Climate Change Eschatology Confusing for Poor Nations

Published on 15th December 2009

"Please understand, I need a chair that is why I am cutting you down;" a West African speaks to a tree before cutting it down. "I was hungry, that is why I speared you for a meal;" the San and Khoi Khoi of Southern Africa have to tell a hunted carcass. For Africans, sensitivity to environmental conservation was inbuilt in the indigenous economic systems to an extent that it also covered religion. The African capitalist was therefore required to adhere to societal norms in exploiting natural resources.Is the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP 15) an indicator that the World is ready to adapt African indigenous style of managing resources? 

COP 15 meeting in progress        Photo courtesy
The climate change debate has mutated from focus on global warming, changes in weather patterns to "earth will melt" away. Poor countries might want to exploit the climate change debate to seek reparations from wealthy nations that have for over four centuries plundered the world's natural resources at will. Wealthy nations on the other hand might exploit this debate to engage in "environmental colonialism;" that is, restrict poor and emerging economies from industrializing at their own pace.  

Historians point out that the decline of the Roman Empire after nearly 800 years of its existence might have fueled the end of the world doctrine that was adapted by Christianity. Where Romans loved everything merry on earth, Christianity taught denial of things worldly; where Romans focused on emperors and kings of kings, Christianity offered the ultimate king - God. It is observed that back then, climatic changes increased ethnic community migrations that put pressure on Rome. The Rome of today (Wealthy nations) too must be getting jittery of the consequences of climate change that might push the poor bottom billion to want to scale up the citadel walls of capitalism.   

Wealthy nations (Roman Empire today) can see their monuments being brought down in most international events. "Away with WTO!": "Keep oil in the soil!": "Stop cutting down forests in Congo and Gabon!" It is a cry against a skewed global market system that while preaching openness has relegated majority of nations to primary good production. This was aptly captured by sentiments expressed by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when he said: "There's a big risk that we will have conflicting views between developed and developing countries. And there is always a risk of failure here."  

The Climate Change debate is not addressing challenges and systems that spawn poverty globally; it is instead focusing on competition between emerging and developed economies. The Chinese are apprehensive that the West wants to use climate change issues to paint it as modern day "environmental religious" heretic. "I know people will say if there is no deal that China is to blame. This is a trick played by the developed countries. They have to look at their own position and can't use China as an excuse." China's Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei is quoted in several media outlets. Activists on the other hand are keen on keeping natural resources away from "greedy" capitalists!   

The COP 15 comes at a time when capitalism as an economic system is facing serious credibility challenges due to the global economic recession. Poverty and conflict over resources is on the increase. Poor nations are confused; should they push for increased state control of the economy or go the liberalization way?  The entry of China as a master manager of state controlled enterprises, and now the COP 15 which will literally push governments to penetrate private enterprises is in itself a threat to private innovators.  Africa must chart its own course.   

For resource rich Africa, the Copenhagen meeting if not well debated, might provide yet another excuse for wealthy nations to seek to micro manage mineral exploitation on the continent. It is therefore crucial that the continent's experts and leadership focus on judicious parameters for exploitation, and use of technology to ensure clean usage of the same. Climate change eschatology through the fear of "melting earth" or "end of the world" should not be used to render a resource rich continent poor at the stroke of the pen simply because world powers are at each others throats over resources. On the other hand, systems ought to be put in place to ensure that successful corporations do not overrun governments of a given country.   

By James Shikwati

Director, Inter Region Economic Network.

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