Righting the Wrongs of the Copenhagen Fraud: Bolivia Charts a New Climate Course

By Michelle Pressend · 7 Apr 2010

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Picture: Chucksta420
Picture: Chucksta420

“Climate change cannot be addressed by half measures,” argues Pablo Solón Romero, Bolivia’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), in a recent article published by the UK’s Guardian Newspaper. The crucial point he tries to get across is, “we can't make compromises with nature.”

Romero made the statement in the run up to Bolivia’s forthcoming ‘Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth’, scheduled to take place from 19-22 April 2010.

Bolivia was one of many developing countries’ dissatisfied with the Copenhagen Accord, the harmful political agreement that emerged from secretive negotiations at the UN’s Climate Conference late last year in Denmark.

Bolivia’s conference, to which all countries of the world have been invited, aims to address the failings of this problematic political agreement, which poses a threat to meaningful climate solutions because of its powerful backers.

While the goal of the Copenhagen climate conference was to get all countries of the world, especially historically big polluters to reduce their carbon emissions, the Copenhagen Accord has achieved quite the opposite.

The reduction of carbon emissions is treated more like a by-product in the accord. Far from prioritizing the reduction of emissions, the accord has become a tool to facilitate carbon markets where opportunities and outcomes are linked to economic, not ecological priorities.

It’s a win-win situation for the developed world that polluted their way to the pinnacle of the world where they now have the money and the technology, but will suffer no consequences for the path they beat to the top. The Copenhagen Accord sets the tone for the continued exploitation of the developing world under a new multilateral climate regime.

Overall, the effect of the accord has been to roll back important gains won under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its offshoot, the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement for developed countries to set targets to reduce their green house gas (GHG) emissions to levels below those reached in 1990. 

This has been a let down for Bolivia and a group of developing nations that have tried to strengthen the notion of common but differentiated responsibility, a key principle adopted by the UNFCCC in 1992. 

Common but differentiated responsibility means that all countries have the common goal to address environmental problems, but that those countries largely responsible for causing the problem (the industrialized nations) need to take greater responsibility. 

The Copenhagen Accord has rubbished this principle. It is an enormous setback for developing nations, who, under the new political agreement witness the burden of emissions reductions unfairly falling on their shoulders without the requisite financial support for their adaptation to clean technologies. 

America is the only country in the world that refused outright to sign the Kyoto Protocol and has used its global influence to engineer a situation that completely undermines it.

Together with Denmark, it has been at the forefront of designing, defending and promoting the new Copenhagen Accord, which also has the effect of converting the legal obligations for developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions under “Kyoto” to voluntary pledges with no binding commitment.

Romeros provides a stunning analogy for the consequences of this approach. “This dangerous approach to climate negotiations is like building a dam where everyone contributes as many bricks as they want regardless of whether it stops the river.” 

In the meantime, the Copenhagen Accord has no legal status. But, the Danish Presidency, once again, not following UN protocols, circulated a “note verbale” to UN Missions in New York for countries to confirm their association with the accord. As a result, in addition to the majority of developed countries who’ve endorsed it, 29 developing countries that are not required to make emissions cuts, including those that are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, pledged their voluntary commitments in time for an end of January deadline.

Thus, given its vigorous support by the world’s richest nations and emerging economies, the Copenhagen Accord has surfaced as a parallel process in multilateral climate negotiations, causing a huge amount of confusion with respect to the official UN climate process; the latest round, which will take place in Bonn, Germany from 9-11 April 2010.

The South African government that was one of 30 countries invited to the surreptitious Copenhagen consultation, has, disappointingly, strongly associated itself with the accord.

In a letter to the UNFCCC Secretariat, the Department for Environmental Affairs indicated that they see the accord as a political declaration that would provide “valuable direction and impetus to further negotiations under the Convention.” The department also stressed its support for the US$10bn offered to implement climate change actions. An amount that many other countries feel is an absolute pittance. South Africa also committed to taking “nationally appropriate mitigation” for 34% reduction away from a “business as usual emissions growth trajectory by 2020” provided the technology, finance and capacity is forthcoming. In a second letter to the UNFCCC, dated 4 February 2010, South Africa further stressed its association with the accord. 

But South Africa finds itself in an unconvincing position with respect to its energy efficiency commitments given the saga surrounding the Medupi coal-fired power station and more broadly in relation to a virtually non-existent renewable energy programme. 

Perhaps it was Medupi that was on the minds of President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, when they allowed South Africa to become co-conspirators in the dismantling of the Kyoto Protocol. One recalls Sonjica’s fork tongued comments after the event; where she noted her concerns about the Copenhagen Accord, but still went on to assert South Africa’s unwavering support for it.

Medupi will push our carbon emissions to stratospheric levels in addition to sucking our valuable water resources dry. International research reveals that a typical 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant draws about 2.2 billion gallons of water each year. To add some perspective, that’s enough water to support a city of approximately 250,000 people. At a capacity of 4,800 megawatts, Medupi will need almost 10 times as much.

In contrast and in a search for genuine solutions to global warming, Bolivia is at the forefront of leading the challenge against the Copenhagen Accord. In the run up to last December’s event, Bolivia called for a 49% reduction in carbon emissions from the developed world by 2017-- a demand based on scientific research.

And while America and its group of crony supporters may have ignored Bolivia’s demands at the UN’s climate conference late last year, the Latin American country has since been vindicated by a post-Copenhagen report emanating from a surprising source, the European Commission.

According to Romeros, “In a report called International Climate Policy Post-Copenhagen, the (European Commission) confirmed that the pledges by developed countries are equal to between 13.2% and 17.8% in emissions reductions by 2020 -- far below the required 40%-plus reductions needed to keep global temperature rise to less than 2°C.”

Bolivia will use its forthcoming international climate conference to highlight the unfairness of the current situation and to address a number of critical issues that affect countries from the South. These include, but are not limited to, climate migration, food security, the Kyoto Protocol, technology transfer, climate debt and the establishment of an international climate justice tribunal.

For its part, South Africa continues to proceed in the most dubious of terms. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are simply not priority areas for our government even if the necessary finance and technology were to be made available.  

If anything, South Africa is currently at the opposite end of the extreme, pressing ahead with dirty energy and generating an international outcry in the process.

Pressend coordinates the Trade Strategy Group (TSG) at the Economic Justice Network and Global Network Africa at the Labour Research Services in Cape Town. She is also an independent socio-political analyst on global issues related to trade, environment and climate change.

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26 Apr

South African Renewables

Well argued, however, South Africa's introduction of renewable energy feed-in tariffs is a positive committment to cleaner energy.

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