Hot water for the Twalas, hot debate at Copenhagen


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The shopping list includes wind farms, seawalls and even real estate — new homelands for flooded-out islanders. And poor countries want to present the bill to the rich at next week’s climate talks in Copenhagen.

How many billions of dollars it will all cost and who will pay will be sharply debated when negotiators from 192 nations meet in the Danish capital Dec. 7-18 to try to draft a new agreement to combat global warming.

The poor say they need help from countries that grew rich off polluting industries, to buy the clean technology required to grow their economies without adding to greenhouse emissions, and to cope with the droughts, floods and other disruptions associated with global warming.

An example of what they’re looking for sits balanced on the tin roof of a tiny brick house north of Johannesburg, a solar water heater consisting of tubes attached to a white plastic tank.

When the Twala family moved from a one-room shack in a nearby squatter camp to the government-built house two years ago, their new home had a toilet in the bathroom, a sink in the kitchen and few other amenities. Still, said Samantha Twala, 26, a Johannesburg office assistant, “We were starting a new life.”

Twala said she, her two sisters and her mother used to boil water in an electric kettle for baths — two kettles-full each. Her mother, a maid, thought about buying an electric water heater and tank. But besides the initial expense, that would have added to monthly electricity bills of 80 rand (about $10) that the family already found difficult to pay.

Then, as part of a city project to install 600 solar water heaters in the Twalas’ neighborhood, a test unit was put on their roof this year. Their electricity bills have dropped by half.

Other rooftops await. South Africa announced in November it was receiving $500 million from the Clean Technology Fund, created this year with pledges from Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden and the United States. It plans to use most of that money to convert a half-million households from electric to solar water heaters, and to build a solar power plant and a wind farm.

The 600 heaters being installed in Twala’s neighborhood, like the houses, won’t cost poor families anything.

Since apartheid ended in 1994, the African National Congress-led government has built more than 2 million homes for impoverished blacks whose needs had been ignored by white rulers. But millions more remain in inadequate housing, growing impatient not just for shelter, but for other basic services.

“While we insist on the right to develop, we will do everything in our power to achieve our goals in the most sustainable manner possible,” Buyelwa Sonjica, South Africa’s environment minister, told reporters at a briefing on South Africa’s hopes for the Copenhagen conference.

This country of nearly 50 million is rich in coal, from which it generates 80 percent of its energy, which Sonjica called “dirty, but cheaper.” Switching to renewable energy here and in the rest of the developing world, and dealing with the effects of climate change, won’t be cheap. Sonjica puts the global price at $400 billion annually.

A World Bank study this year estimated the cost of just one aspect — coping with lower farm yields and greater health risks because of drought and flooding — at between $75 billion and $100 billion a year.

It’s easy to see how the price tag could balloon.

President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, for example, has said he may need money to move his entire population if his low-lying Indian Ocean island nation is submerged as a result of seas rising from global warming.

In October, to dramatize the problem, Nasheed held a cabinet meeting under water in a lagoon at which the participants wore scuba gear and communicated by hand signals.

Nasheed hasn’t put a price tag on an exodus and says it’s only a worst-case scenario. His government, meanwhile, is hoping to go “carbon-neutral,” proposing a $200 million wind project north of its capital to supply 40 percent of its electricity, and a $10 million solar-panel project.

In Sri Lanka, which grows tea, rice and rubber, officials say money is needed for studies to determine which crops would respond well to higher temperatures, and to adopt proper farming techniques.

That kind of “capacity building” — surveying, planning, training — would be a key component of a $10-billion-a-year financing package that U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer has suggested for Copenhagen, as a three-year “prompt start.”

European leaders have generally endorsed that plan. Beyond that, the European Commission last month proposed Europe contribute between 2 billion and 15 billion euros ($3 billion and $22.5 billion) a year starting in 2020 to help developing countries combat global warming.

The U.S. says it too will help developing nations on climate. It hasn’t set out a figure for the Copenhagen talks, but legislation appropriating some $1.2 billion in climate-related aid is making its way through the U.S. Congress.

South African Kumi Naidoo, new head of the international group Greenpeace, said rich governments’ bailouts of banks and finance companies in the past year, to stave off a global depression, show that money can be raised if there is political will. Greenpeace says a walkout by developing nations is possible at Copenhagen if rich ones don’t meet demands to both cut their greenhouse emissions and aid poor nations.

“The question of resources is fundamental,” Naidoo told The Associated Press. “I know we will not have a deal at Copenhagen if rich countries do not put at least a $100 billion a year on the table.”