Action on climate, not words, needed to save Africa

DURBAN, South Africa Tue Dec 6, 2011 8:00pm GMT

Environmental activists demonstrate outside the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP17) in Durban December 3, 2011. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Environmental activists demonstrate outside the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP17) in Durban December 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Rogan Ward

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DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - Only a binding global accord on cutting greenhouse gases will spare Africa, the world's poorest continent, more devastating floods, droughts and famine, a senior African climate change official said on Tuesday.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu said legal force was the only way to make polluters take the necessary action and states who failed to deliver should in effect be 'named and shamed'.

"Durban must not be the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol," the only global pact forcing cuts in carbon emissions, said Mpanu-Mpanu, chairman of the Africa Group.

"We always find ourselves in a situation at the beginning of the second week, which it feels on the verge of collapse. I don't think so," he said on the sidelines of climate change talks in the South African port city.

The talks, bringing together nearly 200 nations, have repeatedly struggled to get a new deal to update the Kyoto Protocol, whose crucial clause on enforcing targets on carbon cuts expires at the end of next year.

Talks in 2009 in Copenhagen were a fiasco after high hopes they would achieve an all-encompassing global deal were dashed.

Last year's climate talks in Cancun had more modest aims from the outset and achieved some progress, but stopped short of a new legal agreement.

The European Union this year has led the way in saying it will sign up to a new international deal on carbon curbs, but it wants guarantees the big emitters will join in too.

So far China, the United States and India, the three biggest producers of carbon, have refused to give any pledges, along with emerging giants, such as Brazil.

Mpanu-Mpanu said that without binding targets, nations would just select which climate action they wished to take, rather than which was necessary.

"The multilateral process is of prime importance. It's the only process that will cater for all our needs. Otherwise, this will be an era of cherry-picking," he said.

African states are particularly keen to keep the Kyoto process in place, arguing rich nations should carry the burden of cutting emissions for which the developed world is largely responsible.

"One billion Africans are suffering from the climate change phenomenon, to which they did not contribute," Mpanu-Mpanu said.

With Canada threatening to abandon the Kyoto Protocol, even binding accords are only as strong as the political will to abide by them.

"Unfortunately, people will dishonour the agreements they have made. They are like those who go to the international cattle market and issue promissory notes that they never pay. We should give them a bad credit rating," Mpanu-Mpanu said.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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