On the ninth day of the Copenhagen climate summit, Africa was sacrificed. The position of the G-77 negotiating bloc, including African states, had been clear: a 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures translates into a 3-3.5 degree increase in Africa.
That means, according to the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, “an additional 55 million people could be at risk from hunger” and “water stress could affect between 350 and 600 million more people.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts the stakes like this: “We are facing impending disaster on a monstrous scale…. A global goal of about 2 degrees C is to condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development.”
And yet that is precisely what Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, proposed to do when he stopped off in Paris on his way to Copenhagen: standing with President Nicolas Sarkozy, and claiming to speak on behalf of all of Africa (he is the head of the African climate-negotiating group), he unveiled a plan that includes the dreaded 2 degree increase and offers developing countries just $10 billion a year to help pay for everything climate related, from sea walls to malaria treatment to fighting deforestation.
It’s hard to believe this is the same man who only three months ago was saying this: “We will use our numbers to delegitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position…. If need be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent…. What we are not prepared to live with is global warming above the minimum avoidable level.”
And this: “We will participate in the upcoming negotiations not as supplicants pleading for our case but as negotiators defending our views and interests.”
We don’t yet know what Zenawi got in exchange for so radically changing his tune or how, exactly, you go from a position calling for $400 billion a year in financing (the Africa group’s position) to a mere $10 billion. Similarly, we do not know what happened when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo just weeks before the summit and all of a sudden the toughest Filipino negotiators were kicked off their delegation and the country, which had been demanding deep cuts from the rich world, suddenly fell in line.
We do know, from witnessing a series of these jarring about-faces, that the G-8 powers are willing to do just about anything to get a deal in Copenhagen. The urgency clearly does not flow from a burning desire to avert cataclysmic climate change, since the negotiators know full well that the paltry emissions cuts they are proposing are a guarantee that temperatures will rise a “Dantesque” 3.9 degrees, as Bill McKibben puts it.