Commitments and compromises

As crucial climate talks at Copenhagen approach, a growing gap has emerged between rich and poor nations. Tan Copsey spoke to Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, chair of the G77 group of developing countries.

As the world approaches December’s crucial global climate-change summit in Copenhagen, the possibilities of reaching a comprehensive global deal are receding. Yvo De Boer, the man tasked with overseeing the negotiations for the United Nations, recently told the Financial Times that he saw no prospect of completing negotiations at Copenhagen. One of the main reasons is the gulf between the demands of the developing world and the level of commitment offered by many developed nations.

Ambassador Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat, coordinates the climate-change negotiating positions for the Group of 77 (G77), the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing states in the United Nations. Speaking to chinadialogue, he outlined why he thought negotiations had stalled – placing much of the blame at the feet of the United States and other recalcitrant developed nations. He called for developed nations to be more ambitious in mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases, and to provide the funding and know-how necessary to help the developing world build low-carbon economies and adapt the worst effects of climate change. But Di-Aping was also unwilling to offer concessions to the developed world – which may be necessary to reach a deal.

The G77 recently called for developed nations to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% on 1990 levels. The more ambitious developed nations and groups – Japan, Norway and the European Union – have offered commitments approaching that range, but most are nowhere near it. “Currently the ambition is so low,” said Di-Aping. “The reason for that is the challenge raised by the United States’ unwillingness to join the efforts towards addressing climate change.” He described the United States, which has offered to reduce its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as deeply “conservative” and prone to “exceptionalism and isolationism”, while other developed countries, he said, have failed to hold the US to account.

Di-Aping was also less than impressed with recent moves by some developed nations, including the United States, to move away from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which enshrined developed country commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. “The first thing is that developed countries have to respect and ensure that both the spirit and the letter of the Kyoto Protocol are respected,” he said. “We have already agreed a commitment.”

Climate-change negotiations are not solely about targets to reduce emissions. Di-Aping outlined three areas where progress at Copenhagen is crucial: technology transfer, adaptation and finance. Transferring low-carbon technologies is seen by developing nations as central to their efforts to build infrastructure and supply energy, without significantly increasing their own emissions of carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But according to Di-Aping, humanity is “wasting time and producing more emissions unnecessarily” because developing nations are not receiving “know-how and technology that should be made available.”

More controversially, he argued that developed nations “are wedded to notions of intellectual property that are very narrow and that has to change.” Change that would be difficult for many industrialised countries to countenance, as it could significantly reduce the profits of developed-world corporations that undertake research-and-development into low-carbon technologies.

Adaptation is also crucial, he said, “because the current approach to resolving the climate-change challenge is very mitigation-centric, while the solution has to be a systemic solution”. Such a solution would encompass “lower emission economies” and “resilience” to the worst effects of climate change. To become resilient, he said, developing countries need not only economic assistance, but also “sustainable development, rapid economic development and industrialisation”. Ultimately, “resilience is a function of the ability of the economy to serve all citizens,” so developing country economies must be helped to become stronger.

The G77 and developed nations are split over how to provide the finance necessary for the developing world to address and adapt to climate change. Di-Aping is scornful of current proposals: “the mother of all problems is that those who have the finance do not want to commit to finance a problem that they have actually produced.” But a deal at Copenhagen, if it is to be just and comprehensive, will be expensive. Di-Aping estimated that the figures supplied by British economist Nicholas Stern, in his 2006 landmark review of the economics of climate change, are likely to be too small. The cost of a deal, he suggested, “will exceed 1% of advanced developed countries’ GDP”. In contrast, the United Kingdom, one of the few countries to suggest a figure, called for developed countries to provide US$100 billion annually by 2020. A British diplomat recently called developing country demands “totally unrealistic”.

It will also matter how the money is distributed – and who distributes it. Di-Aping cautioned against giving these responsibilities to international financial institutions that he feels do not adequately represent the concerns of developing nations. “Most of the western countries want the monies to be managed by the IMF and the World Bank,” he said. “The problem with that is the following: if you pledge money by developed countries and you move it to the IMF and the World Bank, you will maintain the same inequity because the shareholders structure does not allow developing countries to participate in decision-making concerning these funds.”

Instead, Di-Aping proposed that climate finance be distributed through a “fund of funds” that encompasses “structures dedicated to technology, to adaptation, economic adaptation and response measures, and a fund dedicated to agriculture and food production.” These funds could also spur the private sector into undertaking complementary action. The private sector, he said, “will start to see demonstrable success in what is being done and then private sector money will come on to support that.” In this scenario, market-centric and public-finance approaches would complement each other, with the carbon market also gradually playing a more important role.

Di-Aping was clear in setting out developing-country demands, but he suggested few areas where the developing world could compromise. For instance, he was adamant that there could be no distinction between more successful developing countries and their smaller peers – which some developed countries demand. “Middle-income countries have awful situations too,” he said, “so the notion that you can split developing countries into vulnerable and culpable is unfortunate. That is not the way to advance the deal.” However, this refusal to acknowledge the possibility of richer developing countries eventually graduating to take on binding commitments is likely to damage the prospects of reaching a deal.

Di-Aping and the G77 nations are understandably frustrated by the slow progress of negotiations, and the failure of the United States and others to pledge to significant reductions in emissions or to offer realistic financing. But demands for huge, near-term reductions in emissions, unprecedented sums of money and fundamental changes to intellectual property laws could be unhelpful – and unrealistic – in the context of the negotiations. As it stands, the G77 seem to be as paralysed as their developed-world counterparts, and similarly unable to compromise. To reach a deal – and prove the doubters wrong – the G77 will have to give a little if they want to get a lot.

Tan Copsey is development manager at chinadialogue
Homepage image by The International Institute for Sustainable Development