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As floods ravage East Africa

Kenya urges action at UN climate conference

Published Nov 19, 2006 1:16 PM

The timing could not have been more telling. Even as the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change was meeting in Africa for the first time, torrential rains began to pound Kenya, the host country.

Kenya’s Minister for Environment and Natural Resources Kivutha Kibwana had opened the convention on Nov. 6 with a dire warning: “Climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats that humanity may ever face. ... We face a genuine danger that recent gains in poverty reduction will be thrown into reverse in the coming decades, particularly for the poorest people of the world and especially those in the continent of Africa.”

Kibwana urged negotiators to “take concrete actions on immediate priorities.”

The 6,000-plus convention delegates, representing 189 countries, then began a two-week process of debate and decision on what to do about climate change. But by Nov. 12, floods in Kenya had begun sweeping away roads and bridges and inundating towns and cropland, killing at least 20 people and displacing tens of thousands.

Just a few weeks earlier, the rains had pounded Ethiopia and Somalia to the north, also with deadly consequences. The rainy season, usually a welcome break for a region suffering from long-term drought, had turned into just another season of disaster.

“Africa is the least responsible for climate change but will be hit the hardest,” Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the United Nations Environment Program, told Inter Press Service from Nairobi.

A new report released to the convention found that 70 million people and 30 percent of Africa’s coastal infrastructure face the risk of coastal flooding, linked to rising sea levels, by 2080. More than one-third of the habitats that support African wildlife could be lost. Crop yields will fall due to warmer temperatures and more intense droughts.

Less than two decades from now, some 480 million people in Africa could be living in water-scarce or water-stressed areas.

Even though today’s rains are drowning Africa’s eastern regions, higher temperatures are drying up the sources of water for much of the continent. For example, the summer melt from the snowcap on Mount Kilimanjaro in neighboring Tanzania has fed streams and rivers for as far back as anyone can remember. But now the snow is nearly gone and drought is killing the cattle that the Masai people at the mountain’s foot rely on.

Nine years ago, the Kyoto accords were to set up a $100 million Adaptation Fund to help poorer countries prepare for climate change. But the project has gone nowhere. There’s still no agreement on who will decide how the money is spent.

According to Kimani Chege, writing for nature.com news, “The European Union, Canada and Japan are pitted against developing nations concerned that countries that have not signed the Kyoto Protocol, such as the United States, will have a say in how the fund is managed, and that the money will come with too many strings attached.”

The United States, which produces 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases that are trapping heat and causing global warming, has refused to sign even the weak Kyoto agreement.

Chege continues: “The Adaptation Fund is linked to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, which allows polluters to offset some of their greenhouse-gas emissions by investing in emissions-reducing projects in developing countries.

“In 2003 it was agreed that 2 percent of the proceeds from such projects would go into the fund. The fund is not yet operational, and contains only U.S. $3 million.”

Over nine years, only $3 million has been put into a fund that is supposed to serve developing countries all over the world! In just a few hours, storm-related damage can cost much, much more than that in just one small area, draining funds away from development projects.

Chege adds, “The EU and many other industrialized nations want the fund to be administered by the Global Environment Facility, which is managed by the United Nations and the World Bank. But many developing nations oppose this, as the GEF is influenced by countries that are not party to the Kyoto Protocol [The U.S. and Australia—WW]. ...

“Developing nations also fear that funding will come with conditions similar to those commonly imposed by other multilateral funding agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Typically, such conditions demand that recipients meet certain standards on good governance and human rights.”

This shows the utter hypocrisy of the “human rights” stance of the major imperialist powers. When the United States was a developing country trying to become independent, it was also a country that profited from slavery and attempted to exterminate the Native peoples. Had it been subject to the “human rights” litmus test, it could never have received the financing or military support from France that allowed it to break free of British colonial rule.

Today, Washington uses “human rights” as an excuse to hold back even the most minimal funding for a continent that is poor because its resources and even its people have been seized to enrich first the slave owners and then the capitalists of the United States and Western Europe. By any standards, the people of Africa deserve reparations, free of strings attached, to counter a problem caused by the exploiters of the world.

Stern report on economic impact

All of humanity has much to fear from global warming, according to a Review on the Economics of Climate Change released on Oct. 30 by Sir Nicholas Stern. This report, commissioned by the British government, says that unless greenhouse gas emissions are substantially reduced, there will be a loss of between 5 percent and 20 percent of global gross domestic product by 2100. But this could be avoided by spending 1 percent—about $450 billion—per year of world GDP today to keep greenhouse gas concentrations below 550 parts per million.

Spending $450 billion to prevent catastrophic climate change may sound like a lot, but it is less than what the Pentagon spends every year on an aggressive military tasked with maintaining the dominance of U.S. banks and corporations around the world.

By comparison, the $3 million that the rich, exploiting countries have put into the UN Adaptation Fund so far is trifling.

If a hurricane were to strike Long Island and devastate some of the mansions there, the insurance companies would have to come up with many billions of dollars to cover the damage. One estate alone, that of Ira Rennert in Sagaponack, has been valued at $185 million—enough to bring green development to millions of people in poorer countries.

The Stern report doesn’t say it—he is, after all, “Sir” Nicholas Stern—but the problem is really imperialism and what it has done to the world.

Never before has there been such a concentration of wealth at one pole and poverty at the other. Never before has economic activity been driven so wildly by the search for greater profits, which in a capitalist society takes precedence over all other considerations.

What the Stern report does show is that a major effort by the developed countries could turn back the looming mega-disasters scientists now foresee.

To get there will take a global struggle by all committed people, especially the masses of workers and oppressed, against the present capitalist rulers of the earth.

E-mail: [email protected]