Climate Heating Most Serious Threat Facing Humanity

NAIROBI, Kenya, November 6, 2006 (ENS) – Energized by a warning that climate change is one of the greatest challenges in the history of humankind, the United Nations Climate Change Conference - Nairobi 2006 opened today with calls for action to limit global warming and assistance for developing countries that must adapt.

"Climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats that humanity may ever face," said the president of the conference, Kenyan Environment Minister Kivutha Kibwana.

The two week conference, the twelfth Conference of the 189 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the second meeting of the 166 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, is the first UN climate summit in sub-Saharan Africa. It is expected to draw around 5,000 participants.

Because this is the first world climate change conference held in sub-Saharan Africa, it will have a special focus on the needs of Africa and other developing countries.

The other key agenda topic will be discussion of what further action the international community should take to combat climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol emission targets expire. The conference also will conduct a review of the Protocol.


Kenyan Environment Minister Kivutha Kibwana expressed concern over the scope of climate change impacts on Africa's developing nations. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin, ENB)
Warning that global warming threatens the development goals for billions of the world's poorest people, Kibwana said, "We face a genuine danger that recent gains in poverty reduction will be thrown into reverse in coming decades, particularly for the poorest communities on the continent of Africa."

A UN report released Sunday warns that an estimated 30 percent of Africa's coastal infrastructure could be inundated by rising sea levels linked to global warming, including coastal settlements in the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, Gambia and Egypt.

Released by the UNFCCC Secretariat and based on data from such agencies as the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, and the World Meteorological Organization, WMO, the report projects that that between 25 percent and over 40 percent of species' habitats in Africa could be lost by 2085.

Assisting countries in Africa and elsewhere to adapt to the effects of a warming planet is a key part of the conference agenda.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer called for specific activities to be agreed within the five-year work plan on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

"We expect countries to take decisions in Nairobi that will enhance action on adaptation on the ground," he said.

Another key outcome expected of the conference is agreement on how to manage the UNFCCC's Adaptation Fund. The Fund is financed by a share of proceeds generated by the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism, CDM fs.

The CDM permits industrialized countries which are members of the Protocol to invest in sustainable development projects in developing countries, and thereby generate tradable emission credits.

"Ministers meeting in Nairobi have an opportunity to reach agreement on critical elements of the governance and management of the Adaptation Fund," said de Boer.

"Climate change is underway," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, "and the international community must respond by offering well-targeted assistance to those countries in the front-line which are facing increasing impacts such as extreme droughts and floods and threats to infrastructure from phenomena like rising sea levels."


Ten month old Mohamed Abdi is battling malnutrition and jaundice at the health center run by British NGO Merlin at Wajir District Hospital, northeast Kenya. Abdi is one of many children suffering the consequences of the region's recent severe drought. (Photo courtesy WFP)
Secretary-General Michel Jarraud of the UN World Meteorological Organization, WMO, observed that Africa is the largest of all tropical landmasses and, at 30 million square kilometers, is about a fifth of the world's total land area. Yet, he said, "the climate observing system in Africa is in a far worse and deteriorating state than that of any other continent."

About 25 percent out of the Global Climate Observing System surface stations in east and southern Africa are not working and most of the remaining stations are functioning in a less than optimal manner. Around a fifth of the 10 upper air network stations are in a similar state.

Jarraud said Africa needs about 200 automatic weather stations, a major effort to rescue historical data, and improved training on climate and weather reporting.

In advance of the Nairobi climate conference, the WMO released a report last week showing that globally averaged concentrations of human-caused carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere, reached their highest levels ever recorded last year

Quantities of CO2 were measured at 379.1 parts per million (ppm) for 2005, up 0.53 percent from 377.1 ppm in 2004, WMO said in its latest "Greenhouse Gas Bulletin." The 35.4 percent rise in carbon dioxide since the late 1700s has been generated by emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas.


Mohamed Abey, a former nomadic herder who has lost most of his livestock to drought and relies on UN food aid to survive, walks in front of a rapidly diminishing water pan in Kenya's Isiolo district. The nearest alternative water supply is 50 kilometers (30 miles) away. (Photo by Peter Smerdon courtesy WFP)
The global conservation group WWF warns that climate change has the potential to undermine, and even undo, improvements in the living standards of ordinary Africans.

