Norway is to step up its development assistance to South Africa, in order to boost the country's response to the threats posed by climate change writes Shaun Benton.

Work on carbon capture technologies, action against deforestation, the scaling up of Clean Development Mechanism projects in Africa along with technology transfer, as well as further emission cuts topped the agenda as the Norwegian Prime Minister passed through Cape Town on Friday.

With some countries projected to see reductions in agricultural productivity of as much as 50 percent by 2020 due to climate change, Norway is to step up development assistance to poorer countries "considerably", the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Friday. Mr Stoltenberg, was speaking to reporters at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens during a stopover on his way to evaluate a joint Norwegian-United States scientific study in Antarctica.

Because of the "tremendous challenges" posed by climate change to developing countries, which could see some countries experiencing a reduction in agricultural productivity of as much as 50 percent, Norway would be providing about US$400 million to environmental programmes this year, he said. Mr Stoltenberg said it was the rich world that had created climate change, and it is thus the rich world that must shoulder the main responsibility for solving - through adaptation and mitigation - the problems caused by changing weather patterns, he said.

Mr Stoltenberg was joined at the press conference at the Botanical Society Conservatory at South Africa's famous botanical gardens by South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk. While industrialised countries must lead the way cuts in carbon emissions, the extent of the problem is such that there also needs to be reductions in emissions by developing countries, particularly by the larger, fast-growing economies in the developing world, the ministers agreed. However, the "historical dimension" of climate change - which points to the proportionate responsibility of highly industrialised countries over past decades for greenhouse gas emissions, cannot be ignored, the minister said.

But Mr Van Schalkwyk added that the work of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown that climate change "is happening now" and will get far worse unless greenhouse gas emissions are substantially reduced. The environment minister pointed to the United States, which he said has not been engaged in the full multilateral process - in particular through its absence from the almost defunct Kyoto protocol.

Developing countries are expecting the US - which up to now has been the world's greatest emitter of greenhouse gases- to make a "quantum leap" to the point where it accepts internationally agreed and binding targets towards cuts in carbon emissions. Urging the US to take its fair share of responsibility for causing climate change, the minister said this would be his message to the world's largest economy when he participates in the US-hosted meeting of major economies on energy security and climate change at the end of January.

The minister also urged US President George Bush to signal a turning point in the US's attitude toward climate change and carbon emission reductions when he makes his State of the Union address on January 28. South Africa and the developing world expect the US to show "comparable effort" when it comes to planned carbon emission reduction targets of between 25 percent and 40 percent, Mr van Schalkwyk said.

"We will continue to put pressure on the US to do what we expect them to do [in terms of absolute reductions of greenhouse gas emissions]," the minister said. On a question regarding the responsibility for own greenhouse gas emissions by fast-growing economic powerhouse China - which is estimated to be building at least one power station each week - Mr Van Schalkwyk said it has been less difficult for the global community to get China to participate in multilateral discussions on greenhouse gas reductions than it was to get the US involved.

The IPCC says that the world has seen a 70 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 1970 to 2004, with a further increase ranging from 25 percent to 90 percent projected the 2030, relative to the levels at the end of the 20th century. Scientific research has shown that South Africa and the continent as a whole will become much drier, with major implications for maize production, which is "not good news for a developing country", with Africa in particular dependent upon maize as a staple food, he said.

Earlier, Mr Stoltenberg, citing a well-known and well-received report on the economics of climate change by British economist Nicholas Stern released recently, warned that it was the world's poorest countries that stood to be hardest hit by climate change. The more than 40 percent of Africa's population who live in poverty - and who dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods - would face enormous challenges related to famine and infectious diseases, Mr Stoltenberg said. Key findings from the IPCC's fourth assessment report show that about 200 million Africans - a quarter of the continent's population - are at risk of water stress, while the spread of the malaria zone is expected to include South Africa by the end of the century. And the ice cap on Mount Kilimanjaro - the tallest peak in Africa - could disappear by 2020, Mr Stoltenberg warned.

The IPCC report also shows that this century, global temperatures are expected to exceed the rise observed in the last century, with Africa projected to see temperatures increasing by between three percent and four percent compared with the period from 1980 to 1999. While less warming will be seen in equatorial and coastal regions, dramatic rises in temperature are expected between 2070 and 2099: up to nine degrees centigrade for north Africa in the June to august months, while southern Africa would see rises of seven degrees from September to November in the closing decades of the 21st century.

The impacts of these changes are far-reaching, with wheat production is likely to disappear in Africa by 2080, says the IPCC report, while southern Africa would experience "notable" reductions in maize production. But action against deforestation and people should not lose faith in the human capacity for action. Norway itself announced at the recent key multilateral meeting on developing a post-Kyoto agreement held in Bali that it would be spending about US$500 million each year to prevent deforestation. Preventing the release of carbon dioxide from deforestation would go a long way toward mitigation of climate change, and combined with modern carbon capture and storage methods being developed - technology for which Norway is developing in earnest - this could reduce emissions drastically.

The Norwegian prime minister pointed to the huge potential for climate change mitigation through the capture of carbon emissions from power stations and large industrial sites, combined with efforts against deforestation. By some estimates, deforestation and industrial emissions account for almost half of total emissions, Mr Stoltenberg said. Another key weapon against climate change is the Clean Development Mechanism developed under the Kyoto Protocol, which allows projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to sustainable development to earn saleable credits, with each credit equivalent to a ton of carbon dioxide. Pointing out that there are more than 860 registered CDM projects in 49 developing countries, with another 2000 projects in the pipeline, Mr van Schalkwyk said this needs to be scaled up further to ensure that a greater number of these projects take place in Africa. Following the Bali conference, where a roadmap was developed for negotiations to steer the world into a post-Kyoto regime on climate change (the Protocol expires in 2012), intensive multilateral negotiations are expected in the lead up to a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009. Details of a more effective and inclusive climate change regime are expected by the Copenhagen conference in 2009, Mr Van Schalkwyk indicated, with South Africa and developing country peers having committed itself to doing much more to combat climate change.

And strong leadership is expected from South Africa, which itself is one of the larger emitters while also bearing the historical burden of industrialised countries' emissions, in the run-up to the the 2009 all-important conference, by several indications. "South Africa," Mr Stoltenberg said on Friday, "is going to play a key role if we are to reach an agreement in Copenhagen."


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