Africa in Copenhagen


The famous cartograms from the UCL Lancet Commission report Managing the health effects of climate change:


Figure 4: Density-equalising cartogram

Comparison of undepleted cumulative CO2 emissions by country for 1950–2000 versus the regional distribution of four climate-sensitive health consequences (malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea, and inland flood-related fatalities).

The entire continent of Africa, with something around 15% of world population, currently contributes roughly the same amount of carbon to the atmosphere as the state of Texas. If one looked at total contributions since the beginning of the industrial revolution, its share would be much smaller. It will and already does suffer disproportionately from the problems created by climate change, and is poorly equipped to respond to them.

The only African head of state allowed to address the plenary session of the UN climate change summit on the 22nd was President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. While Hu Jintao and Obama got all the media attention for saying virtually nothing – Obama’s ridiculous, insulting, and irrelevant recycled campaign speech was the most bizarre performance of the day – Kagame and Africa had something to say if only anyone would listen.

Kagame’s text, as posted at the UN site, is in green below.


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Africa will probably have the greater and more severe impacts from climate change than other parts of the world – but has less resources to manage this challenge.

It is already happening. Search page after page.

And yet this is very marginally, if at all, a problem of Africa’s making.

But this is not a new round of blame game – because in the context of the struggle for the survival of our planet, pointing fingers would not only be in poor taste, but also counterproductive.

Rather, what is urgently required is a shared responsibility for a mitigation and adaptation strategy that leaves no one behind because we are all in this together.

We have to appreciate the fact that both the legacy issues and negotiations to solve this fundamental challenge since Kyoto have been primarily focused on industrialized nations – based on the need for reduction of emissions.

The result has been the cap and trade process – trading in carbon dioxide that does not fully integrate the developing world.

In other words, the current cap and trade process is a disincentive to developing countries to adopt a low carbon dioxide emission pathway.

This also creates the problem of leakage: high carbon manufacturing activities in developing nations that are not subject to this trading arrangement.

We should aim for something entirely different.

Why not provide a country by country downward trajectory for all countries above, say, two tones (sic) carbon dioxide per person per year; and a constant trading trajectory for all those below?

Note there are a number of African countries above that line, notably Libya and South Africa. Surely there must be country by country targets, but one can’t help feeling that certain countries will try to buy or bully their way out. And how on earth is any scheme just that is not based primarily on per capita emissions? What moral code could possibly support such extraordinary “exceptionalism”?

Then the developing countries below this threshold would have a financial incentive to maintain this status, by trading with the developed countries that exceed their quota.

This would create a large financial flow from the developed world sufficient to manage the developing world’s needs for adaptation and mitigation.

The global trade in this “commodity” would eventually yield a carbon dioxide global value in the region of one trillion US Dollars.

Stop and think about that commoditization of the atmosphere before we are unable to turn back. Who owns the sky? Do polluters have preemptve rights to it, as we are very close to declaring, or is it beyond ownership? If it is not, then nothing is.

This way, trading that engages the developing nations would meet the challenge of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s proposal for one hundred billion United States Dollars per year for adaptation and mitigation in the developing world.

This may not be immediately achievable; but it should be the aiim of the Copenhagen negotiation process.

And this is not solicitation for aid.

This strategy guarantees the cap and trade process – and would lead to the lowering of emissions since all countries will be incentivized to reduce them.

Therefore, far from being a form of aid, it is a comprehensive plan for global trade – and for rendering the imperative of saving our planet a truly global responsibility.

From the African standpoint – we have more or less stood on the periphery of this debate on the basis that climate change is an industrial problem, born in the West and destined to be soled by these very nations.

Or perhaps Africa should pay to clean up a mess of others’ makng?

This should no longer be the case – whether in terms of robust participation in discussions on climate change, or in adopting green technologies for saving our planet.

We in Africa should be alarmed by the shrinking of the arctic ocean ice cap to unprecedented levels, powerfully illustrated by successful passage of commercial ships through the Northeast Passage earlier this year – as by the current droughts ravaging our continent from Kenya to the east across to Mauritania to the west.

Humankind inherited a planet with physical capital and aesthetic beauty – seven thousand, five hundred generations of our ancestors have inhabited it over the last one hundred and fifty thousand years.

Unfortunately, we have begun to adopt points of view that are inconsistent with this legacy and the future, including the following beliefs:

  1. Leaps in technology will effectively mitigate against the depletion of resources;
  2. Allocating raw materials to their highest and best uses is, in itself, good morality;
  3. There is little inherent value to nature, only as products for us to enjoy;
  4. Growth in GDP, by itself, maximizes human well being.

More inductees to the increasingly crowded pantheon of failed gods. They are starting to pile up on the sidewalks.

Individuals, communities and nations that operate only on self interest shall fail to understand that environmental forces have limits and transcend borders on a map.

We will leave for another time the latest attempt to conceptualize the modern Wheel of Fortune. We all pretty much get it, with just one unfortunate exception.

We have made poor decisions in the past, but I believe we have immeasurable capacity to learn from our errors, and to improve and edify the human condition.

African nations intend to speak with one voice on behalf of the whole planet precisely because of the magnitude of challenge we face in this regard.

au-flagThis is not a metaphorical trope. The African Union’s 52 current member states have formally agreed that Meles Zenawi, PM of Ethiopia, will speak for the continent in Copenhagen, presenting a list of bottom line, minimal demands including:

  • Developed countries should commit 0.5 per cent of their GDP for climate action in developing countries.
  • Better climate change adaptation fund from developed countries worth US$67 billion per year by 2020.
  • Deployment, diffusion and transfer of technology to developing countries, based on principles of accessibility, affordability, appropriateness and adaptability.
  • Rich nations need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80 to 95 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

They have further threatened a walkout if those demands are not met.

The AU represents over a quarter of UN membership, is widely seen as occupying the moral high ground on this topic – although perhaps not by the Republican party or the US Senate – and in the event of a walkout it is entirely possible that others, possibly some of the South American nations, would walk out in solidarity. Needless to say, this would be disaster. While there are opposing views in Africa that regard the AU position as potentially disastrous brinksmanship, they seem to be overwhelmed by the view that might be summarized “We ain’t gonna take it no more.”

This is our purpose at this United Nations General Assembly Summit and at the forthcoming climate change meeting in Copenhagen.


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Again, my point is not that the AU is 100% right, it is that they have a position and go into the talks with a degree of seriousness utterly antithetical to the frivolous and irresponsible attitude of the Obama administration and its obvious policy of kicking the can down the road forever. For all his bullshit about leadership, Obama has abdicated any and all responsibility to lead on the one critical issue of our time. It gives very few of us any joy to admit that he is another empty suit with a nice smile and a melodious line of gibberish.

There is no more time, and we in this country are stuck with a governing class that doesn’t know and worse, doesn’t care. Can anyone even imagine this senate of imbeciles, bedwetters, thumbsuckers and treasonous two dollar whores ratifying a real carbon reduction treaty – or any treaty at all that wasn’t dictated to them by their masters at Goldman Sachs?

Exceptional indeed.


One Response to “Africa in Copenhagen”

  1. artemis54 Says:

    Due to puter complications, I transcribed Kagame’s statement. Although the original has its oddities, any bizarre errors of spelling, etc are most likely mine.

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