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issue 2, March - April 2001

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Pirate Fishing: Southern Africa’s Natural Resources on the Line

If US$400 million (approximately R3.2 billion) were stolen from a country’s Central Bank, a government would leave no stone unturned in order to recover that money. If a similar amount were stolen from the gold, platinum or diamond mines of a Southern African country, it is expected that government action would be equally forthright. Yet, it is exactly this amount, in one natural resource that has been stolen from the people of South Africa since 1996. Because the natural resource happens to be a fish species that lives far away, deep beneath the Southern Ocean, little has been done to stop the pirates who are stealing it.

The resource being stolen is the Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides). It is being caught illegally by fishing vessels flagged by, among others, Southern African States. It is also being openly traded in ports around Southern Africa. In fact, several Southern African countries are known to have facilitated the movement of these very valuable, but illegally caught fish through their harbours.

The plunder of the Patagonian Toothfish fishery is a cause of concern for all Southern African countries. The extent of illegal fishing for toothfish is representative of the scale of pirate fishing in the region. It highlights the need for swift and co-coordinated action by SADC countries to address this issue before the fate of the toothfish becomes common to other Southern African fish species. As Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations stated just over a year ago,

".. the prevalence of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is considered to be one of the most severe problems currently affecting world fisheries. It is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the long-term sustainable management of fisheries …"

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: the common heritage of humankind

The protection of the Antarctic continent, and the great Southern Ocean surrounding it, is important for all the citizens of the world as impacts on Antarctica's environment could have global effects. Antarctica is the world's last unspoiled wilderness. It drives the world's climate, and has a central role in regulating the earth's environmental processes, including its atmospheric and oceanic systems, global tides and sea levels. The preservation and well being of the Antarctic region is therefore vital in determining weather patterns in Southern Africa, and the rest of the planet.

The undisturbed nature of the region provides a living laboratory where scientists can measure the effects of changes in the environment. Ongoing research is crucial to understanding and monitoring global warming, ozone depletion and atmospheric pollution. In fact, Antarctica's greatest value might well be in the information it provides on the functioning and health of our planet. The discovery of the ozone hole above the Antarctic in 1985 alerted the world to the potentially dangerous changes in the environment caused by human activities. This discovery led to the first measures being taken to control pollution on a global scale.

Antarctica is eleven times larger than South Africa: its land area of 5.4 million square miles make up 10% of the Earth's land surface. Seventy percent of the world's fresh water is locked up in Antarctica's icecap. Yet, with all of this water, Antarctica gets only two inches of rain each year, and is classified as a desert. In contrast to this barren landscape, Antarctica's coasts teem with life. The nutrient-rich Southern Ocean is home to a diverse and fragile ecosystem of 75 million marine species, including whales, seals, penguins, albatrosses and many other bird and fish species found nowhere else on earth.

Antarctica's diverse ecosystem is dependent on a healthy environment. Thanks to Antarctica's remoteness and hostile climate, it has been spared the commercialism and industrial development found in most regions of the Earth. But this has quickly begun to change. The past 40 years have seen a tremendous increase in human activity. Scientists and support personnel from 27 nations are involved in research projects across the continent and the number of tourists journeying to Antarctica to view its magnificent marine life reached over 13,000 last year alone. Ironically, this increase in human activity threatens the region's nearly pristine environment, which is the main reason why scientists and tourists go there in the first place.

Antarctica is also of central importance to global politics. The preservation of Antarctica's environment and fragile ecosystem, the open and free exchange of scientific knowledge as well as international cooperation, rest on a very fragile political base. It represents the last place on earth that no State owns. Forty-three nations have agreed to cooperate in this region in the interests of peace and science for the common good of all humankind. It is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, a collection of international treaties that define policy and set out the permitted activities in the Antarctic region for those governments that are members. These treaties are only binding, however, if nations adopt strong domestic implementing legislation to give them legal effect and if they then follow those rules while operating in the Antarctic.

