Special commentary on Copenhagen
By Alemayehu G. Mariam | 19 December 2009
The “African negotiators” rumbled into Copenhagen rubbing their palms and licking their chops to load up tens of billions of dollars in carbon blood money and make a quick exit. They were disappointed. There was no gold at the end of the Copenhagen rainbow. At the end of the day, the industrialized countries pledged chump change in the amount of USD$30bn to the poor countries for the 2010-2012 period.
In the run up to the Copenhagen Conference, the trumpeted bravado to the world was that the “African delegation” will “walk out” and “de-legitimize” the proceedings unless the industrialized countries forked up a cool $40bn. The delegation and its leader, Meles Zenawi, were prepared to strong-arm, outwit and outplay the industrialized countries in their usual zero sum game. This time the game backfired. The wily “neo-colonial” Westerners outmatched, outplayed, overpowered and slickly finessed the African negotiators and others from the developing world.
Nobody walked out of the Conference. The “African negotiators” let off a whole lot of steam and huffed and puffed in the frigid Copenhagen winter, but they stayed in. Zenawi’s vaunted Copenhagen Showdown at High Noon with the rich countries never materialized. The bravado about “walking out” and “challenging” the industrialized countries proved to be just hot air. When push came to shove, all the bravado was replaced by servile groveling. Some representatives of African countries refused to walk into (“boycotted”) the conference. But they did their “boycott” during their lunch hour. They complained that the industrialized countries were railroading them into signing a deal that would be “against the interest of Africa.” A couple of days later, chief African negotiator Zenawi stood attentively clutching the podium at a farcical French-Ethiopian press conference as President Nicolas Sarkozy harangued his industrialized country partners for not being more forthcoming on emissions limits and mitigation aid.
At the press conference, Zenawi and Sarkozy buttered up each other. Zenawi said that he and Sarkozy mirrored each other so much on the issues that they were “preaching to the converted.” In a joint communiqué, they declared, “France and Ethiopia, representing Africa” appeal to all participants “to adopt an ambitious agreement limiting the increase of temperatures to 2°C above preindustrial levels.” They proposed “the halving of global CO2 emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” This would require the developed countries to commit to an 80 per cent emissions reductions by 2050.
On the cold cash end of things, Zenawi and Sarkozy proposed “the adoption of a ‘fast-start’ fund of 10 billion dollars per year covering the next 3 years.” The fund will be used for “adaptation and mitigation actions, including the fight against deforestation.” Africa would get a cut of “40% of the fund.” They called for the “creation of a tax on international financial transactions and consider other sources such as taxes on sea freight or air transport.” They proposed “the development of carbon markets, which will be a major source of capital flows and investments between the North and the South.”
Throughout the negotiations, the rich countries threw out dollar figures at the poor countries as one would throw bones to hungry dogs. The U.S. offered the developing countries $85 million as part of a combined donation of $350 million from the industrialized countries to support clean energy technologies (wind, solar). Japan said it will kick in $15bn a year over the coming decade. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a contribution of a $100bn a year to a long-term fund by 2020 to help poor countries deal with worsening floods, drought, storms and rising seas. The catch was that the developing countries had to sign on the Copenhagen deal and agree to transparency and emissions verification standards.
Other African countries and negotiators saw the Sarkozy-Zenawi deal as an outrage, an unconscionable trick to sell “Africa’s future” down the proverbial river. To borrow Zenawi’s pre-Conference phrase, they said the deal would lead to another “rape of our continent.” Rising to Africa’s defense was Algeria, with the support of South Africa and Nigeria. The trio accused the industrialized countries of conspiring to “kill” the Kyoto Protocol and get away with an agreement in Copenhagen that does not have strict and legally binding commitments on emissions cuts.
Zenawi was whipsawed by various representatives of the developing countries for bare-faced double-dealing. Lumumba Di-Aping, the chief negotiator of the G77 bloc of countries, representing some 130 nations, mauled Zenawi for selling out Africa to the rich countries:
Meles [Zenawi] agrees with the EU perspective and the EU perspective accepts the destruction of a whole continent plus dozens of other states… The EU’s very moral foundation is deeply questionable because she accepts that a large section of the human family should suffer in order for her to continue to thrive and prosper… The African Union has not accepted this. Meles is not the author of this proposal, the EU definitely is, along with the UK and France.
Mithika Mwenda of Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, citing a study of the Working Group I to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, lashed out at Zenawi: “The IPCC science is clear – 2 degrees is 3.5 degrees in Africa – this is death to millions of Africans…. If Prime Minister Meles wants to sell out the lives and hopes of Africans for a pittance – he is welcome to – but that is not Africa’s position.”
Zenawi’s befuddled response was drenched in crocodile tears:
I know my proposal today will disappoint those Africans who from the point of view of justice have asked for full compensation for the damage done to our development prospects. My proposal dramatically scales back our expectation with regards to the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such funds.
Compare this to Zenawi’s braggadocio in September, 2009:
We will use our numbers to de-legitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position… If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent… Africa’s interest and position will not be muffled as has usually been the case… Africa will field a single negotiating team empowered to negotiate on behalf of all member states of the African Union…. The key thing for me is that Africa be compensated for the damage caused by global warming. Many institutions have tried to quantify that and they have come up with different figures. The sort of median figure would be in the range of 40 billion USD a year.
The farcical saga of the “African delegation” at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP 15) is reminiscent of the story in Leonard Wibberley’s 1955 book, The Mouse That Roared. In that satirical work, the fictional little duchy (territory ruled by a duke or duchess) of Grand Fenwick in the French Alps declared war on the U.S. so that it could lose the war and receive U.S. aid. Following a series of wacky and comic twists and turns, Fenwick wins the war and forms a League of Little Nations which dictates its own peace terms to the U.S. and Russia and blackmails them into a general nuclear disarmament.
The “African delegation” came to Copenhagen with pipedreams of billions of dollars in carbon blood money. They left with pledges and promises of chump change. As the Copenhagen drama drew down its curtains, the “African negotiators” learned a valuable lesson: They may huff and puff and try to blow the Copenhagen House down, but in the climate change theatre, they are nothing more than servile stagehands. After two weeks of hanging around Copenhagen, the “African negotiators” became mere sideline onlookers to a hollow agreement, the “Copenhagen Accord”, signed by the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa dubbed a “historic step forward” with “much further to go”.
The Accord affirms the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and sets a maximum of two degrees Celsius average global temperature rise. Following a review in 2016, that could be reduced to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The rich countries pledged to commit USD$30bn in new funding to help the poor countries during 2010-2012. They also promised to support “a goal of mobilizing jointly 100 billion dollars a year” by 2020. The rich countries committed to a minimum 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050. There were other vague provisions for supporting national mitigation actions and verification procedures.
As the shiny limos scampered in the dark towards the Copenhagen Airport on December 18 with their freight of the world’s high and mighty, John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, lamented: “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport.”
So ended the great adventure of the Mouse that Roared in Copenhagen!
Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on Pambazuka News and New American Media.