July 8, 2009 / 11:27 AM / 10 years ago

INTERVIEW-Don't forget Africa at G8 and Copenhagen-Meles

* G20 pledge of $50 billion less than half-fulfilled

* $40 billion needed annually in environmental compensation

By Andrew Cawthorne and Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, July 8 (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi headed to the G8 summit in Italy on Wednesday to remind rich nations of the disproportionate impact on Africa of the world economic crisis and global warming.

"The key message for us is to ask the G8 to live up to their commitments," said Meles, who has become something of a spokesman for Africa and is often invited to attend global meetings on the continent’s behalf.

In an interview with Reuters shortly before flying to Italy, Meles said follow-through on financial pledges for Africa from the G20 summit earlier this year was "much, much better" than in the past, but still less than half.

"The promise was that something like $50 billion dollars would be made available to poorer countries. Slightly more than $20 billion of that is on hand. The rest needs to be fulfilled," he said.

Meles, a 54-year-old former rebel leader and self-taught economics expert, said development on the world’s poorest continent had been set back by up to a decade by the global crisis. It has hit investment, aid and remittance inflows, as well as weakening markets for Africa’s commodities.

With rich nations worried about their own economies, one way to make funds available to Africa would be to redirect unused Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) granted by the International Monetary Fund to member nations, Meles said.

"There are resources that could be tapped into without much commitment from the donor countries," he said.

"Those countries that have been given a lot of money in the form of new SDRs by the IMF could, if the bureaucratic arrangements are made, unlend (return) this money to some multilateral institution which could then direct it to Africa."


The Ethiopian leader said Africa’s problems were being compounded by global warming — which was worst-felt in Africa — and it was essential for the continent’s voice to be heard at environment talks in Copenhagen in December.

An African Union (AU) committee, which Ethiopia is on, has produced a detailed pre-Copenhagen position paper, though it still needs streamlining, Meles said.

"The key thing for me is that Africa be compensated for the damage caused by global warming," he said

"Many institutions have tried to quantify that and they have come up with different figures. The sort of median figure would be in the range of $40 billion a year."

Africa should also be given financial resources to protect existing forests, and replace old ones, Meles said.

"In particular, the Congo basin is a major carbon sink. If we lose that, everybody loses. So we need to keep it alive and that requires assistance from those who have the resources."

The obvious priority, however, was global consensus on reducing emissions, he said.

"None of this would have any meaning if global warming continues to escalate. So putting a stop to global warming beyond the inevitable roughly two degrees Celsius. That is the basis for everything," Meles said.

The prime minister said the global economic crisis was nearly hitting the bottom, and recovery would probably be "slow and timid".

"Even if the recovery were to be timid, the price of some commodities, particularly oil, is likely to go up very significantly," he said.

"As you know, when oil prices go up, African economies begin to shake. The last time that happened in the late 70s is when the whole of the continent entered into a very protracted crisis that it has not yet recovered from."

For interview on Ethiopian economy, click on [ID:nL8586492]

For Ethiopian economy FACTBOX, click on [ID:nL8442963]

(Editing by Barry Malone)

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