The UAE made waves at the Copenhagen climate talks yesterday by putting its name to a joint statement calling on developed countries to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The document, which was also signed by Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Iceland, Singapore and Slovenia, is one of the strongest statements on climate change to come from an oil-producing nation.
Members of Opec, the petroleum exporters, have generally sought to downplay the issue of global warming. However, yesterday's communique took a definitive stand in what was hailed as a bold departure. "Humankind is confronted with the consequences of its past actions," the statement read. "Scientific evidence clearly shows that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions contribute significantly to global warming. The potential risks of unmitigated climate change are enormous."
The summit, which began on Monday and runs until December 18, is the last opportunity to draft a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol before it expires in 2012. However, there were doubts ahead of the meeting about whether such a deal, including much deeper, binding targets for cuts in emissions, could be reached. The six nations behind yesterday's statement maintained that the world should strive towards a common goal: limiting the rise in global temperatures.
The document spelt out what it said were the consequences of inaction: "The prospects are grim. Rising temperatures will cause major crop declines in entire regions and significant changes in the availability of water resources. "At the same time, as some areas experience major water shortages, rising sea levels will be threatening some of the world's largest cities and may even cause loss of territory and give rise to border disputes.
"Entire ecosystems, from glaciers to rainforests, could collapse, and many species would face extinction. "Storms, droughts, forest fires and floods will cause irreversible environmental degradation and desertification, affecting the food security of millions and causing massive migration flows. "Therefore, a successful agreement in Copenhagen, with deep cuts in global emissions that limit global warming to 2°C, and taking into account the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, respective resources and national circumstances, is of paramount importance."
That wording "common but differentiated responsibilities" is a recognition that developed countries bear the historic responsibility for climate change. The UAE has maintained that developing states should not be committed to obligatory emissions cuts, a position reiterated on Sunday by Dr Saad al Numeiri, one of 22 senior officials representing the UAE in Copenhagen. As an oil-producer, the UAE would suffer economically from measures to reduce the world's dependence on oil. But yesterday's statement focused instead on the need to strengthen co-operation among the international community.
"Addressing climate change presents a challenge to global governance," the statement read. "Climate change has the potential to exacerbate conflict, but at the same time, it could also foster co-operation by underlining growing global interdependence in dealing with the changing environment and related security threats. Coping with climate change could be one of the bases for creating a more co-operative world."
The document was signed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the foreign ministers of the other countries. Mari Luomi, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said the statement represented a break with tradition for the UAE. "This is a significant departure from the Opec position, which the UAE has been inadvertently supporting. It is very bold in a way," she said.
Opec, she said, has been "very vague" on what should be the maximum permissibly level of warming. The Saudi government has insisted on financial compensation for oil revenues lost due to measures to reduce the fossil fuel consumption of developed states. But yesterday's statement did not make a reference to the subject. "It very clearly recognises the priority of mitigation over the loss of oil revenue," Ms Luomi said.
"As for the paper itself, it is impossible to determine which country has provided which input. But I interpret it that the UAE is subscribing to it. ... This is completely new from a GCC state." The statement's insistence that developing nations should not bear the brunt of the cost of climate change was at odds with a leaked draft agreement prepared by Denmark and published by the British Guardian newspaper.
That document drew an angry response from many delegates of poor nations. Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan told The Guardian: "The text robs developing countries of their just and equitable and fair share of the atmospheric space. It tries to treat rich and poor countries as equal." The six-nation statement in full