Nairobi talks: Developing world and West seek common ground

Developing countries' adaptation to climate change as well as their mitigation role are expected to figure high on the agenda at this week's international climate talks, which opened in Nairobi on Monday.

Delegates from 189 of the UN’s 191 member countries are meeting to review the Kyoto process and start preparing the ground for a post-Kyoto agreement, in anticipation of the Protocol running out in 2012.

Russia is currently the only state of the world’s top four polluters bound by carbon cut targets, the other three being the US, China and India.

Finding a common solution that includes the US and breaks through developing countries’ reluctance to accept binding targets will be a major challenge for the negotiators, said Yvo de Boer, the new head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

“An essential challenge in the future is to create a mechanism that everybody will want to be part of,” he told reporters on the eve of the conference.

The US, which opted out of Kyoto in 2001, also strongly opposes any binding cuts arguing that these should also apply to developing nations, and that they would cost Americans jobs. China and India, the world’s second and fourth-worst polluters respectively, are so far exempt from Kyoto cuts.

Britain is leading a campaign to convince the US, China and India to participate in the follow-up to Kyoto, going against the view in most developing countries that the West should tackle a problem it is largely responsible for to date.

But explosive economic growth in China and India, coupled with population growth in the developing world, mean that the countries’ emissions will bear ever more strongly on the climate.

On a state visit to India on Friday, UK foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said that developing nations, as the ones who will suffer most from climate change, needed to mitigate as well as adapt because time was running out:

“It will not cost developed or developing countries the earth to tackle climate change. But it will cost the earth – quite literally as well as financially – if we do not,” she said, echoing the Stern report published days earlier (see related story.

Helping developing countries adapt to climate change is also expected to figure high on the Nairobi agenda, including funding for flood defences, water infrastructure for drought-prone areas, tree planting and developing temperature- and drought-resistant crops.

To fund these measures and ensure they are evenly distributed, the conference will look closer at the way the Adaptation Fund is financed by the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. Currently a third of investments under the CDM are in India while Africa receives a mere 2%.

Meanwhile, a new UN report has found that Africa will suffer even more than previously thought in a changing climate. The report from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change predicts that staple food crops like maize and millet will fall while the continent’s major cities including Dar-Es-Salaam and Lagos will be flooded as ocean levels rise.

Kenyan environment minister Kivutha Kibwana, presiding over the conference, said: “We face a genuine threat that recent gains in poverty reduction will be thrown into reverse in coming decades, particularly for the poorest communities on the continent of Africa.

The struggle for survival will divert already scarce resources away from any hopes of development as African countries strain to tackle climate-related health crises, water and food shortages, he said.

“We need an equitable and effective future climate change regime that enables us to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases while at the same time allowing economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner,” said Minister Kibwana.

The conference, which is simultaneously the second meeting of Kyoto Protocol signatories, continues from November 6th – 17th.

The web portal for the Nairobi talks can be accessed here.

The UNFCCC report on climate adaptation can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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