Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

The Poverty of Africa's Position at the Climate Change Convention Negotiations

Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

The Poverty of Africa's Position at the Climate Change Convention Negotiations

Article excerpt



This article discusses Africa's position (or, more accurately in the author's opinion, lack of position) in the Climate Change Convention negotiations. The article argues that, perhaps more than any other global agreement in recent times, the Climate Change Convention negotiations are an amalgam of a bewildering array of diverse national, economic and environmental and other interests, objectives and perspectives all of which have sought, with varying degrees of success, to find expression in the Convention. Africa, so far, has failed demonstrably to articulate any position unique to it, and has therefore been largely marginal in the negotiations. The article explores some of the reasons for this failure and puts forward some suggestions which might be considered in the effort to improve Africa's position in the negotiations.



a. The Phenomenon of Global Warming

The advent of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century -- with its reliance on the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy and the cutting down of forests to create farmlands -- marked a turning point in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, along with certain other gases, such as water vapor, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide, trap the sun's heat near the earth's surface and cause a rise in the global temperature. Carbon dioxide's contribution to this effect is by far the most significant. This warming effect has been referred to as a "greenhouse effect", hence the name "greenhouse gases" (GHGs). These gases occur naturally and perform a beneficial role: without them global temperature would be much lower than it is and the Earth would perhaps not be habitable.

However the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) for energy generation and other human productive and consumptive activities including industrial, agricultural and waste disposal processes have led to a dramatic increase in human generated ("anthropogenic") GHGs. During the decade beginning in 1980 mainstream scientific opinion(2) came to the view that if the world (more particularly, industrialized countries) continued emitting GHGs at present rates both global average temperatures and sea levels would rise much faster than at any time in the history of human civilization. This view was formalized in a 1990 Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization established to study and report on the issue. However, the report pointed out that unequivocal judgments about the rate of increase could not be made for at least another decade.

Global warming on the predicted scale would lead to serious stresses on the planet's ecological system, with far reaching economic, social and environmental consequences. Climatic zones might shift; sea levels might rise following melting of glaciers with serious impacts on low lying islands and coastal areas; rainfall patterns may change; disease carrying vectors may multiply or reappear and so on.(3) Further, the rates of change might be faster than the ability of some species to respond. But crucially scientific reports pointed out that there were (and continue to be) uncertainties and glaring gaps in the international community's knowledge about the nature and extent of impacts that significant global warming could bring about.

b. The Climate Change Convention

Following the IPCC report the United Nations General Assembly established the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 1990. Its mandate was to negotiate a convention in time for signature at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The negotiating committee met six times between February 1991 and May 1992 and successfully adopted the Climate Change Convention in time for the Rio Summit. …

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