Climate change and food security: COP17 101

This was orginally posted at HornLight.org, a great community I’m lucky to be a part of that is working on representing the Horn of Africa in a more dignified light through story-telling and info-sharing. Check us out!

“Negotiators have sent a clear message to the world’s hungry: ‘Let them eat carbon…’ Unless countries ratchet up their emissions cuts urgently, we could still be in store for a 10-year timeout on the action we need to stay under 2C.” — Celine Charveriat, Oxfam (BBC)

What is Climate Change?
Each year that goes by, scientists and experts warn us of the impending dangers of worsening climate change. “In the U.S., on average, about 20 metric tons of CO2 is released into the atmosphere annually, one of the top 10 on the planet.” (Amy Goodman, Climate Apartheid) Our consumption patterns as nations influence the levels of carbon that concentrate in the atmosphere and affect climate systems. The resulting climate change is known as one of many reasons why so many people in the global South do not have food security. There are ecological and economic consequences to climate change, that are complicated by the world’s growing population. The situation is urgent.

What is COP17?
In 1997 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) created the Kyoto Protocol for Climate Change, aimed at fighting global warming– by stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations to prevent them from reaching dangerous levels, and interfering with the world’s climate system. The Protocol became active in 2005, with the US as the only signatory to the UN that refused to ratify it.

The UNFCCC’s annual meetings are called the Conferences of the Parties. COP 17 took place in Durban, South Africa from November 29th through December 9th; the 17th meeting since the UNFCCC entered into force. At COP17, the decision-makers involved in the Kyoto Protocol agreed to a global climate treaty that would commit all countries to reduce emissions in 2020. Also, it was expected to finalize pending commitments from last year’s COP in Cancun, including clean technology, and forest protection agreements across nations.

What happened?
Two weeks of negotiating led to a deal only on the final day. All parties agreed to be part of a treaty addressing global warming. The terms of the treaty are to be determined by 2015, and will be legally enforced in 2020. In effect, this “Durban Platform” was an agreement to make an agreement. What is notable is that developing countries China and India were included, and the US agreed to participate, despite it’s poor track-record in global climate change issues.

What didn’t happen?
“Eight years from now is a death sentence on Africa. For every one-degree Celsius change in temperature, Africa is impacted at a heightened level.” –Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, chairperson of Friends of the Earth. (Climate Apartheid)

Participating nations produced no substantive commitments to keep global warming at bay between now and 2020 (presumably, by re-adjusting emissions related policies and agreements.) Scientists across the globe agree that  in order to prevent climate change from worsening, an average limit to global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius needs to be enforced. It is widely agreed thought that in 8 years, this limit will be unachievable.

So what?
Climate change is changing the way people in the global South live. No changes in the world’s gas emissions will only worsen the current crisis in East Africa. Urgent action is needed to prevent today’s droughts and famines from escalating into unimaginable degrees of suffering.

In August, in response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, Oxfam recommended that all governments pledge to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with developed countries leading and cutting emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The COP17 was one chance that governments of developed and leading economies had to turn words into action. Instead, they delayed substantive commitments until 2020, which may be too late to turn back patterns that affect food security in East Africa.

Dragging on cutting back gas emissions is dragging on climate change. Allowing climate change to worsen will allow food crises like the one in the Horn of Africa to thrive and grow in scale.

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