiations on a strengthened climate framework by the end of 2009, at the latest.

But what would a strengthened climate framework mean for South Africa? At present, under the Kyoto protocol, industrialised countries have legally binding greenhouse gas emission targets of at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. All developing countries – including South Africa, China, Brazil and India – are exempt from emissions caps. The United States, the world’s biggest emitter, is also exempt because it has refused to ratify the agreement.

The US objects to developing countries being exempt from Kyoto’s emission caps (particularly the big emitters like China and India) and says the agreement unfairly burdens rich countries. Developing countries, on the other hand, say it is unfair to ask them to curb their emissions when they are still growing their economies and developed countries were allowed to pollute for decades.

In addition, developing countries have contributed least to the climate problems, yet they are the ones that will be the most affected by them and that lack the resources to deal with them.

There appears to be increasing pressure on developing countries with big greenhouse gas emissions – which would include China, India, Brazil and South Africa – to act to curb their pollution.

Van Schalkwyk has said that South Africa is “willing to do more”. But that the trigger to strengthen the regime must come from the North. “It is a two-part trigger: first, the full participation by the world’s largest historical and current emitter, the US, is a requirement; and second, a more empowering technology and financing framework for adaptation and mitigation is a precondition.”

But, according to reports, US officials have said they will work towards a framework for global action at the Bali conference, but refuse to accept specific targets for greenhouse reductions.

The South African Climate Action Network (SACAN) wants the South African government to commit to stabilising national greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2015. In a press release, the NGO said it is not advocating setting a cap on South Africa’s emissions in the current round of negotiations. However, it added: “As Africa’s highest emitter, South Africa should lead the way in demonstrating the political will for effective climate change response.”

Negotiating a new climate regime is likely to be a long and drawn-out process. Yet there is also a sense of urgency. Environmental NGO Friends of the Earth is calling on industrialised nations to commit to stringent targets and timetables that ensure emissions peak by 2015 and continue to fall.

FOE’s international climate campaign coordinator, Joseph Zacune, said in a press release: “A comprehensive range of mitigation and adaptation efforts are needed, including changes in the lifestyle and unsustainable consumption patterns of the richer industrialised nations. They are responsible for the pollution causing climate change and must repay their ecological debt to poor communities who are bearing the brunt of its damaging effects. These countries need funds to help vulnerable communities adapt and build resilience against climate change impacts.”

He also said that agrofuels, nuclear power and carbon offset projects – including monoculture tree plantations – were false solutions and “must be resolutely excluded”.

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