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Global: The numbers game in Copenhagen

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COPENHAGEN, 18 December 2009 (IRIN) - A swarm of numbers has been buzzing around at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen: the cost of adaptation, casualties from climate-related disasters, percentage cut in greenhouse gas emissions, whether to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Celsius, the amount countries are already losing to erratic weather patterns.

Adaptation cost numbers

US President Barack Obama swept in with more, even bigger numbers as the conference drew to an end on 19 December, underlining that the offer suggested by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to mobilize long-term finance of US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change was conditional.

Obama said the offer would be on the table if all major economies would also take decisive action to reduce harmful emissions.

Sudanese ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping, head of the developing countries bloc at the talks, maintained that rich countries needed to commit one percent of their gross domestic product (GDP), or $400 billion to $500 billion, per year.

Bangladesh's minister of environment, Hasan Mahmud Khondoker, announced that rich countries would have to commit 1.5 percent of their GDP to the Adaptation Fund to help vulnerable countries like theirs.

Ghana's Environment Minister, Sherry Ayittey, told IRIN that they would accept the offer by rich countries to provide $10 billion a year in the short term as "fast-track" money for the next three years, provided it was public money and not sourced from unpredictable markets.

The impact numbers

While various numbers and percentages to fund adaption for vulnerable countries were being floated, several heads of state presented delegates with figures and statistics illustrating how climate change could devastate food security and their economies.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung of Vietnam pointed out that the Red River and Mekong River deltas produced one-fifth of the world's rice exports, providing food not only for 86 million Vietnamese but also for hundreds of millions of people elsewhere.

"If the sea level rises one metre, 38 percent of the deltas and coastal area of Vietnam will be submerged, wreaking havoc in people's lives, society, and the food security of Vietnam and the world," he warned.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo said her country was one of the top 12 at greatest risk from climate change, according to a World Bank study. Two recent typhoons, which affected more than nine million people and killed at least 900, had cost the country 2.7 percent of its GDP. "Our major food regions lost eight to 10 percent of their GDP because over 600,000 hectares of farmland was destroyed."

Namibia's Prime Minister, Nahas Angula, pointed out that the "worst ever recorded floods" in 2009 had cost his country 1.1 percent of its GDP.

And Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe also had his turn. He told the conference that "illegal sanctions, unilaterally imposed" on his country by "the West" meant it had only been able to draw "a mere one million United States dollars in the last three years" from the Global Environment Facility, the financial mechanism of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which provides funds for various climate change-impact related projects.

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