Friday, 2 December 2011

COP17: Africa must not betray Africans in Africa

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Messages about: climate smart agriculture, green economy, renewable energy, establishing a green climate fund as a moral obligation, voices of farmers, the need for binding agreement that will guarantee extension of Kyoto Protocol, etc, compete for attention at the UN climate talks in Durban. Alongside these messages are the groups of demonstrators in designated spaces shouting climate-related missives to whoever may care to listen. Bombarded with this thicket of information, a journalist has to deal with competing press releases and conferences from several interest groups and at the same time follow the several negotiation meetings at Durban’s vast conference facility. It’s all climate-related business happening here.

Just outside the main conference centre is a group of women farmers (with handwritten banners) who travelled all the way from East, Central and Sothern Africa to have their voices heard at the high level conference UN Framework on Climate Change meeting –the seventeenth conference of parties (COP17). Unfortunately few or none of these farmers has direct access to the official negotiations in board and conference rooms. Farmers are shouting themselves hoarse to be heard. The technocrats have their heads buried in the computers discussing the text, its comas, paragraphs and legal implications as millions of lives are increasingly put at the mercy of ruthless impact of climate change attributed to activities of industrialists.

“The voices of these farmers need to be heard,” says Kaye Chartterjee of Climate Action Network (CAN) International. “Stop wasting much time on examining the comas in the document. It’s time for action.” When US president Barack Obama came to power many climate advocates thought he would be an ally by signing the Kyoto Protocol but he is seeking another term in office and he has declared intentions to retire the protocol that expires next year. Canada and Japan have indicated that they will not commit to a second Kyoto Protocol unless the US does it. As the rich nations, who are by the way the heavy carbon emitters dilly-dally the poor farmers in Africa, and Asia are grappling with crop failures due to climate change induced floods, drought and erratic rains.

As the world marked AIDS Day I took time off the busy COP17 schedule to attend a side event at the impressively green and beautiful main campus of KwaZulu Natal University. The event had tens of smallholder women farmers who had travelled by road to Durban from villages several miles away from Bujumbura, Kampala, Nairobi, Lilongwe, Lusaka, Maputo, Harare, on the caravan of hope.
“This season the drought was prolonged and it burnt up my entire maize garden,” said a woman from Malawi, “we are now short of food in my home. Faming is my family’s main source of income. Crop failure means it will become hard to run a home, send children to school without money and food.”

Next week marks a beginning of the political negotiations at COP17 as ministers of environment from different countries converge to state their government’s positions on climate change. The political negotiations come with compromises and promises but less action. Climate experts are advocating mechanisms that will enable reduction of carbon emissions, adaptation to the effects of climate change and a legally binding document that will ensure countries commit to reduction of emissions so that poor farmers can easily feed their families. At the negotiations each country is being asked to present its adaptation plan so as to get access to funds that will facilitate the adaptation processes.

“Climate-smart agriculture has the potential to increase sustainable productivity, increase the resilience of farming systems to climate impacts and mitigate climate change through greenhouse gas
emission reductions and carbon sequestration,” says Henry Neufeldt the lead expert on climate change at the World Agroforestry Centre.  But within the groups there appears to be some confusion. The Friends of Earth say climate-smart agriculture being advanced is not all that smart arguing that carbon markets are not guaranteed and offer little money. “This is no solution to farmers grappling with climate change effects as they will be cheated.  They should put money for adaptation to buy fertilizers to improve fertility of the soils and help in technology of drought resistant varieties. That’s what will benefit the farmers,” says Ann Maina of Friends of the Earth. 

Bobby Peek also from the Friends of Earth said there’s need to cut emissions or else “we will burn”. Reports from formal and informal groups’ discussions indicate the willingness to extend the Kyoto Protocol and establish a Green Climate Fund but different conditions that the European Union and African Group as well as the interests of various parties are coming in the way for a decisive conclusion. Instead reports of select committees are always being deferred to next week yet time is running out. “We don’t want Africa to betray Africans in Africa,” said Bassey Nnimmo of Friends of the Earth expressing the need for the Durban COP17 to save the less developed world from the impact of climate change.

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