The governance of the Southern Ocean falls within the Antarctic Treaty System. In 1980, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was adopted to oversee the management of fisheries activities in the Southern Ocean. This followed the expansion of fishing activities in the Southern Ocean after overfishing by industrial fishing fleets in Northern waters made them seek new fishing grounds to feed the demand for fish products in Europe, Asia and the United States. At the same time, new technologies enabled large factory ships to venture into the waters of the Southern Ocean in search of new fish stocks for the first time.

The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

CCAMLR broke new ground in international law by being the first international treaty to oblige its members to base their fishing activities on the principle of ecological sustainability. The CCAMLR was established following concerns that a rapid growth in krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean - the four-centimeter long shrimp-like shellfish - could trigger the collapse of the Southern Ocean food chain. Yet even with CCAMLR in place, the greatest threat to the integrity of the Southern Ocean ecosystem remains the extensive illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) or "pirate" fishing that takes place in the Antarctic Treaty Area. One reason is that many of the Parties to the Convention are themselves involved in the illegal fishery - either as fishers (the vessels are owned by companies based in CCAMLR member nations but are reflagged by flag of convenience nations), or as consumers of the caught product.

Regarding the Patagonian Toothfish, CCAMLR has attempted to fulfill its required commitment to safeguard the integrity of the Antarctic marine ecosystem by tracking the toothfish trade through a Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS). The Catch Documentation Scheme came into effect on May 4th 2000, and is an attempt to ensure that those toothfish caught by pirate vessels do not enter consumer markets. Yet pirate fishing for toothfish continues. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition – an international coalition of over 200 conservation non-governmental organizations from around the world – have called for a moratorium on the entire toothfish fishery. This is because the large pirate fishery makes it impossible to sustainably manage patagonian toothfish fisheries, as well as the impacts of fishing activities on the toothfish and those species such as the highly endangered albatross that is caught as by-catch.. A CCAMLR moratorium on toothfish would be most effective if combined with a listing of the toothfish by CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This would leave the pirate fishers with no market for their catch.

Pirate Fishing is not only an issue in the Southern Ocean

Pirate fishing in SADC regional waters is a key issue that must be comprehensively addressed by all member states. At the 1992 UN Earth Summit, governments agreed that fisheries around the world were facing "mounting problems" including "overfishing, unauthorized incursions by foreign fleets, ecosystem degradation, overcapitalization and excessive fleet sizes …".

As a result of pirate fishing, the toothfish stocks in the Exclusive Economic Zone around South Africa’s Prince Edward and Marion Islands are all but commercially extinct. The case of the toothfish may not have a negative impact on the natural resources of every SADC country. In fact, some SADC members have clearly benefited from the illegal trade. Yet those same members need to be more far-sighted in their approach to fisheries issues. For just as the pirates left Northern waters to plunder the Southern Ocean, their decimation of toothfish stocks will require them to seek new fisheries to profit from. The rich fishing waters around the Southern African Coast may be next.

SADC is in the process of developing a regional fisheries Policy. Parliamentarians must ensure that the policy adheres to the principles of international law contained in the 1982 International Law of the Sea Convention. Furthermore, on March 2nd 2001, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s Committee on Fisheries unanimously adopted an International Plan of Action (IPOA) for IUU Fishing. SADC members must ensure that the regional fishery policy adheres to the recommendations of this IPOA. Parliamentarians must also ensure that their domestic laws are strengthened to include the recommendations contained in the IPOA. The IPOA includes recommendations that flag states should ensure:

