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Joint Assembly to consider climate problem


by Hans van de Veen

Can the EU-ACP relationship be used to strengthen the dialogue between Europe and the main victims of climate change? And can the Lomonvention be one of the tools to promote climate protection measures, as well as the implementation of the Climate

Treaty? These questions will be considered in depth at a hearing on climate derange scheduled for the next ACP-EU Joint Assembly, to be held in the last week of September 1996.

Periods of heavy rain have always been part of normal life in Fiji. But the latest rains were different, says counsellor Taina Tudau of the Fiji Embassy in Brussels. 'They were much more extreme than what we were used to, and caused heavy damage. Normally it took several days of heavy rain before the floods came up. This time, the water flooded the islands almost immediately the rain began to fall.' Mrs Tudau sees two main causes for the recent flooding. First, there is heavy deforestation on the islands, causing widespread erosion. But she is sure there was another reason for the recent damage: 'In the Pacific we know the local climate is changing. We see that the sea is rising. We are experiencing more extreme weather events. There can be no doubt that global warming is already going on.'

Fiji is a prominent member of the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), the group of 36 nations which feel particularly threatened by global warming. At the first Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Berlin in March 1995, Aosis called for industrialised nations to reduce their C02 emissions by 20% by 2005 (based on 1990 levels). At the end of the conference, the 150 national delegations agreed to begin negotiations on targets for industrialised nations to cut emissions in the early years of the next century.

So intentions may be good, but in practice not much has been done yet. The EU, for its part, risks losing credibility if firm action is not taken soon. According to a recent Commission White Paper on energy policy, the use of energy within the Union will increase by 1% a year up to 2020. Failing 'any strong policy interventions', the paper says, emissions of carbon dioxide are likely to show a 'substantial increase' during this period. Says Fiji-counsellor Tudau: 'As small island states we know what's at stake, but there seems to be no feeling of urgency in the rest of the world. We really wonder how long it will take before there is a definite move towards reduction of greenhouse gases.'

EU-ACP cooperation

At the Berlin conference, the ACP countries-led by Aosis but with support from most of the African states -took a constructive and moderate position in the G77. The position adopted by the EU could also be described as moderate, certainly compared to that of other OECD countries. Several observers have pointed to the fact that these two moderate approaches by important blocks within the Climate Convention negotiations offer possibilities for some form of cooperation.

'No doubt the EU represents the most progressive group of countries

within the OECD, although its position is far from sufficient', says Sible Schone, a representative of the World Wide Fund for Nature. 'Besides that, the EU has a special relationship with a large group of developing countries. Quite obviously it will be significant to get a dialogue started between the EU and the ACPs on the subject of climate change.' Currently, there is no such dialogue. 'At the moment we are not in a dialogue with ACP countries on climate change', says Bertil Heerink of the European Commission's Environment Directorate-General who is a member of the EU delegation to the climate negotiations. 'I'm convinced this will happen some day, but first we have to agree on our own goals and measures. I am sure developing countries want us to give priority to this too.'

The special ACP subcommittee to deal with tropical timber, the environment and fisheries, formed after the signing of the revised LomV, only recently started its work. With respect to the global warming issue, it is waiting for the Joint Assembly hearing, according to ambassador Michael King of Barbados, who is a committee member. 'The specific interests of the different regions have to be articulated there, and then some kind of sustained effort has to be initiated.'

The unit for Sustainable Development and Natural Resources in the Development Directorate-General of the Commission (DG VIII) not at present dealing with the subject of climate change. Says Head of Unit, Amos Tincani: 'We have worked on biodiversity and desertification, and we want to do more on the specific environmental problems of small island states. But we have done nothing similar on climate change. This is partly because it is so much a global problem, but the main reason is we simply lack the people and the time to go into it.'

Assembly hearing

At its meeting in Windhoek in March this year, the Joint Assembly adopted a resolution which had been proposed by representatives of 13 small island states. This urged the EU to take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof. More specifically, the Commission is being asked to update its climate change strategy for the period post-2000 and to achieve significant reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases over the coming decade and thereafter. The resolution riches on to call for extra assistance to ACP countries in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean to help them improve their disaster preparedness. The Commission is also urged to accelerate the transfer of appropriate technologies and practices, to enable ACP states to develop coastal zone management strategies and to rehabilitate and protect areas stricken by drought and desertification as well as by hurricanes and floods.

