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November 25, 2009

Africa at the Copenhagen conference on climate change

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

Dr. Mohamed ElmasryWhile 50 of the poorest countries in the world, including most of Africa’s contribute only 1% of the total green house gas emission they are affected with more than 90% of the negative impact of the global climate change.

This includes rising sea level, less rainfall and drought, powerful storms and storm surges. In a very fundamental sense, it is food security; whatever little they have, will be completely shattered.

Now the world poor want the rich to reduce their harmful emission levels by 40% from the 1990 levels by 2020 to save the planet for future generations and to give them a chance to survive, here and now.

African nations lead by Ethiopia also demand financial help from rich nations to switch to green energy sources. The exact figure is kept secret until the UN Copenhagen conference, December 7-18, but expected to be 100 billion dollars annually.

Ethiopia is among the few countries that enshrined environment protection in their constitutions and took a strong position in mitigating climate change.

Kumi Naidoo, the first African to lead Greenpeace, says Barack Obama risks inflaming anti-American sentiment at the Copenhagen conference.

"It's not to say one is insensitive to the political situation that Obama finds himself in, but we would say he needs to use more of his political capital with the American people," Naidoo told the Guardian.

"There's a missed opportunity for him and the American people around the summit because what it's going to do, sadly, is intensify anti-American sentiment that we've seen rampant in the world, and a lot of the good Obama did through his election and some of his statements potentially will be reversed. Even his Nobel peace prize comes into question."

"We will not be comfortable with simply a political framework or a political set of agreements, which is what they are now talking about, because the track record of implementation and compliance coming out of UN summits, to put it very generously, has been pathetic.

"Therefore anything short of a binding treaty in Copenhagen must be read as a failure of leadership on the part of the political class. It should also be understood as a failure of democracy because clearly the overwhelming majority of public opinion, even in the United States, is for ambitious moving forward."

He added: "The one thing we will not tolerate coming from Copenhagen is spin and trickery on the parts of the negotiators where in fact they deliver a half-baked deal which they then try to present as a full victory. In that case we will obviously be saying that no deal in Copenhagen would be better than a horrendously bad deal."

The big question now is: Will there be a global climate deal at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December?

Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, as the conference president, faces a difficult task of making the 193 delegates from all over the globe play the same tune and hopefully, after a concerted effort, end with an accord.

Hedegaard is hopeful that Copenhagen will “seal the deal”.

“If the whole world comes to Copenhagen and leaves without making the needed political agreement, then I think it’s a failure that is not just about climate. Then it’s the whole global democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option,” says Hedegaard.

Kumi Naidoo reflects on the history of his home country of South Africa and adds, "Today I think history teaches us that if we look at some of the major struggles we have won — whether it's the civil rights movement in the United States, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, even if you go further back and think about the anti-slavery movement - it is when decent men and women have been willing to bear witness, step forward and in a sense put their lives on the line, if not literally then figuratively."

But he said sadly in the world today there are too many politicians and too few leaders. I say Amen brother Kumi, Amen.

Dr Mohamed Elmasry is Professor Emeritus of Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo. He can be reached at

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