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Climate Change COPS - A Report From Nairobi
Robert Katz, 9 Nov 06
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Paul Mackie is a Senior Media Officer with the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. He is attending the 12th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Nairobi, Kenya and has filed this report from the proceedings.

I'm in Nairobi for the 12th annual COP, and as my colleague Tim Herzog observes, it's great to be here: past COPs have felt more like conventions, which essentially they are. The exhibits have been big enclosed rooms, the side events in nearby facilities, and concessions scattered all about. The whole affairs have been essentially held inside, especially last year's COP in Montreal.

This one feels different. Perhaps it's due to lower attendance, but there's no doubt it's in large part due to Nairobi and the UN complex where COP-12 is being held this year. Nairobi's temperature is a steady 24-27 degrees Celsius (75-80 Fahrenheit), and the UN complex takes advantage of the fabulous climate. There are ceilings, but most of the open spaces have no outer walls. The exhibit areas are breezy and surrounded by waterfalls, little brooks and the chatter of birds. When it rains, it's like being on a screened-in porch.

The side event area is a 15-minute walk away from the exhibit area, which is a little odd. On the way there, you can often forest monkeys swinging in the branches just outside the fence surrounding the complex.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand - “COP� is United Nations’ lingo, and it stands for the Conference of the Parties, which is an association of the 189 countries that make up the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Of those countries, 165 have committed to reducing their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. All of the industrialized nations of the world have chosen to take a seat at this table, except for Australia and the United States. There is hope that these two holdouts may join the team over the course of the next two weeks during the COP’s annual gathering – which is being held this year in Nairobi. More on the UNFCCC is available on Wikipedia.

Dealing with global warming on an African stage seems a little odd. After all, the people of the continent create global warming-type pollution at much lower rates than those in, say, the U.S. and Australia. Nevertheless, many African nations are especially vulnerable to the many effects of climate change – things such as expanding deserts, sea-level rise, and the occurrence of more frequent extreme weather events.

The UN General Assembly established that the annual COP would rotate between the five geographical locations under its umbrella (Africa being one of the five). So from November 6th through the 17th, Kenya will proudly showcase its environmental commitments as well as its environmental vulnerabilities. As an added bonus, the conference will be held at the UN premises outside of Nairobi, greatly reducing the cost of what will already be a US $2 million convening expense to the UNFCCC secretariat.

Approximately 6,000 people from all over the world are expected to participate. They’ll come from universities, corporations, governments, media outlets and non-governmental organizations. Youth groups, trade unionists, indigenous groups, community leaders and faith leaders will hold exhibits, workshops, press conferences and other events.

There are several primary agenda items this year. First up will be the Kyoto Protocol’s “clean development mechanism,� which permits industrialized countries to generate emission credits through investment in sustainable development projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. The bulk of the more than 1,000 CDM projects presently in the pipeline, ranging from wind farms to hydroelectric power stations, are concentrated in a few countries, often mirroring the geography of foreign direct investment.

Second, a major focus will be placed on adaptation to climate change, along with the funding and the capacity-building required for developing countries to adapt and to participate in market-based tools like the CDM. The UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol facilitate the development of techniques that can help increase resilience to climate change impacts – for example, the development of salt-resistant crops – and to exchange best practices with regard to adaptation.

Third, countries will discuss how they can benefit from clean technologies on a large scale. One workshop, for example, will explore scientific, technical, and socio-economic information relevant for determining post-2012 commitments of the industrial countries under the Kyoto Protocol.

The World Resources Institute, where I work, is sending a delegation of climate experts to help focus the talks on what they see as three key messages:

1. Global development and climate change adaptation and mitigation are inexorably linked.
* Sub-Saharan Africa is the nexus of this link.
* Climate change presents an imminent threat to developing countries and their economies.
* The poverty-climate change link must be on the 2007 G8 agenda.

2. Understanding vulnerabilities and adapting to them is crucial.
* Adaptation and mitigation decisions made – or put off – by the wealthiest nations have a disproportionate “butterfly effect� on the poorest countries – particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa.
* Each geographic region has its own unique set of vulnerability and adaptation considerations in addition to global imperatives.

3. The time is now for the U.S. to re-engage in international climate talks.
* The U.S. is rapidly losing its economic competitive advantage and will continue to do so by not addressing its addiction to foreign oil.
* As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the U.S. has the opportunity to be a leader.

It should be a very interesting two weeks here in Nairobi, and WRI’s climate experts will keep you tuned in to all the news coming out of the conference.

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