Copenhagen burning Africa in Cancun

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As the UN Climate Change negotiations in Cancun draw to a close, the noose is tightening around the developing world's necks. Developed countries are trying to pressure, blackmail, bribe and cheat their way to an agreement that could condemn the planet to a possible 5 degrees Celsius temperature increase. In large land masses such as Africa, this might mean a 6.5 degree C increase.

A key pressure point is the dynamic between the Copenhagen Accord agreed last year, and the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol (KP) is the only legally-binding international agreement for emissions targets, which countries must abide by. While the KP is itself far from a perfect agreement, it is currently all we have in order to hold countries to account for their emissions. As the Kyoto commitment period draws to an end in 2012, negotiations are desperately under way to agree a second commitment period, to ensure that countries continue to fulfil their emissions reductions obligations.

As you might expect, however, some countries are NOT fans of the legally-binding nature of the Kyoto Protocol, in particular the wealthy industrialised nations who feel that they are unfairly penalised for their historical responsibility for climate change.

At Copenhagen last year, these countries pulled off an audacious breach of UN protocol when a small group of heads of state privately drafted the "Copenhagen Accord", which they proposed to replace Kyoto. Instead of legally binding commitments to emissions reductions, the Copenhagen Accord simply asks for "pledges" from countries.

In Denmark and the US, the Copenhagen Accord was spun as a progressive initiative to move forward and find international agreement on climate change. But the reality is that if the planet is to rely on the Copenhagen Accord to ensure our future climate stability - well frankly, we're stuffed. And burned.

A recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called "The Emissions Gap" looks at the emission reduction pledges made by countries for the Copenhagen Accord, and adds up the science to see what they will mean in terms of total emissions reductions. They find that if the Copenhagen Accord is adopted as it is, global temperatures will increase between 2 and 5 degrees C. They also point out that in large land masses such as Africa, the temperature increase could be an additional 1.5 degrees, meaning a possible 6.5 degree rise.

What will a 2 degree temperature raise mean for Africa? Studies by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Stanford University suggest that a 2 degree rise will have drastic impacts on crop yields, by affecting pollen formation, grain development, soil moisture, water cycles and the length of growing season. Food shortages, starvation and conflict may all follow. The impacts of a 5, or 6.5 degree rise will be far worse.

At Copenhagen, Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese chair of the G77, spoke passionately against the Copenhagen Accord process and content, saying "We have been asked to sign a suicide pact… What is Obamba going to tell his daughters? That their [Kenyan] relatives are not worth anything?" Venezuelan negotiators painted their hands red to symbolise the blood on the hands of the Accord's drafters. Bolivia denounced the Copenhagen Accord and process, and announced their alternative, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochamamba. (In April, 40,000 members of international civil society came to Cochamamba to draft their demands and real solutions, and to condemn the false solutions to climate change. Since then, Bolivia has been working hard to integrate the "Cochamamba text" into the UN Climate negotiations, but find their path increasingly blocked at every turn.)

The strong opposition from a few countries ensured that the UN was not able to adopt the Copenhagen text, merely "take note" of it. But we watched with surprise as many African country governments, who had until then taken leadership for strong but necessary demands, timidly voiced their reluctant support for the Accord.

Since then, we've heard about some of the tactics that were being used to pressure them at Copenhagen. Countries who spoke against the Copenhagen Accord have since been punished with the denial of US aid money. And shortly before the climate talks began, top secret US cable communications were leaked onto the Wikileaks website, revealing that 6 months before Copenhagen, the US had asked the CIA to collect intelligence on countries, to identify areas where they could be pressured to sign up to US climate aims.

The pressure to control the debate continues here at Cancun. Yesterday Bolivia held a press conference condemning attempts to exclude unwanted voices from the negotiations, where the official negotiation process has in some cases been replaced with exclusive secret drafting meetings open only to select countries. Bolivia is often the only country to voice opposition to weak and dangerous proposals, and they are becoming increasingly isolated. Lumumba was replaced with a far more compliant delegate from Yemen.

On Wednesday, we heard the shocking statement from Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi, stating that the Copenhagen Accord was the way forward for progress on climate change. And then the room erupted when the Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga stated that Kenya would not support a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, echoing Japan's statement earlier in the week, but apparently contradicting Kenya's previous position.

Kenya's statement caused chaos in the Africa Group, and amid various rumours on how this came to happen, the statement has now been officially withdrawn. But the cracks in the Africa Group are showing, and the "divide and rule" strategy is in stark evidence here in Cancun.

As I sat on the grass outside the Moon Palace to eat my lunch yesterday, I got talking to an Ethiopian delegate who was relatively new to the process. It seemed to me that she had been fed the line that the Copenhagen Accord was necessary to move forward on a global agreement on climate change, and she said she did not understand why countries were blocking it. I explained to her the difference between the legally-binding Kyoto targets and the weak Copenhagen pledges, and the potential for a 6.5 degree temperature raise in Africa. And that's when it hit me, what we were really talking about. I began to cry.

It's so easy to get swept up in the stress, the adrenaline, the suits, the paragraphs, that even though we talk climate detail for 20 hours a day, it feels that delegates are more removed than ever from what we are really talking about. I do wonder, if delegates really understood, and were emotionally engaged with the impacts of what they are doing to their own children, would they still bow to pressure?

Africa's strong leadership is still needed by the whole world. And I need a handkerchief.