    • that fishing vessels entitled to fly their flag do not engage in or support IUU fishing.
    • before registering a fishing vessel that it can exercise its responsibility to ensure the vessel does not engage in IUU fishing;
    • that they avoid flagging vessels with a history of non-compliance;
    • that each of the vessels entitled to fly its flag fishing in waters outside its sovereignty or jurisdiction holds a valid authorization to fish issued by that flag State;
    • that their fishing, transport and support vessels do not support or engage in IUU fishing, and that none of their vessels re-supply fishing vessels engaged in such activities or transship fish to or from these vessels;
    • that there are measures in place for port State control of fishing vessels in order to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing;
    • that there is close and effective coordination and consultation, and the sharing of information to reduce the incidence of IUU fishing, among States and relevant regional and global organizations;
    • that they encourage full participation by stakeholders in combating IUU fishing, including industry, fishing communities, and non-governmental organizations;
    • that nationals subject to their jurisdiction do not support or engage in IUU fishing;
    • that they cooperate to identify those nationals who are the operators or beneficial owners of vessels involved in IUU fishing;
    • that they discourage their nationals from flagging fishing vessels under the jurisdiction of a State that does not meet its flag State responsibilities (so-called "flags of convenience");
    • that sanctions for IUU fishing by vessels and, to the greatest extent possible, nationals under its jurisdiction are of sufficient severity to effectively prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing and to deprive offenders of the benefits accruing from such fishing;
    • that all possible steps be taken, consistent with international law, to prevent, deter and eliminate the activities of non-cooperating States to a relevant regional fisheries management organization which engage in IUU fishing.

It is only through coordinated and co-operative action that the devastating economic and ecological effects of pirate fishing can be eliminated from the Southern African Region. Such action cannot be delayed. It is a matter of national and regional priority. The rich marine resources of our Southern African waters cannot, like those in the Southern Ocean, be laid to waste by pirate fishers working in their short-term interest.

The Southern Ocean is an area of pristine beauty and ecological diversity that we must secure and maintain for the common good of all humankind. We must not allow Southern African States to be remembered as those that assisted in its rape. We must work actively to put an end to the illegal trade in Patagonian Toothfish. Similarly, we cannot permit pirate fishers entry into our regional waters. We must put internationally accepted measures in place that protect our marine resources and ensure that they remain a sustainable resource for future generations.

Karen Sack
Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition
Freshwater Resources and Climate Change

Abridged version of a GLOBE Southern Africa lecture given in the South African parliament (The complete copy can be found here)

One of the greatest potential impacts of climate change on human society is through its effect on freshwater resources. People dependent on river basins and wetlands face losses of freshwater biodiversity and a reduction in ecosystem services such as water supply, water purification and flood control. Communities dependent on agriculture and subsistence farming face chronic food shortages, economic and livelihood constraints.

There is already a growing scientific understanding that the conservation and sustainable use of freshwater resources can no longer be achieved without taking climate change into account.

Freshwater and Climate Change

Climate change will affect both water demand (related to higher temperatures) and water supply (The balance of CO2 enrichment, evapotranspiration and precipitation). The major effect of climate change on Africa’s water systems will be through changes in the hydrological cycle, the balance of temperature and rainfall. Climate change may affect development directly through changes in precipitation, evaporation and hydrology, sea-level rise, and changes in the occurrence of extreme weather events (floods, droughts, storms) that would impact on primary production, ecological systems, public health and poverty. Increased intensity of droughts, floods and changes to growing seasons may have significant implications for soil productivity, water supply, food security, and in turn, human welfare and poverty, as well as deleterious and, in many cases, irreversible impacts on biological diversity.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Second Assessment Report (1995), changes in climate will lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle and could have major impacts on regional water resources. Climate change may also lead to shifts in the geographical distribution of wetlands and an increase in the severity and extent of coral reef bleaching and mortality. Furthermore, sea-level rise and increases in storm surges associated with climate change could result in the erosion of shores and habitat, increased salinity of estuaries and freshwater aquifers, altered tidal ranges in rivers and bays, changes in sediment and nutrient transport, increased coastal flooding, consequently increasing the vulnerability of some coastal populations.

Efforts to provide adequate water resources for Africa already confront a number of challenges, including population pressure, problems associated with land use such as erosion/siltation, and possible ecological consequences of land-use change on the hydrological cycle. Climate change will make addressing these problems more complex. (IPCC 1996)

Climate change is likely to impact seriously on Africa. The 1995 IPCC Regional Scenarios concluded, " Africa is believed to be the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of projected changes in the climate."