Two representatives of the European Parliament, Maartje van Putter (PES) and Peter Liege (EPP), have been active on the situation of the small island states and climate change for several years. According to Mrs Van Putten, the main effect of the coming Assembly hearing should be to put extra pressure on the Commission to take its responsibility seriously. 'Talking about climate change,' she says, 'one should never forget who is to blame and who, therefore, must take decisive action. A European tax on energy or carbon dioxide would be an important first step, but no more than that.'

Besides influencing the Commission's energy policy, Mrs Van Putten hopes the Assembly hearing will raise public awareness on the climate problem in those ACP countries which are not in the 'small island' category. 'If you are talking about rising sea levels, the African states with low-lying coastal zones face the same problems as the small island countries,' she points out. 'And they also face the problem of desertification and declining food production.'

Integrating the climate dimension

In a recent briefing paperto the Commission, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) concluded that, hitherto, the aid community (including the EU) had not incorporated measures on global warming into their strategic thinking on sustainable development. 'Indeed, the possibility of climate change has been considered of minor importance in comparison to other environmental concerns.' This is hardly surprising, says the London-based institute, as the climate issue has only recently been placed on the international agenda. Moreover, the long-term threat of global warming raises some difficult questions regarding priorities in circumstances where resources are limited. In other words: who wants to spend scarce funds on problems the full effects of which will probably not be felt for another 25 to 50 years? The best way forward, suggests the IIED, is to tackle the apparent conflict between shortterm development priorities and longterm climate protection, by 'integrating the climate dimension' rather than considering climate change as an issue in isolation.

Technology transfer could be a central point, according to WWF's Sible Schone. 'Developing countries see technology transfer as a central theme in the Climate Convention, but the industrialised countries don't give enough weight to these There are a lot of paragraphs about technology transfer in the Convention as well as in LomNow it's time to fill in these commitments.'

Strangely, there are hardly any Lomrojects currently under way in the field of energy efficiency. It is strange because experts have pointed to the large potential in developing countries for cost-effective energy improvement and energy conservation. Improved management could save at least 25% of the energy now being consumed. Quick realisation of this potential would significantly contribute to alleviating environmental development problems.

Henri Martin, energy specialist in DG VIII, agrees a lot more could be done in this field, but he points out: 'We are dependent on requests. If you look at the wording of the Convention, everything has already been said. There are chapters on energy and technology transfer. The problem is that we don't get enough signals back from the ACP countries that these items are a priority for them. I'm afraid sustainable energy or energy efficiency is not high on the agenda of most countries.' Taina Tudau disagrees strongly: 'Our experience is that the projects that could make a difference and contribute to sustainable development, protection of the environment and local sustainable energy production, are found to be too small. It is the donor that sets the conditions for the projects, not us, the small island states.'

New funding?

Can the EU build a credible policy linking climate and development cooperation, without reserving extra money? Not surprisingly, there is disagreement on this question. In Brussels, officials are inclined to point to possibilities that are already there but not being used. Amos Tincani, for instance, observes that 'there are budgets for this kind of problem under LomWe have provisions specially targeted for the islands'. He mentions regional budgets in particular: 'A lot can be started at the regional level which then trickles down to the national level. But after producing fine resolutions, everybody seems to forget the work still needs to be done. The idea is: 'oh yes, we can do it, provided it is with fresh money'. We say: a lot more can be done with existing budgets and instruments.'

Maartje van Putten, from the Parliament, says the discussion should not be 'dominated by southern demands for additional money'. She agrees that ACP countries could make better use of existing funds and possibilities, such as, for instance, the funds for intra ACP cooperation. But counsellor Tudau points to the fact that the Climate Convention urges industrialised countries to support the response of developing countries to climate problems through 'new and additional' money, besides the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and expertise.

There is a financial mechanism built into the Climate Convention, which is administered by the Global Environmental Facility, to cover additional costs of appropriate measures. But much more could be done by the aid community, including the EU, according to Mrs Tudau. 'Most European countries will not succeed in stabilising, let alone reducing, their emissions. In reaction to this, as ACP countries we should say: European Union, you are not fulfilling your obligations. You have to try harder and you have to set extra money aside to compensate for the damage this is doing to us.
H.v.d.V.