Climate Change Debate in Copenhagen: U.S Fears and Opportunities

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Updated December 18, 2009

In his opening remarks at  November 4th hearing entitled “Copenhagen and Beyond: Is there a Successor to the Kyoto Protocol?”,  U.S house committee of international Relations’ Chairman, Congressman Howard  Berman  underscored what President Obama said in his recent speech at the United Nations in these terms: “…the world can no longer postpone a serious response to climate change.”  How serious is climate change?  Representatives Jim Costa from California pointed to water shortages in his state as one of the facts.  In his report for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Dr. Paul Desanker says that Africa’s highest Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, has lost 80% of its ice-cap since 1900.  Supporters of U.S involvement in solving the challenge of global warming are urging the U.S to take this opportunity to be a global leader in developing green technology which will create jobs for the American people in addition to being at the table to negotiate solutions to this crisis.

While many agree that indeed consequences of global warming are worsening, other denies even its existence. Representative Dana Rohrabacher is among those who argued that the international community’s agenda behind the climate change is to bring down the U.S, undermine its prosperity, take over Americans’ constitutional rights and sovereignty.  He believes that “climate change also referred to as global warming” is an invention and a manipulation of scientists meant to establish themselves in their respective countries.  However, the United Kingdom Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth affaires, Margaret Beckett said that “climate change is a security issue, but it is not a matter of narrow national security. …This is about our collective security in a fragile and increasingly and interdependent world.”

Testifying before the committee was Todd Stern, a U.S special envoy for climate change.  He addressed U.S fears to engage in the debate, saying that developed nations fear that fixing this problem will impact their standard of living, but one of the real issues is fear of job losses.  U.S resistance to reaching international agreement on climate change is not justified.  Instead, the benefits of joining the world in solving this challenge outweigh the burden it would cause during the adjustment period.   For those who count on U.S capability to adapt and do not want to act now, Congressman Bill Delahunt has a word for them: “how many Katrinas can the U.S afford?”    Lord Nicholas Stern, a British economist makes the case for immediate action on climate change by suggesting simply that the cost of inaction will be greater than the cost of action now.

Furthermore, Congressman Eni Faleomavaega’s concern is the U.S administration’s plan to help the most vulnerable societies.  Among the most vulnerable societies are Africa nations on whose behalf Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) advocates to the U.S government. In fact, severe weather change, which will happen more acutely in many parts of Africa than it will elsewhere, is a threat to fundamental needs of the African people.  For example, such change not only threatens food security, but also peace.  Oxfam America writes that “climate-related stress such as water shortages and floods have contributed to existing conflicts in countries like Sudan and Somalia.   A study conducted by retired generals and admirals found that climate change could increase the risk of violence in 46 countries –and named climate change a “serious threat multiplier for instability” in some of the most vulnerable regions of the world.”

Adaptation is the approach that is suggested to help vulnerable societies.  To unpack what this means, let us consider the case study of Mozambique by United Nations Development Program (UNDP).  Among other it identified the following effect of climate change in Mozambique: drought, tropical cyclone, floods and sea level rise.   Also, there are indications that there has been an increase of air temperature between 1.8 to 3.2 degrees Celsius, an increase of solar radiation from 2 to 3 % and an increase of evapo-transpiration between 9 and 13 %, all of which have significant implications for human and ecological health.  Among the adaptation mechanism, Mozambique’s National Adaptation Program Action (NAPA), has focused on creating an early warning system, strengthening the capacity of agricultural communities and providing ways to reduce erosion in coastal zones.  Alongside these mechanisms is an emergency management plan aimed to prevent, respond and rehabilitate after a disaster.  It is predicted that as a result of climate change there will be fires, epidemics, destruction and more to deal with.

These are real situations, but the challenge is how to overcome them if there are no funds to prepare for the inevitable disasters.  Furthermore, supporting adaptation with no action to change course of climate change is a lost case.  Congressman Gerald Connolly strongly believes that the time to deny global warming is over.  If it is not now, when will it be?  In agreement, U.S Special envoy for climate change Mr. Stern says that ‘it is way past time’. In objection, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher argues that the American people will not bear the cost for other nations whose dictatorial regimes have prevented to enjoy prosperity the way the U.S has.

Africa Faith and Justice Network urges that United States to do its part in addressing the causes of global warming.  On the list of recommendations which AFJN supports includes U.S and China reduction of their carbon pollutant emission in the atmosphere, U.S Congress immediate passage of policies that promote energy efficiency improvement, renewable energy, stop deforestation of tropical forests and clean energy development.  The U.S government should also encourage its partners to join in the effort by attaching its foreign aid to the fight against climate change.

Written by Ntama Bahati Jacques