Water supply is undoubtedly an important resource for Africa’s social, economic, and environmental well-being. Currently, about two-thirds of the rural population and one-quarter of the urban population are without safe drinking water, and an even higher proportion lack proper sanitation. Climate change will likely make the situation more adverse. The greatest impact will continue to be felt by the poor, who have the most limited access to water resources.

The New Science

In January 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's leading climatologists concluded that global warming is happening faster than previously predicted. The new science assessment anticipated that the increase in temperature over this century has increased from a range of 1 – 3.5 C to 1.5 - 6C over the next 100 years. The report projects more extreme events such as storms, floods and droughts as a consequence of increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

The IPCC WGII report also concluded that regional impacts, like flooding are becoming more severe. Among the report’s conclusions are that current rates of human-induced climate change will have extensive regional impacts, particularly in Africa, such as:

  • The impacts of climate change threaten large populations of Africa already struggling for sustainable development.
  • Grain yields are projected to decrease for many scenarios, diminishing food security, particularly in small food-importing countries (medium-high confidence).
  • In a region already facing the effects of AIDS and malnutrition, climate change will foster the expansion of a host of infectious diseases.
  • Extension of ranges of infectious disease vectors would adversely affect human health in Africa (medium confidence).
  • Floods, famine, and refugee migrations are very likely as climate change tips the balance in overburdened regions of the African continent.
  • Increases in droughts, floods, and other extreme events would add to stresses on water resources, food security, human health, and infrastructures, and would constrain development in Africa (high confidence).
  • As climate change grips Africa and vital ecosystems wither, some of the richest biodiversity on Earth is likely to disappear.
  • Significant extinctions of plant and animal species are projected and would impact rural livelihoods, tourism, and genetic resources (medium confidence).

The Report outlines the following general climate threats:

  • Increased frequency of heat waves will increase crop and livestock losses, frequency of wildfires, wildlife mortality, energy demand for cooling, and human deaths and illness from heat stress and air pollution.
  • Decreased frequency of cold waves and fewer frost days will extend the range of some pests and disease vectors while reducing losses due to cold.
  • Increased frequency of high intensity rainfall will increase flood (and flash flood) risk, with consequent property damage, soil erosion, flushed pollutants, health threats, and deaths.
  • More frequent drought in mid-latitude continental interiors will increase agricultural losses, threaten terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, reduce quality and availability of water with consequent health effects, and promote land subsidence.
  • Increased intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones will threaten property, coastal stability, ecosystems, health, and life.
  • Any increase in intensity and frequency of extreme climate events will increase demands on already overburdened public and private financial mechanisms to cover weather related losses.

How Vulnerable are Southern Africa’s Water Resources?

A WWF study Climate Change and Southern Africa, commissioned by WWF and coordinated by Dr. Mike Hulme of the Climate Research Unit (CRU), at the University of East Anglia, UK assessed the impact of Climate Changes based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) methodologies. Three alternative climate change scenarios, "core," "dry," and "wet" were assessed.

The "core" scenario points to modest drying over large parts of the region, plus widespread increases in rainfall variability. In Zimbabwe, this scenario would result in around a 5% decrease in annual rainfall, and this in turn would translate into agricultural problems, with yield reliability for the staple maize crop declining. Changes in surface water availability would reduce farmers' ability to use irrigation in compensation for poor rainfall. The "dry" scenario shows that rainfall could decline by as much as 10% across the region, while under the "wet" scenario most of the region gets wetter.

In Sum, the region faces the following potential impacts of climate change:

  • A 10-20 % decrease in summer rainfall over South Africa’s central interior
  • An increase in the intensity and frequency of floods and droughts
  • A gradual and linear increase in temperature with rising CO2 levels reaching 1.5 degrees C hotter than present by the year 2050 with an associated increased frequency of higher temperature episodes.

