Global Policy Forum

Poverty Reduction and Climate Change


By Moyiga Nduru

Inter Press Service
June 5, 2007

In the final hours before this week's Group of Eight (G8) summit gets underway in Germany, activists have underscored the need for progress with both climate change and poverty alleviation -- key items on the meeting's agenda -- for there to be real improvement in Africa's living conditions.

"If the threat of climate change is not removed, it will wipe out all efforts to help the poor through commitments such as aid," said Ciara O'Sullivan, media co-ordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty -- an international coalition grouping civic organisations from over 100 countries. The G8 comprises the world's major industrialised nations: Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States -- and Germany, hosting the annual summit as part of its year-long presidency of the grouping. Leaders of the eight countries will begin their gathering Wednesday in the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm under strict security, as thousands of protesters who have been barred from the city issue their demands from nearby Rostock.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government hopes to achieve progress during the Jun. 6-8 talks in drawing up a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will expire in 2012. The 1997 protocol requires leading industrialised nations to reduce their combined emissions of greenhouse gases -- linked to global warming -- to five percent below 1990 levels, by 2012. Under the post-Kyoto proposals put forward by Germany, emissions would be cut even more -- to 50 percent below 1990 levels, by 2050 -- while energy efficiency would need to be improved by 20 percent come 2020.

However, these proposals are said to be running into opposition from the United States, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. President George W. Bush last week suggested, instead, that up to 15 of the world's largest greenhouse gas contributors negotiate outside the United Nations to cap their emissions in the long term -- but did not put forward targets for these cuts.

While former president Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, Bush abandoned the treaty because of fears that it would undermine the U.S. economy, powered by the fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when burned. Bush has long advocated voluntary targets for greenhouse gas reduction, despite widespread demands for mandatory caps.

"We are calling on the G8 to make deep cuts in emissions as soon as possible, 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050," said Annie Sugrue, Southern Africa co-ordinator for Citizens United for Renewable Energy and Sustainability, a pressure group based in the South African commercial hub of Johannesburg. Failure to address climate change could have dire consequences for Africa.

A report issued in April by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 'Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability', predicts that up to 250 million people on the continent will experience problems in accessing sufficient water by 2020 because of climate change. Agricultural production could be halved in certain instances during the same period. Other possible ill effects include rising sea levels towards the end of the century that will take a toll on densely populated coastal areas.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will be attending his final G8 summit this week before leaving office Jun. 27, told a gathering at the University of South Africa last week that climate change might also exacerbate the spread of disease. "More than 110 million people in Africa live in regions prone to malaria epidemics. Slight changes in rainfall and temperature could increase this figure by up to 80 million by the end of this century," he noted. Blair was in South Africa as part of his final official visit to Africa. "Chancellor Merkel's decision to put climate change on the agenda of her G8 Summit gives us an opportunity to inject new momentum into the search for a global solution," he said.

The outgoing premier also indicated that he would use the summit to urge his G8 counterparts to fulfill promises of aid made in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. The leaders agreed on debt relief, increasing aid to the developing world by 50 billion dollars annually come 2010 -- with 25 billion dollars of this money set aside for Africa -- and on funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and primary education. While in South Africa, Blair said 18 African countries had benefited from 38 billion dollars in debt relief: "Zambia used its debt relief to abolish health user fees, giving tens of thousands of people access to free health care."

"There has also been progress toward universal access to AIDS drugs, (a) 10-fold increase in people on ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs) in sub-Saharan Africa, now totaling more than one million -- 23 percent of those needing treatment. In 2005, this saved more than 250,000 lives." But, notes global aid agency Oxfam in a May 18 press release, "…recent figures from the OECD show that in 2006 aid to Africa barely changed, and overall aid actually fell." (The Paris-based OECD, or Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, groups 30 countries -- and specialises in economic research.)

Germany announced last week that it was increasing development aid by some four billion dollars between 2008 and 2111, while Bush promised to double U.S. spending on efforts to address HIV/AIDS to 30 billion dollars over the next five years. While Oxfam has welcomed these pledges, it noted that Germany's increase would not enable the country to meet its 2005 promise in Gleneagles to increase aid to 0.51 percent of gross national income by 2010.

"Based on figures from the OECD, Oxfam has calculated that the German government would need to find approximately 1.5 billion euro (about two billion dollars) each year between now and 2010 to meet this target -- twice what was announced," said the agency in a Jun. 1 statement. The interests of the developing world will be further highlighted at the summit by the presence of leaders from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa -- the five strongest emerging markets -- and other developing states. Growth in these five countries is rapidly drawing them into the debate about cuts in greenhouse emissions. The G8 is also expected to discuss trade with the five, in the hope of jumpstarting global trade talks, stalled over various issues -- including agricultural subsidies in industrialised nations that undermine farmers in poorer regions.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More Information on Heiligendamm, Germany
More Information on the Group of Seven/Group of Eight
More Information on Climate Change
More General Analysis on Poverty and Development


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