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COP17: Durban delusions

By Michael Kile - posted Monday, 12 December 2011

They want the KP (Kyoto Protocol) rules but they don't want the KP. In Africa, if you want the mango you also must like the mango tree. If you want (the carbon dioxide) markets to continue, if you want strong and robust rules, then keep the mango tree. Dr Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, Chair of Africa Group

Changes in the weather and climate used to be blamed on gods or demons, but no longer. If something nasty happens - meteorologically and climatically - in the developing world today, a cacophony of voices invariably insists it is the developed world's fault. Most delegates at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) seventeenth annual meeting of its Conference of the Parties (COP-17) in Durban, South Africa, agreed with this alleged causal connection.

Dr.Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the Democratic Republic of Congo's environment minister, was one of them. Referring to the desire of some delegates to dump the Kyoto Protocol but keep its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – the part with carbon trading rules – retaining the KP "mango tree" was best if you wanted the "fruit" - more international carbon credit "money".


"We are on African soil," he said at a media briefing last week. "I hope that people will go above and beyond what their official positions are to keep one billion Africans safe." So if traders want to go on trading carbon (dioxide), governments have to give Africa – and the developing world - a big "mango" $$$ tree.

Keeping one billion Africans "safe" from climate change? Assuming this utopian fantasy was achievable – it would come with a high price tag. No surprise, then, Dr Mpanu-Mpanu's group wanted "fast-start finance", money from the annual $100 billion plus Green Climate Fund proposed at Copenhagen (COP-15) in 2009; a "multilateral rules-based process" under United Nations control; a second KP commitment period beyond 2012; and billions of dollars of "adaptation funding".

Climate reparations

"Many people here in the developing world are angry. They see the changing climate, the rains coming at different times, the crops failing, and they are absolutely furious," BBC World Service One Planet producer, Michael Williams, said this week.

"So what they are very keen to talk about is the Green Climate Fund. Some, however, have stressed: 'We don't call it a fund. It is reparations, reparations for a wrong that's been done to us by you, the developed world. You made a mess here. You're going to have to clean it up!'"

Someone somewhere in the UN is apparently an expert on "stable" climates and knows how to conjure them into existence. Where are you? Is it a state that - like Goldilocks's porridge – is just right for the planet's 7,000 million inhabitants? If so, perhaps you can divulge how you will guarantee rain always will come exactly on time; crops will never fail, and climate change will be forever optimal and beneficial for everyone.


As for climate reparations, the concept is a tricky one. According to Melbourne lawyer Maxine Burkett and many others, it is based on the harm assumed to be caused by past anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, improving the lives of the "climate vulnerable" through direct programs, policies and mechanisms involving "significant resource transfers", and ensuring the vulnerable are able to cope adequately with "future climate challenges."

"They are pushing very hard on that one," said Williams. "Some are saying: 'We want the money for adaptation, for living with the climate change. We have to live with it because you failed to stop it.'"

No wonder he felt "the mood here is very strange, I have to say. It's a festival, a conference and a workshop all rolled into one. There are diplomats and activists, secretary-generals and European royalty, musicians and dancers, and people dressed as trees. There's a lot of finger pointing, a lot of finger waving."

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About the Author

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature's Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. He has an MSc degree from Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London and a Diploma from the College. He also has a BSc (Hons) degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Tasmania and a BA from the University of Western Australia. He is co-author of a recent paper on ancient Mesoamerica, Re-interpreting Codex Cihuacoatl: New Evidence for Climate Change Mitigation by Human Sacrifice, and author of The Aztec solution to climate change.

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