The implication for river catchments include

  • Increased evaporation rates of 5-20 % across the region
  • A shift in biological communities with grasslands being largely replaced by savannah as a result of increased temperature

Meeting Water Demand

Water resource stresses in many of the poorest countries, already expected to increase, will be exacerbated by climate change. Due to climate change alone, some 66 million extra people will live in countries with water stress and some 170 million people will live in countries, which are extremely stressed (Hadley Centre 1998).

In the SADC region as a whole, water demand is projected to rise at almost 3% annually, equivalent to the region's average annual population growth rate until at least 2020. (SADC/IUCN/SARDC, 1996) According to current calculations South Africa will suffer water stress, Malawi will have move into absolute water scarcity and Kenya will be facing the prospect of living beyond the present water barrier. By 2025, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe will suffer water stress, Lesotho and South Africa will have moved into absolute water scarcity and Malawi will have joined Kenya living beyond the present water barrier [ADB Harare, 1994 p39]. It is estimated that all of Southern Africa’s fresh water resources would be fully used between 2025 and 2030, according to the Orange River Replanning Study (ORRS), an undertaking of the South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF).

Runoff

Reynard and Andrews (1995, see also Hulme 1996) predict an overall reduction in annual rainfall in southern Africa and a change in the inter-annual variability of runoff. Model scenarios for 2050, following the standard IPCC methodology (Carter et al. 1994), indicate that runoff would decrease in two of the scenarios (UKTR and CCC) across most of the region. However, runoff increases in the "wet" scenarios, based on the OSU GCM experiment. For the drier scenario, decreases of 10-40% are widespread. With climate change, the variability of runoff increases for the UKTR scenario, which included GCM results on the interannual variability of rainfall.

Evaporation

Southern Africa states experience very high losses of water from evaporation and transpiration, with the result that only a very small proportion of the total rainfall enters the streams or groundwater where it is available for human consumption. On average 65% of all the rainfall in the region evaporates soon after it has fallen.

Relatively small changes in temperature and/or rainfall can have significant effects on evapotranspiration and groundwater recharge. These changes will impact both the total annual flow in rivers and its distribution through the year. As a rough estimate, potential evaporation over Africa may increase by between 5% and 10%. (Cicero 1996)

Irrigation

Some studies on the effects of anthropogenically induced climatic changes on irrigation water consumption were conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), along with the UK's Institute of Hydrology, for the Malibamatsama Basin, 3,240 km 2 in Lesotho (Nemec, 1989; Institute of Hydrology, 1988). This research suggested that with a doubling of CO2, changes in meteorological conditions in the basin would lead to a 65 % increase in water demands for irrigation, bringing about the shrinkage of irrigated areas from 37,500 ha at present to 20,000 ha.

Water Health

The incidence of vector borne diseases will be impacted on by the predicted increase in temperature and the changing pattern of rainfall. Climatic changes will create the preferred conditions for disease-carrying mosquitoes and parasites (tsetse flies and ticks). Diseases that thrive in warmer climates such as malaria, cholera and yellow fever are likely to spread. By 2100 it is estimated that there could be an additional 50-80 million cases of malaria each year. The IPCC has suggested that a drop in water level in dams and rivers could adversely affect the quality of water by increasing the concentrations of sewage waste and industrial effluents, thereby increasing the potential for the outbreak of diseases and reducing the quality and quantity of fresh water available for domestic use.

Agriculture and Food Security

Under the climate scenario that predicts a hotter drier climate, maize production will decrease by approximately 10 to 20 percent. Speciality crops grown in specific environmentally favourable areas may also be at risk as both rainfall and temperature effects may cause changes in areas suitable for specialised production. Some of the negative crop growth effects may be mitigated by the "fertilisation effect" of CO2 gas on plant physiology, although scientists are currently divided on the scale and sustainability of these benefits.

