Ethiopian leader doubts usefulness of climate conference

April 9, 2010

Next month’s climate conference in Cacun, Mexico, “will be a total fraud,” the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, said yesterday in Addis Ababa.

Mr Zenawi, who heads the Conference of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, shocked particpants at the ongoing Seventh African Development Forum when he said the massive deficit in global leadership guarantees that the proposed conference would end badly.

In words devoid of diplomatese, the Ethiopian leader, who is also co-chair of the High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, also suggested that, ‘it is possible the following one in South Africa will also be a failure.’ Guests at the high table which included Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Jean Ping, chairperson of the African Union Commission; Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana and Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, appeared stunned by Mr Zenawi’s words. The thousand- strong audience however clapped in support of the frank assessment.

Mr Zenawi said in the face of such clear failure in global leadership, African leaders must find the means to react adequately to the situation irrespective of what happens in the international community. He said a lack of global leadership shows that structural issues are at stake, including an unwillingness to stand up to vested interests and to challenge myopic views.

He said the promise that $100 billion will be made available for Africa by 2020 to fight climate change is only feasible if leaders from developed countries responsible for most of the climate damage are willing to face up to their responsibilities. He also rejected the notion that the money is to be given as aid, saying it is rather a “downpayment on reparation” to a continent suffering from problems it did not cause.

He said African leaders, however, “are not going to wait until these guys are converted to sanity. We will just continue to use the limited resources we have. Leadership in our case means fighting for every cent they owe us, but in the meantime doing all we can on our own.”

Change of strategy

Mr Stoltenberg, who co-chairs the advisory group on climate change financing, agreed with Mr Zenawi that there are reasons for concern that the conference in Cacun will be disappointing.

He said it is impossible to expect that the so-called comprehensive legally binding agreement on climate change, which failed to materialise in the last conference, will be reached in Cacun, or even in the next conference in South Africa. He suggested reduced expectations in the form of short-term goals that are possible, such as progress on staving off deforestration and on some aspect of the financing.

Mr Mogae said even though Africa is the least guilty of climate crimes and suffers disproportionately, it is incumbent on the continent to find projects it can self finance to mitigate the effects, rather than wait indefinitely for succour from abroad. He also blamed African leaders who fail to use the advantage provided by the last climate conference to press home their advantage.

“I hope that, as leaders, in future when we agree on a position that serves our interests, we would be heard to be supporting that position. We need to crystallise our tactics,” he said.

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