Global geopolitics should not be allowed to crash the crucial Paris climate conference

Le Bourget conference venue
Le Bourget conference venue

By Mithika Mwenda

President Uhuru Kenyatta joins almost 150 other Heads of State and Government across the World in Paris, France, where a global Pact on climate change is expected to be hammered after years of negotiations characterized by walk-outs, threats, behind-the-scene maneuvres, and widening North-South divide.

This is the largest meeting bringing key leaders, among them President Barack Obama of the US, President Xi Jinping of China and India’s Narendra Modi, and happening the UN Headquarters in New York, all accounting for largest share of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

And despite the France seat of Government suffering the terrorist attack a couple of days ago that threatened to dampen the spirit of the global community as delegates gathered their bags to embark on a journey to the conference seen as a last-ditch effort to conclude the elusive Post-Kyoto Climate agreement, consensus is growing that all obstacles against such a Pact should be dealt with in the spirit of give-and-take.

The Charles De Gaulle International Airport is a beehive of activities as delegates arrive from all corners of the world. Hotels have registered full capacity bookings and no sign of cancellation. The venue of the COP21, Le Bourget Stadium, is a packed place as delegates arrive to register.

In other words, we have defied the terrorists and demonstrating to them that if they thought their cowardly act was meant to scare us away, then let them know that not even threat of death will stop us from writing an agreement that will save humanity and preserve the health of the Planet. Indeed, the terrorist attack in Paris has emboldened the world leaders in forging their unities against all threats, including climate change, reminding them that they will be called upon to provide direction when citizens are faced by such dilemmas.

Climate change is such a monumental challenge to the survival of humanity, preservation of the health of the planet, attainment of all ambitious strategies to defeat the pangs of hunger and poverty, as well as meeting the newly-agreed sustainable development goals. It is no longer debatable that all challenges we face – shrinking food reserves, water stress, energy inaccessibility – have their roots from the changing climate.

Smallholder peasant farmers, pastoralists, and forest-dependent, hunter-gatherer indigenous communities which rely on rainfall and natural ecosystem for their survival have seen their livelihoods turned upside down by the frighteningly expanding climate change impacts manifested by shifting seasons, erratic rainfall, droughts and unmitigated floods.

As I write this piece, Zimbabwe is almost issuing an international alert due to prevailing famine due to  rain shortages. Malawi is reeling in hunger, while El Nino floods have caused havoc in Kenya, resulting in deaths and destruction of infrastructure.

This week, expectations are high that COP-21 will not be another Copenhagen debacle six years ago, when leaders trooped in the Danish Capital during COP15 only to end up with a disastrous outcome christened “Copenhagen Accord” which ended up exposing their failure in diplomacy.

Perhaps  we laid substantial hope to individual leaders like Obama, who ended up disappointing us as climate change is such a complex issue to be solved by an individual. We assumed that by Obama’s captivatingly fascinating image was good enough to convince EU and BRIC leaders bury their hatchet and agree to an agreement to address climate change. If we have learnt a lesson, then we should agree that all nations, small and big, rich and poor, should have a role to play in the universal climate change agreement.

Thus, Obama’s speech once he takes a podium in his 3-minute address should be weighed on US fair share on climate action, just as the speech to be delivered by President Baron Waqa of Nauru, a Central Pacific Country of around 10,000 people. This is also the judgment to be passed to African countries, who have contributed marginally to the problem of global warming, but whose citizens continue to suffer due to the impact of climate change.

African countries, and Kenya in particular, have done what is in their ability as contribution to defeat the challenge of climate change, both in mitigation and adaptation. The Government of Kenya, for instance, has developed an economy-wide national climate change action plan, followed by a comprehensive Policy whose implementation framework, the National Climate Change Bill, is at an advanced Stage of completion. Communities at various levels are taking necessary action to build their own resilience in agriculture, livestock, water, forest, etc.

The only challenge is that the pressure exerted by climate change is such a monumental one that they require support – in terms of finance, technology and capacity – to be able to overcome. But those who are supposed to provide such support have declined, or worse, shifted goalposts. They want to transfer the burden of action to the already-oppressed poor and vulnerable people.

Over years, African Civil Society and their governments have expressed concern that once under pressure, rich countries focus only on setting up institutions and committees rather than on provision of finance, technology and capacity building which would assist developing countries in dealing with climate change. We now have a multilateral climate-financing framework, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which should be sufficiently capitalized to provide much-needed resources to enable developing countries and Africa to adapt, mitigate and enhance resilience in the face of climate change.

We are in a take-off mood. A lot has been achieved since 2009, and the failure is not an option in Paris. By agreeing to converge in COP21, the world leaders have signed a covenant with nature that they want to be counted in this historic moment in writing a global pact on climate change, which should resonate with African aspirations – it should fair, equitable, ecologically just and effectively efficient.

Mwenda is the Secretary General, Pan African Climate Justice Alliance PACJA


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