Hydro Power Generation

In southern Africa hydro resources supply almost 18% of power generation. The region has already felt the effects of drought on river flow and reservoir volumes for hydropower generation. During the 94/95 droughts in Zimbabwe, Kariba Dam, which produces most of the country's electricity, was running at only 14% capacity. River flows, like rainfall, Zambezi and Kafue Systems have been experiencing a declining trend since 1980 and have continued to exhibit this downward trend. Calculations of the amounts of water available to turn turbines, the maximum flood that spillways will have to discharge, and the rate at which reservoirs fill with sediment will become increasingly unreliable as global warming continues to take hold. The IPCC response strategies recommended that increased runoff due to climate change could potentially pose a severe threat to the safety of existing dams with design deficiencies, even recommending that design criteria for dams requires a re-evaluation to incorporate the effects of climate change.

Therefore, caution needs to be applied to new hydro generation options as climate change is likely to increase the frequency of extreme events and thereby reduce hydropower output, increase flooding and reduce dam safety. In planning for hydro electric generation, consideration would also have to be given to potential adverse effects of climate change (social, environmental and economic), such as inundation of agricultural lands, forested lands, wetlands, downstream impacts on navigations, flood control, water supplies and effects on aquatic resources and recreation.

Biodiversity, Wetlands and Tourism

Inland water ecosystems are among the world’s most fragile, scarce and threatened ecosystems. The majority of inland water ecosystems are interlinked by the hydrological cycle and also represent important pathways for materials, including nutrients and contaminants, between atmosphere, land, the subsurface and the oceans. Costanza et al. (1997) estimated the total global value of services provided by coastal areas and wetland ecosystems to be 15.5 trillion USD y-1 being 46% of the total value of services that global ecosystems are estimated to provide.

It is generally understood, however, that increases in temperature, sea-level rise, and changes in precipitation will degrade those benefits and services. Wetlands will be affected in different ways by shifts in the hydrological cycle. These include changes in precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, runoff and groundwater recharge and flow. These changes will affect both surface and groundwater systems and impact wetland requirements, domestic water supply, irrigation, hydropower generation, industrial use, navigation and water based tourism.

Freshwater Responses to Climate Change

Adaptation, particularly, in the water and energy sectors, along with mitigation, must be considered urgently as part of an integrated regional response to climate vulnerability and change. Preparing for climatic hazards will require reducing vulnerability, improving the efficiency of water use, developing monitoring capabilities and contingency plans, and utilizing climatic forecasts. New supplies must be developed and existing supplies used more efficiently. Long-term management strategies should include: regulations and technologies for directly controlling land and water use, incentives and taxes for indirectly affecting behavior, the construction of new reservoirs and pipelines to boost supplies, and improvements in water-management operations and institutions. Other adaptation measures can include removing levies to maintain flood plains, protecting waterside vegetation, restoring river channels to their natural form, and reducing water pollution. Enhanced preparedness is thus a direct response to climate change as well as contributing to current development objectives.

Conclusion

The degree to which societies and institutions can adapt to climate change will depend on their ability to manage water resource supply and demand. Water resource management has traditionally focused on the supply side management. Only recently has demand side water management become a viable alternative strategy. Societies that are able to implement both resource supply side and demand side management strategies are likely to be more adaptive to climate change than those societies that are unable to do so. The ability to adapt to climate change also depends much on the institutional capacity to develop and implement such strategies, and is largely a function of the socio-economic, political, legal and institutional setting in which such institutions operate. If South Africa and the countries of the region invest now in maintaining and strengthening their capacities to integrate and manage uncertainty, they are likely to adapt to climate changes.

The goals of sustainable water management and conservation are unlikely to be achieved without taking climate change into account. Information about the consequences of climate change on specific water resources and river basins is sorely needed to allow water resource planners and managers to integrate changes in climate into their planning and management efforts. It is generally understood, though, that removing the existing pressures on water resources and improving their resiliency is the most effective method of coping with the adverse effects of climate change. Water resources play an important role in the global carbon cycle and wetlands in particular are a significant storehouse of carbon. However when these resources (wetlands) are converted, they emit large quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Conserving, maintaining, or rehabilitating freshwater ecosystems is therefore a viable element to an overall climate change mitigation strategy.