Released today, WWF’s report, "Climate Change in East Africa – Status of Science," shows that Africa warmed by 0.7°Celsius over the last century. With temperatures now expected to rise between 0.2°C and 0.5°C per decade over the next century, these hotter temperatures will impact rural communities throughout East Africa, the report warns.

“Climate change is starting to hit home, and we can clearly see the first impacts here in eastern Africa,” says Taye Teferi, Conservation Director of WWF's Eastern Africa Regional Programme Office.

One of the most devastating impacts of climate change in East Africa will be changes in the frequency, intensity and predictability of rainfall. Changes in regional precipitation will affect water availability and could lead to food shortages and conflict.

To help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, the European Union wants to see final agreement reached in Nairobi on a detailed five year program of work on adaptation activities.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said agreement is also needed on the management arrangements and governance for a new Adaptation Fund so that concrete adaptation projects can be implemented as soon as possible. He said this fund could be worth more than €350 million between 2008 and 2012.

“Climate change threatens catastrophic impacts that will transform the world we live in," said Commissioner Dimas. "Developing countries in Africa and elsewhere are likely to be hit hardest by climate change but they are the ones least able to cope. We must take concrete steps to help developing countries adapt to climate change and thus reduce its risks.”

“Climate change is already happening and there are signs that its pace is accelerating," said Dimas.


Developed countries are also experiencing drought. This U.S. farmer stands in his stunted, drought-stricken cornfield in Harrison County, Iowa. August 2006 (Photo by Dave Reinig courtesy National Drought Mitigation Center)
"Kyoto is a first step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions but the international community will need to take much more ambitious action after 2012. Although it is too early to expect major breakthroughs, the Nairobi Conference must make good progress towards shaping an international consensus on the next steps."

According to UNFCCC Executive Secretary de Boer, the world urgently needs a long-term legal framework to provide security for carbon markets and investments necessary to combat climate change.

Speaking at an international conference “Make Markets Work for Climate” in Amsterdam on October 17, de Boer said that globally there is a strong commitment to address energy security and to green energy, but that poverty eradication and economic growth are the overriding concerns for developing countries.

“At present, the financial resources provided to developing countries do not suffice to meet the needs for mitigation and adaptation as required under the United Nations Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol,” the UN’s top climate official said.

In September, de Boer said that a US$100 billion per year green investment flow to developing countries could be created if industrialized countries agreed to a 60 to 80 percent emission reduction by mid-century and used market-based mechanisms to help meet these commitments.

de Boer

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer is the UN’s top climate official. (Photo courtesy ENB)
De Boer said that a self-financing climate compact would be the solution to generate financial flows between the North and South required to effectively tackle climate change. “This would ensure sustainable development for the future,” he said. “But it requires a long-term legal framework to be in place.”

The Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism for example permits industrialized countries to invest in sustainable development projects in developing countries, and thereby generate tradable emission credits.

The CDM already has over 1,200 projects in the pipeline and an overall emission reduction potential of about 1.4 billion metric tonnes by 2012, amounting to the combined annual emissions of Spain and the United Kingdom.

“Whilst the CDM has been gaining speed very rapidly, there would be a significant risk for the value of carbon beyond 2012 without a long term provision for the carbon market. To guarantee continuity for investments, a post 2012 agreement is urgently needed,” said de Boer.

On Saturday, thousands of people across the globe joined in a global day of climate action to demand decisive steps to fight global warming.


Australians demonstrate in Sydney on November 4, urging their government to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Under Prime Minister John Howard, Australia has declined to participate in the Kyoto Protocol. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace Australia)
In Australia, more than 80,000 voters marched through the streets of cities from Sydney to Melbourne to Cairns, calling on the Howard government to take urgent action against climate change.

In England, 25,000 people packed into London's Trafalgar Square. The carnival-like event was the first of its kind for 'I Count,' a public campaign promoting urgent action to halt climate change.

Johnny Borrell, lead singer of Razorlight, who performed live on stage said, "Today is all about showing that together we make a difference, together we can send a message, together we can stop climate chaos and together we count."

At the Nairobi conference, governments will continue discussion of the future action on climate change, including commitments for industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012.

The UNFCCC sets the objective of preventing human interference with the climate system. The Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in February 2005, commits industrialized countries to reduce the emission of six greenhouse gases an average of 5.2 percent during the first 2008-2012 commitment period.