Poor countries faced with with choice between no deal on climate change or suicide pact

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 09 Oct 2009

The world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries now face an impossible choice — to accept an agreement that fails to reduce the life-or-death risks they face, or to hold out for a safe and fair deal but risk walking away from Copenhagen empty-handed, international aid agency Oxfam said today.

Speaking on the last day of UN climate negotiations in Bangkok, Oxfam senior climate adviser Antonio Hill said rich countries have not put serious money on the table to help poor countries adapt to the escalating impacts of climate change and develop on a low carbon pathway.

A continued lack of political will from rich country leaders also meant there was no movement on the emissions reduction targets that would help safeguard billions of the world’s poorest.

“The millions of people facing greater floods, droughts and failed harvest after failed harvest will be the real losers if the US, Canada, EU, Japan and Australia continue as blockers to the UN negotiations,” Mr Hill said.

“It is grossly unfair to force these poorer countries to choose between no deal and a suicide pact.”

He said the US in particular was becoming the biggest obstacle to a fair and safe global climate deal in Copenhagen.

“The US has been silent on the scale of finance it will commit to, and has yet to adopt an ambitious emissions reduction target by 2020, giving negotiators none of the political clout necessary to unblock negotiations in make-or-break areas.

“The US needs to make the toughest choice in Copenhagen: does it join the rest of the world to strengthen and build on the Kyoto model of binding targets, or remain the odd one out?”

He said the desire of the EU, Japan, Canada and Australia to accommodate the US and abandon the Kyoto Protocol was an example of the poor leadership on show by all these countries these past two weeks.

“Bangkok has been a warm-up session for negotiators who have shown their skill in trimming text, but in political terms, when the starting gun fired it became a race to the bottom, with rich countries weakening existing commitments under the international framework,” he said.

“It is useful that the US is prompting a debate on who does what under a global agreement, but if it really hopes to have a constructive dialogue with developing countries it has to up the ante first by tabling an offer of finance and emissions cuts commensurate with its historic emissions and economic weight,” Mr Hill said.

“The US’ endorsement of a new fund for developing countries is an encouraging step forward, although big questions remain on how it will operate.”

Mr Hill pointed to other areas of useful progress in the areas of agriculture, mitigation action from developing countries, and aviation and shipping emissions over the past two weeks.  “But what we have seen in Bangkok was a cosmetic procedure, when what was required was major surgery,” he said.

Developing countries came to Bangkok willing to negotiate.  China is a world leader in renewable energy investment, has committed to reduce emissions in line with its economic growth path, and has offered support to help developing countries, including small island states and African nations, adapt to the impacts of climate change.  Last week Indonesia committed to deep cuts below business as usual.

For developing countries, another disturbing development in Bangkok has been a hardening of rich country positions on the issue of finance: they are now openly insisting climate finance should come from existing aid budgets.

“Aid must be increased, not diverted,” he said. “If promised aid increases are plundered for climate purposes, it could mean that 8.6 million fewer people have access to HIV and AIDS treatment, 75 million fewer children will be in school, and 4.5 million more children die than would otherwise be the case,” he said.

Mr Hill said rich countries at the Bangkok talks were asking poor countries to contribute financially to climate finance, which was not in line with the UN climate convention.

“After eight negotiating sessions since Bali, rich countries still refuse to contribute their fair share of the global effort required to avert disaster,” Mr Hill said.  “The US and other developed countries continue the charade by getting everyone together and claiming they are ready to negotiate.  However, all they keep doing is revise the blueprint.”

For more information or interviews with Antonio Hill, please contact:Laurelle Keough (in Bangkok) on +66 86 530 8394 or laurellek@oxfam.org.au