Therefore, the immediate challenges for the countries of the Southern Africa region include:

  • To understand and quantify the threat of the impact of climate change on freshwater resources,
  • To facilitate the implementation of effective national countermeasures to address the vulnerability of freshwater resources to climate change, and
  • To study the potential impacts of climate change on areas prone to droughts and floods and implement remedial measures
Richard Sherman
Research and Policy Coordinator,
Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Partnership,
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
No Justice in Climate Change

For those individuals and organisations around the world involved in trying to address the global threat of climate change, the past few weeks have proven to be an extremely disheartening period. It all started with President Bush's announcement on March the 3rd that he was going back on an explicit campaign promise to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide from American power utilities. Carbon dioxide is one of the chief greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, and the United States with only four percent of the world's population accounts for over twenty five percent of its emissions. Failure to regulate these emissions therefore means that no concrete action will be taken in the United States to address this highly iniquitous situation. After reeling from the shock of that news, the international community was then confronted with President G.W. Bush's announcement, or Global Warming Bush as he has now been dubbed by the Climate Change fraternity, that the White House does not support the Kyoto Protocol and will definitely not be ratifying it. This Protocol, which was agreed upon in Kyoto in 1997 after many years of arduous negotiations, sets out legally binding emission reduction targets for industrialised countries. The overall reduction target of 5.2 percent that was agreed upon is woefully short of the 60 percent reduction that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims is necessary to avert a dangerous destabilisation of the world's climate. It does, however, represent the first tangible step that the global community can take towards addressing this threat and changing its current dependence on fossil fuels.

The final details surrounding this protocol were supposed to have been agreed upon at the sixth Conference of the Parties that took place in The Hague last November. As to be expected though, the United States along with other countries in the so-called Umbrella Group, namely Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand came to the negotiating table with demands that if accepted would have seriously jeopardised the environmental integrity of the protocol. The United States for instance, wanted complete flexibility in engaging in emission trading schemes with developing countries as a way of offsetting their emission reduction targets. They also insisted on including forests and other forms of vegetation that absorb carbon dioxide from the air in the calculation, which if agreed to would have allowed them to increase their emissions by three percent as opposed to having to reduce them by seven percent.

Climate Change is not just about environmentalism and the need to prevent the massive species loss that will occur as ecosystems wither away in a warmer climate. As much as we might believe that we have power over life on this planet, the simple reality is that the Earth will just adjust to this new variable of the advanced greenhouse gas effect. The problem is that as it seeks to dissipate this increase in the sun’s energy that is being trapped in its atmosphere, humans on the surface will experience its effects in the form of increased natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, typhoons and droughts. It is developing countries that are least able to adapt to these events, and it is therefore them that will experience the greatest loss of lives as a result. At the heart of this debate therefore is the question of equity, and the fact that an American with equivalent emissions to 537 citizens of Madagascar can be allowed to put the livelihoods of countries like that in jeopardy. It is not just in the big climatic events that people in the developing countries will feel the heat though, but also in the long-term structural changes that will occur in their regional climates. The Southern African region for example, will find its already scarce water resources put under greater threat with increasing cases of drought afflicting the region. Bangladesh, and many small island states around the world will have their lands flooded as the sea continues to rise, as it has done over the last century and a half. It is no wonder then that the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, the international body of over two thousand scientists set up to examine the state of knowledge on this issue, concludes that "the effects of climate change are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life and relative effects on investment and the economy." It further goes on to state that "The projected distribution of economic impacts is such that it would increase the disparity in well-being between developed countries and developing countries, with disparity growing for higher projected temperature increases".

