Gore Pinpoints Struggle 'Between Hope and Fear'

Cape Times (South Africa), December 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

Gore Pinpoints Struggle 'Between Hope and Fear'


BYLINE: Jan Glazewski

I am writing this in chilly Poznan, Poland, where I, along with almost 10 000 other delegates, attended the 14th annual Conference of the Parties, referred to as COP 14, to the UN Framework Climate Change Convention (FCCC) in the first two weeks of December.

The daily temperature hovered around 0*C and in our more whimsical moments my Kenyan colleague and I joked that a touch of global warming would be a comforting respite, especially during the morning 10-minute walk from the tram stop to the extremely well-appointed and warmer conference venue.

This particular meeting was but one step in an ongoing international process whose foundations lie in the UN FCCC, which came into force on March 21, 1994, and ought to be seen in a historical context.

The convention, to which South Africa was a country party, was tabled as far back as 1992, when the far-sighted drafters recognised the need to avoid "dangerous anthropogenic interference" with the climate system and crafted an international agreement to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by all the world's nations.

They did so by designing an overall framework treaty based on a set of founding principles that include the obligation to future generations, the notion of equity, the need to adopt precautionary measures, the right to sustainable development and a pivotal principle, about which many current intergovernmental tensions turn, that of "common but differentiated responsibilities", among the world's nations, for dealing with the phenomenon of climate change.

The latter principle recognises the "specific needs and special circumstances of developing country parties, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, and of those parties, especially developing country parties, that would have to bear a disproportionate or abnormal burden under the convention ..."

The convention accordingly recognises that the international family of nations cannot expect like obligations for countries at different levels of economic development. Developing countries argue that those countries that caused the problem should shoulder a greater burden in dealing with the challenge presented by climate change.

Developed countries, listed in Annex 1 of the treaty, therefore have more onerous obligations under the treaty, along with countries with economies in transition to a market economy, largely eastern European countries. But in making this differentiation the drafters of the convention sowed the seeds of some of the tensions evident in Poznan, because it does not reflect present-day reality.

South Africa is not listed in Annex 1, so it is a developing country for purposes of the convention, but Latvia, for example, is not. The former has the largest economy in Africa and is one of the top 20 per capita carbon emitters in the world in absolute terms; in contrast, Latvia's contribution to global warming is minuscule, although this does not take into account GDP or per capita emissions.

The convention was fleshed out, and given more concrete effect, by the Kyoto Protocol, which was opened for signature in December 1997 and came into operation in February 2005 after it had been acceded to by the requisite number of FCCC country parties, including South Africa. Under the protocol, parties agreed that industrialised countries would reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2% below their 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012. This is known as "the first commitment period".

Each industrialised country has its individual reduction target, called its quantified emissions limitation and reduction commitment as set out in Annex B to the protocol. Developing countries, including South Africa, do not have quantified emissions limitation and reduction commitments. …

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Gore Pinpoints Struggle 'Between Hope and Fear'
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