Geofrey Omedo: Africa Must Unite in Climate Talks

The efforts by Africa to present a common front in the global negotiations towards a post-Kyoto mechanism are commendable. For once, we are seeing the continent hold discussions to harmonise the African position and to ensure that come Copenhagen, the continent will not be left behind.

Indeed, past negotiations on climate change have been conducted in an environment where our African representatives just watch, waiting for the conclusion of the discussions for them to retreat back to their hotel rooms.

Some of the delegates have even used this opportunity to go on shopping sprees and meet up with some of their long-lost friends in the diaspora. This has been unfortunate for the continent.

Another key impediment to Africa's effective participating in these negotiations is weak negotiators. When the negotiating texts are being developed, the lingua franca used has been completely foreign to the hastily convened teams from Africa.

Africa can do better in negotiating teams. Usually the senior officials in the respective ministries in charge of environment always end up making the list. They could be well trained in their core duties as ministry officials but completely lack the negotiation skills needed during climate talks.

The negotiators from the US, Europe, China and other key blocs in the negotiations are experts on international law and can decipher key issues easily. Thus, they debate avidly, sometimes into the' wee hours of the morning as to why particular texts in the document have to be redrafted.

Good negotiators are needed in the forthcoming meeting, particularly as the world discusses modalities of transitioning to a new mechanism with the Kyoto Protocol expected to come to an end in 2012.

Quite significantly, Kenya has set in motion the process of developing the National Climate Change Response Strategy to ensure the country makes informed choices.

This is an important process and the Ministry of Environment has to be commended for taking the lead. However, even as the continent pushes for a common position at the Copenhagen Conference, it is important to take into account some of the key considerations that will determine the outcomes of the deliberations.

While it has been documented that President Obama has managed to move the US back to the negotiating table on climate change, the African negotiators have to remain clearly informed that the interests of the US in Copenhagen will be driven by the corporate world and private sector.

That, even as the Obama presidency seeks to ensure that the US commits to some form of targets on the reduction of emissions, this will have to be consistent to the general desire of corporate America to recover from the global financial crisis.

The financial commitments the US will make will have to respect this fact. On a positive note though, the African group needs to realise that for once they have a strong ally, since many still recall that former President Bush was in the school of thought that tried to obfuscate the climate change debate.

Another key issue that Africa has to be aware of as it pushes for a common front in Copenhagen is the recent meteoric rise of the Chinese economy and its hitherto unseen resolve to influence the global policy discourse. It has been established that the Chinese have a way of creating and sustaining partnerships if they want a particular position to hold sway.

Hence it's interesting to note that the Chinese would, for instance, decide to use the greater and more aggressive Group of 77, which includes a greater number of emergent Asian economies, to ensure that any attempts to limit emissions for China is nipped in the bud. Africa could decide to meet China halfway and make some gains from such a loose coalition.

It is important for Africa to move as a unit and ensure that the Copenhagen deliberations do not end up just as many other negotiations have. It's important as well for the developed world to be committed to a Compensation Fund of sorts for Africa and other vulnerable nations, but this can only be done with some degree of muscle from Africa. Africa should not allow itself to be divided during the negotiations, as has happened before.

The writer is an MA Environmental Planning and Management student at the University of Nairobi and a research officer at the Nepad Kenya Secretariat.

This entry was posted in , . Bookmark the permalink.