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Issue 5, June 1999

Newsletter Index

Global climate change is high on the international agenda. Emissions of, in particular, carbon dioxide and methane are increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere. This, the world’s foremost scientists believe, is having a discernible influence upon the global climate. The result will continue to be not only higher average temperatures, but also rising sea levels and an increased frequency in (and ferocity of) so-called "extreme events" (floods, strong winds, droughts, tidal waves, etc.). Africa will be particularly hard-hit. A recent report on the regional impacts of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that, with its widespread poverty and heavy reliance upon agriculture, the "African continent is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change" (Watson et al, 1997, 7).
Given this, two responses are clearly needed. One is adaptation. Not only is the world already experiencing some climate change, but given that greenhouse gases emitted today will continue to generate temperature increases for years to come, impacts will continue to be felt. Accordingly, we must prepare ourselves.
The other necessary response is "mitigation" – that is, the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases and/or the enhancement of those sinks that absorb greenhouse gases. This article focuses upon climate change mitigation as a response strategy, and explores it with reference to Southern Africa.
Given that Southern Africa is responsible for less than 2 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that its per capita emissions are well below the global average, incredulity may be the reader’s initial reaction to the title of this article. Economic growth and poverty alleviation are this region’s main priorities. Why should Southern Africa be considering limitations in its greenhouse gas emissions? Northern countries have caused most of the problem, and they should be working to address it.
All of this is true, and these sentiments are widely supported, in both South and North. In various international treaties, and at various international conferences, the members of international society have recognised and accepted that Northern countries "should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof". The Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997 (though not yet ‘entered into force’), makes this commitment tangible and legally-binding by placing scheduled emission reduction obligations upon Northern countries. Efforts must be made to ensure that all countries ratify the Protocol and that these initial targets are met.
This, however, does not – and must not – preclude the study of the potential for climate change mitigation in the South. Indeed, in terms of thinking strategically about Southern countries’ participation in efforts to build an international regime to meet the challenge of global climate change, such investigations are critical for two reasons.
The first reason has a ‘short-term’ time-horizon. It appears probable that Northern countries will use the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to help them meet their own reduction targets. The CDM is a North-South partnership. A Northern entity finances an activity in the South that leads to lower net greenhouse gas emissions than would otherwise have occurred. For example, a Northern engineering firm may pay for repairs to a natural gas pipeline in a Southern country, which means that less methane escapes to the atmosphere. The Southern country not only has lower greenhouse gas emissions, but also a more efficient and safer national infrastructure. The Northern engineering firm, meanwhile, is able to use at least part of these reductions against its own target ‘back home’.
As outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, CDM projects are not only meant to help Northern countries meet their emission reduction targets, they are also designed to assist developing countries in achieving sustainable development. Therefore, CDM (and the associated international investment) should also generate a variety of local benefits. These conceivably include: technology transfer and co-operation, employment opportunities, local environmental benefits (for example, reduced air and water pollution), improved national infrastructure and capacity building in both the public and private sectors.
The details surrounding implementation of the CDM are still being examined and negotiated, and many important decisions have yet to be made. Nevertheless, given that a system will probably be in place by the end of the year 2000, it makes sense for developing countries to be examining possible CDM projects now.
The second reason for mitigation studies has a ‘long-term’ time-horizon. It is becoming increasingly accepted that Southern countries will have to cap their emissions at some point in the future. To successfully meet the challenge of global warming, we need "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" (Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992). Scientists believe that, to achieve this stabilization in concentrations, we need a 60 per cent reduction in emissions.
Of course, that does not mean that each country reduces by 60 per cent: that would be unfair, because it would entrench present inequalities between North and South. But even if each country were given an equal per capita emission entitlement (something which is favoured by many Southern representatives), every country would reach its limit at some point. Indeed, in the case of Southern Africa as a whole, emissions would have to fall by about 25 per cent from their present level.
These two drivers mean that climate change mitigation in the South will inevitably become an important issue, and probably sooner rather than later. Given this, engagement with the issue is crucial: this will not only allow those in the South to set their own priorities and seek opportunities within the emerging arrangements, but it will also allow them to push the discussions towards outcomes that they deem to be preferable.
In many parts of Southern Africa, examination of climate change mitigation is well underway, particularly with respect to ‘national’ options. (The reader is referred to works such as Mackenzie et al, 1998 for further information). While recognising the importance of such options, this article will briefly highlight a few potential regional climate change mitigation options, an approach that has not been emphasised as much in policy development.
Southern Africa, however, would appear to be uniquely situated to explore regional mitigation possibilities. The distribution of natural resources and economic activity in the region not only lends itself to regional approaches, but Southern Africa also has a well-developed regional institutional base upon which successful implementation could be built. Let us consider each of these in turn (Rowlands, 1998).
It is broadly accepted that the power sector offers one of the most-attractive mitigation options in Southern Africa. Presently, approximately three-quarters of the region’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power stations. Coal is, of course, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and the power sector is the main contributor to the region’s total greenhouse gas emissions (about two-thirds of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions).
The region, however, also has a range of lower-carbon and no-carbon alternatives for electricity generation. Natural gas and hydropower are but two examples. What makes replacement of coal by natural gas or hydropower a ‘regional’ mitigation option is that the locations of the potential ‘source’ and ‘load’ are in different countries. In terms of supply, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola and Mozambique have significant hydropower potential, while Angola, Namibia and Mozambique have substantial reserves of natural gas. While on the demand side, South Africa presently uses approximately three-quarters of all electricity generated in the region. It will continue to be Southern Africa’s main demand centre for the foreseeable future.
