On November 28, as Guyanese trudge to the polling stations to choose our government for the next five years, South Africa will chair and declare open the 17th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Since the Conference of the Parties (COP16) in Copenhagen in 2009, where Guyana played an important role in relation to its size, there is a growing number of stakeholders that believe the process has meandered to a dead end.
This would be an unfortunate outcome in the long series of negotiations that the world has been engaged since December 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was signed. Recognising that greenhouse gases (GHG) were inexorably increasing global warming, leading to rising seas and potentially catastrophic climate change, the Protocol set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing GHG emissions. These amounted to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.
That period, of course, is coming to an end, hence the critical need for a successor mechanism to be put in place. Since 1997, the “warming” situation has become dire. Guyana is one of the countries that will be hard hit if the trend is not halted, since our coastland, below sea level to begin with, is where most of our population and our economic activities are centered. On the mitigation side, our government’s offer to avoid deforestation and thereby sequester an extraordinarily vast amount of carbon, played a key role in demonstrating the practical modalities of such an approach.
Subsequent to the Copenhagen COP 16, the Guyana government played another pioneering role when it crafted a Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) for the country. It placed Guyana on the leading edge of a global movement to create sustainable models of development – taking into account the twin specters of global warming and depleted stocks of fossil fuels. In the instance of Guyana’s LCDS, it killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, when it incorporated the substitution of fossil fuels by the cultivation of bio-mass for its eventual conversion to ethanol and also harnessing hydropower.
In the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, negotiators had agreed that developed countries should commit US$30 billion for 2010-2012 to help developing countries, and jointly mobilize US$100 billion by 2020. This was followed in 2010 with an agreement to establish a “Green Climate Fund.” Little progress was reported either in follow up meetings in Panama (October) and in Cape Town of the Transitional Committee on the Green Fund. Guyana benefits from the latter fund. The Cape Town meeting ended in confusion and frustration as the US and Saudi Arabia withheld support for the Committee’s report.
Durban is widely considered to be the last chance to agree on a second commitment period after Kyoto, if a gap between the two is to be avoided. Panama gave few encouraging signs for those hoping Kyoto will be revived. With the US never a fan (it was never a signatory) and Japan, Canada and the Russians now joining them in the anti-Kyoto camp (at least for a second commitment period), only the EU stands out among the key OECD players in the “pro” Kyoto group. For its part, the EU is open to a second commitment period, although it views this as part of a transition towards a comprehensive, legally-binding framework that would include all major economies. The European Council recently called for agreement in Durban on a clear process and timeline to secure a legally-binding agreement at a later date.
Guyana cannot afford to assume that the process is dead and buried, or that it is time to give up on the UNFCCC. We have too much at stake. We hope that the government will be sending a strong delegation to Durban armed with a document that has the unanimous support of both the government and the opposition. Guyana must press for change, recognizing that even if this is incremental, it represents progress. Our politicians must present a unified front on the issue of climate change.
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