The Climate Change negotiations are therefore not just about a group of environmentalists bewailing the fact that we are killing the world, but rather speaks to the very heart of the current North/South power relations that is denying developing countries the right to a climate that can provide for the livelihood of their people. By G.W. Bush declaring that he can’t support the Kyoto Protocol because it is not in the economic interest of the American people, he is effectively declaring chemical warfare on the rest of the world and we need to respond to it in such a manner. Despite the arrogant pronouncement of his national security advisor, Condeleeza Rice, the Kyoto Protocol is not dead and certainly not because America says it is. The one favour that Bush has done the world is to turn this in to a high priority international relations issue, with countries such as Japan been awoken out of their lethargy on this subject and suddenly displaying a renewed sense of determination to have this treaty enter into force by next year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The only route open to the global community now is to begin to tackle this problem without the participation of the United States, treating them as the pariah nation that they so clearly are. We can then only hope that the American public feel the pressure of international condemnation over the next four years, and attempt to ameliorate the situation by electing a president with a strong environmental mandate to clean up the mess that Bush is just beginning to wreak on the world.

Lance Greyling
Programme Manager
GLOBE Southern Africa
GLOBE Southern Africa Statement Concerning President Bush’s Decision to Abandon the Kyoto Protocol

 

GLOBE (Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment) is an international parliamentary organisation founded in 1989 with the express aim of enhancing global co-operation between parliamentarians on environmental and sustainable development issues. Its world-wide membership includes over 800 parliamentarians in more than 100 countries with regional offices in Brussels, Moscow, Tokyo, Washington D.C. and Cape Town.

We as the 164 parliamentary members of GLOBE Southern Africa, situated in 15 different countries throughout Southern and East Africa would like to express our deep dismay at the decision of President George W. Bush not to endorse and ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

For countries in the South, the issue of climate change is not simply an environmental concern but a question of social justice. According to the 1995 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Regional Scenarios, "Africa is believed to be the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of projected changes in the climate." This is despite the fact that we have had very little role in creating this problem, accounting for only four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The United States with just four percent of the world’s population is responsible for over twenty five percent of its emissions and according to 1996 figures, the emissions of one American equals that of 537 citizens of Madagascar.

This global inequity cannot be allowed to persist, particularly as is stated in the Third Assessment report of the IPCC that "The projected distribution of economic impacts is such that it would increase the disparity in well-being between developed countries and developing countries.’

We are already starting to feel the effects of a changing climate as evidenced by extreme events such as the flooding in Mozambique that has occurred for two years in a row. We note with alarm that the recently released Third Assessment Report of the IPCC states with high confidence that "Increases in droughts, floods, and other extreme events would add to stresses on water resources, food security, human health, and infrastructures, and would constrain development in Africa".

The African continent is also home to some of the richest areas in biodiversity, which are being placed under increasing threat as a result of climate change. These areas need to be protected for all of humanity and future generations.

While we understand President Bush's desire to put the interests of the American people first, he also needs to understand our sense of powerlessness in confronting a problem that is predominantly caused by pollution from industrialised countries. We also urge him to consider the numerous studies done in the United States that have indicated that the costs of reducing greenhouse gases need not be excessive, and that on the contrary can in fact increase employment as an entire new industry is created.

We therefore call on you, President Bush, to consider the effect that your actions will have not only on the rest of the planet, but on the future generations of Americans that will have to bear the burden of a changing climate and the wrath of a world who witnessed inaction at a time when it was still possible to stave off this threat.

As parliamentarians from Southern and East Africa we would be neglecting our duty to our electorate if we didn’t demand international action to be taken on this issue. The Kyoto Protocol is the product of almost a decade of negotiations, and the world and lives of people in developing countries cannot afford to have this document rejected at this stage. It is the first tangible step that the world can take towards confronting this global threat, which will be followed in the future by more far reaching measures.

We therefore ask you, President Bush, to reconsider your decision and to join the rest of the world in ratifying and implementing the Kyoto Protocol and curbing the emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Members of GLOBE Southern Africa