So regional co-operation on electricity supply issues – namely, meeting new demand in South Africa by building power stations in other countries instead of new (or re-commissioned) coal-fired power stations in South Africa – could reduce the level of emissions from what they otherwise would have been. As with all mitigation options, however, it is critical that the broader, non-climate implications also be investigated. Increased development of the region's natural gas and hydropower resources could bring a range of technical, economic and social benefits (e.g., lower electricity reserve requirements, serve as a catalyst for regional economic development and improve local air quality). If not properly managed, however, it could also bring problems (e.g., dam construction and operation can cause various kinds of damage and the social and economic effects upon, in particular, the coal industry would need to be addressed). Nevertheless, the potential for the benefits to more than outweigh the problems has encouraged, for one, the region’s utilities: they are working together to construct a Southern African Power Pool. Moreover, their efforts have been largely motivated by non-climate factors. Introduction of concepts like CDM into the discussions could give their initiative additional, tangible (e.g., monetary) support.
The Southern African Power Pool is only one example of an existing institution that may be able to facilitate the development and implementation of regional mitigation options in Southern Africa. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the East African Co-operation (EAC) are other existing institutions. The existence of formal structures lends encouragement to the consideration of regional options.
Other regional mitigation options also exist. Given that vehicles represent another significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, transportation should also be analysed. ‘Regional’ mitigation options in this area include further development of the region’s ‘corridors’ – this may involve something as modest as road repairs, or something as substantial as construction of new electric rail lines.
Proposals that have a greater policy-orientation might also be considered. Efforts to harmonize procedures among the region’s countries – something in which organisations like the SADC are interested anyway – might receive additional support if presented as ‘climate change mitigation options’. Examples include the reduction of regional trade barriers, which could facilitate the development of a regional market for renewable energy or energy efficiency technologies.
The international regime to address the challenge of global climate change is evolving. At this point, we are not certain how it will develop. The CDM, for example, could end up doing little to further either its climate goals or its development aspirations. For example, an inappropriate understanding of the term ‘sustainable development’ could mean that the CDM becomes a vehicle of inappropriate technology transfer and a tool of economic control.
Alternatively, however, the CDM could be a catalyst for sustainable development in Southern Africa. For instance, international financial support for regional infrastructure could encourage prosperity and peace. At this point, we do not know which is more likely. Consequently, it is critical for representatives of Southern Africa to be engaged in the debate. Indeed, strategic thinking about climate change mitigation more broadly will increase the chances of ending up with outcomes that benefit both people and the environment, both within Southern Africa and around the world.
Ian H. Rowlands
Associate Professor
Department of Environment and
Resource Studies at the University
of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada).
G.A. Mackenzie, J.K. Turkson and O.R. Davidson (eds) (1998), Climate Change Mitigation in Africa: Proceedings of an International Conference (Roskilde: Risų National Laboratory, UNEP Collaborating Centre on Energy and Environment).
Ian H. Rowlands (ed) (1998), Climate Change Cooperation in Southern Africa (London: Earthscan).
Robert T. Watson, Marufu C. Zinyowera, Richard H. Moss (1997), The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability; Summary for Policymakers (Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, November).
Climate Change and Oil Scarcity 
Figures released by the International Energy Agency last November show that the world output of oil is likely to begin to decline in about twelve years' time. Independent experts such as Colin Campbell, however, believe that the decline will start earlier, perhaps around 2005, and that in fifty years' time, oil production will have dropped back to 1950 levels but will have to be shared by a world population three or four times larger.
The situation is serious. Economic growth and most of the world's systems of production and distribution are totally dependent on high levels of fossil energy use and oil is the most convenient energy source for many purposes.
Other energy sources are not likely to fill the gap. Renewable energy experts accept that wind, solar, tidal and biomass energy will not be able to meet the world's energy needs for the foreseeable future, and there are problems with other fossil fuels. "It's difficult to estimate when gas output will start to decline" Colin Campbell says, "but my best guess is about 2020. That will leave us with coal. There's a lot of that but it's a very dirty, polluting fuel."
The effects of increasing oil scarcity are already being felt in the markets. According to a report by an investment bank, Goldman Sachs, scarcity is the reason why the OPEC countries have been able to raise crude oil prices by 50% so far this year and why their higher prices are likely to stick. By 2008, according to the International Energy Agency data, over half of annual world oil production will be under the control of the core of OPEC in the Middle East.
One way of addressing oil scarcity is through Contraction and Convergence, the most widely considered solution to the related problem of climate change. Under this proposal, an international agency would allocate to each country the right to burn a fixed amount of fossil fuel related to the size of its population. Low energy-using countries would acquire the right to sell part of their allocation to more energy-intensive ones. Overall, the allocations made would be reduced until the total amount of greenhouse gases being released is so small that their concentration in the atmosphere is no longer increasing, thus reducing the risk of a catastrophic climatic change.
"If this system is fully adopted to control global warming, it will ease energy scarcity problems too," says Aubrey Meyer, Director of the Global Commons Institute in London and GLOBE’s policy adviser on climate change. "Essentially it will mean that the profits from oil scarcity will be shared with the poorer parts of the world, where not much energy is used at present. They will also go to countries that are the fastest in cutting their fossil energy use. In other words, the extra money that people will have to pay for their fuel will go to help transform the world's energy systems towards renewable rather than ending up in the Middle East as windfall profits."
Described by Tony Blair as, "an important contribution to the debate" and in the words of UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, "the attractions of equity and logic", the contraction and convergence approach has been formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Africa Group of Nations at the United Nations climate negotiations. Reflecting accurately the structure of the United States Senate’s resolution on climate change (the Byrd Hagel Resolution), Contraction and Convergence is also supported by the Heads of Government of the Non Aligned Movement of Nations.