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Nairobi, Kenya, 6 Nov 06

Crucial international negotiations on climate started in Nairobi on Monday with new calls to help poorer countries cope better with the problems created by climate change ranging from poor crop yields to natural disasters.

Key speakers at the official opening ceremony of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) highlighted the dire situation facing the world as a result of the changes. They made calls for urgent action.

Known as the Twelfth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, officials said the 10-day meeting was slated to draw some 6,000 participants.

UNFCCC borne out of the Rio de Janeiro 1992 Earth Summit, sets out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid interference with the climate system.

The Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon by delegates meeting in the Japanese city of the same name, commits developed countries and countries in the so-called transition of Eastern Europe to achieve emissions reduction targets.

Kenyan Vice-President Moody Awori set the ball rolling when he put a strong case for the developing world, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa which he said were the hardest hit by climate change. “The agricultural sector which many of these countries rely on is the hardest hit because the large populations living there rely on agriculture and which is affected,” he said.

Mr. Awori said financial resources and technological transfers from the developed to the developing countries were key steps in addressing climatic change. “We must therefore resolve to protect our resources otherwise our people will continue to languish in poverty,” he said.

In her speech, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka said her agency was following with keen interest the developments in climate change saying that they greatly impacted on human settlements.
Mrs. Tibaijuka said that UN-HABITAT was concerned with the plight of the poor in urban settlements who normally bore the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change.  “When tsunami came, the hardest hit were slum dwellers. These are the people most affected by the effects of climate change,” she said.

The meeting comes in the wake of a new report saying that African countries were poised to suffer the most from the consequences of climatic change. The report on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation in Africa, released by UNFCCC, was based on data from a range of bodies including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It indicates that the continent’s vulnerability to climate change is even more acute than had previously been supposed.

It is estimated, for example, that 30 percent of Africa’s coastal infrastructure could be inundated including coastal settlements in the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, the Gambia and Egypt. Between 25 per cent and over 40 per cent of species’ habitats in Africa could be lost by 2085.

Cereal crop yields will decline by up to five per cent by the 2080s with subsistence crops—like sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia; maize in Ghana, millet in Sudan and groundnuts in the Gambia—also suffering climate-linked falls.

Kenya’s Environment Minister, Professor Kivutha Kibwana, said the effects of climate change on economic activities could equal the devastations brought about by the two Great Wars of the last century.

“Both developed and developing countries have a stake in addressing the challenge of climatic change,” he said.

UNFCC Executive Secretary, Mr. Yvo de Boer, rallied the delegates around Kenya’s national motto, harambee which he said  was apt in surmounting the challenge of climate change. “Harambee means pulling together and this is very apt for the world as we address this problem,” he said.

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