Wael Hmaidan

A look inside the Copenhagen negotiations

by Executive Editors

The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last month brought together dignitaries, diplomats, activists and business leaders from 192 nations. While the Lebanese government contingent at the conference was led by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, among those representing Lebanon’s non-governmental organizations was Wael Hmaidan, executive director of IndyAct. Executive spoke with Hmaidan during the conference to hear his views on the negotiation process and its implications for the Arab world.

  • How is the negotiation process going and have there been any significant breakthroughs?

Negotiations seem to be heading toward a greenwash scenario, which is a suicide deal for all countries. The nations that are participating in the negotiations are not showing much ambition: developed countries are on one hand refusing to adopt the much needed and necessary measures to rein in global warming, on the other hand, developing countries are not pushing for a more stringent approach, fearing that any possible deal may have a negative impact on them.

An agreement has been reached on a possible emission reduction of 17 percent (relative to 1990 levels) by the year 2020 for developed countries,  and 14 to 15 percent for developing countries. This figure falls far behind the 40 percent drop in carbon emissions recommended by the scientific community. Ideally countries need to funnel $200 billion of annual aid into a special fund destined to help developing countries curb their carbon emissions; only $10 billion have been offered on a yearly basis for the next three-year period.

  • Will Lebanon benefit from such a fund?

As a developing nation, Lebanon will certainly benefit from such a fund in terms of technology transfer penned by any possible agreement. However the issue at stake is much more important, we are talking about the future of the country. Lebanon is threatened by severe desertification, which would leave residents scrambling for water and food supplies.

  • Is Lebanon actively participating in the Copenhagen negotiations?

Negotiations around climate change have been going on for years during which Lebanon has, for the most part, been a silent participant. Lebanese delegates sit like students in a class, listening to the various interventions without voicing their concerns. Although Lebanon is a small country it should be pushing for more measures that would allow for the survival of the planet. As an example, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives has shown great leadership in defending the climate change cause. Lebanon is part of this planet and, like other countries, it will be significantly affected by global warming.

  • What is Lebanon’s contribution to global warming?

It contributes some 0.07 percent of the total value. However, it is nonetheless one of the highest per capita contributors.

  • How serious is the impact of global warming on a country like Lebanon and on sectors such as agriculture?

Climate change threatens human civilization at large when a stable climate system is modified beyond its tipping point. The short-term impact can be felt on sectors such as agriculture, with farmers facing more frequent droughts and subsequent shortage of water, which might lead to desertification. This will reflect on agricultural output, which will naturally fall. We are also witnessing changes in soil quality and the appearance of new diseases and pests, which are attacking plants.

In the long run, sea levels are likely to rise, destroying coastal

areas used for agriculture.

Some seasons will be longer — namely the summer period — and will also be dryer.

Precipitation and distribution patterns are changing, causing floods in certain areas that are followed by very dry seasons. Frost is also occurring out of season, which is another contributing factor for the decrease in agricultural output. Due to the rise in temperature levels, the natural line of trees will move higher. To respond to this trend, farmers will rely more on chemicals and fertilizers thus contributing to increasing toxicity levels in natural produce.

  • Is the government taking any measures to counteract the effects of global warming on Lebanon?

No real action has been taken by the subsequent governments, except in the Hermel area, where terraces which catch rain water have been built. This particular project has been financed by the UN. 

  • How are other Arab countries faring?

Egypt, which is tackling the climate change issue very seriously, has certainly taken the regional lead in the Copenhagen negotiations. Other countries like Saudi Arabia are being very proactive but in a negative manner. The Saudi kingdom considers climate change as a threat to oil trade and has raised doubts as to the validity of climate change theories while attempting to obstruct the negotiation process.

  • Do you believe that Lebanon and other Arab countries should be concerned by the issue of climate refugees?

The issue of climate refugees is only one dangerous aspect of the global warming problem, which is very complex and has many implications for the region.

  • Have China and the United States — the two main CO2 emitters — adopted more proactive stances toward climate change?  

The US is part of the problem underlying the negotiations deadlock. Although President Barack Obama seems to be serious about the issue of global warming, he lacks the support of the American Congress. He has come up with CO2 reduction figures that are better than the ones proposed by former president George W. Bush, but they remain insufficient on the broader scale of things. Conversely, China has adopted a very flexible stand toward the climate change issue.  

  • There seems to be a growing opposition between blocs representing poor countries, which are adamant that rich nations commit to emission cuts beyond 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol and the developed nations, which are pushing for a new agreement that would replace the protocol… Do you believe that the two-track approach could be a possible solution?

The two-track approach is not something new and has been underway for more than a few years. Kyoto was adopted in 1992 with the exception of the United States and some other developing countries. These countries that are out of the Kyoto Protocol have now joined the negotiations, which makes the two-track approach a growing reality for most.

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Executive Editors

Executive Editors represents the voice of the magazine.
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