South Africa prepares for COP17 in Durban

By Wanjohi Kabukuru – (Johannesburg 18th October 2011) After hosting a successful World Cup last year, South Africa is doing it again. This time around it will be hosting the 17 Conference of Parties (better known as COP17) in Durban, which is a follow up of Cop 15 (Copenhagen) and COP16 (Cancun). All which were based on climate change.

Edna Molewa (minister for water and environmental affairs) and Peter Conze GIZ representative South Africa and Lesotho

Edna Molewa (minister for water and environmental affairs) and Peter Conze GIZ representative South Africa and Lesotho

It is common knowledge that no tangible decisions were made in both Copenhagen and Cancun and it is expecting too much to believe Durban will be a walk in the park on climate change.

For the meeting to be hosted in South Africa is quite telling. Other than being a member of the top five emerging global economies, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), this African giant is also in the almanac of top 15 global emitters of greenhouse gases.

“There is a need for us here in Durban to ensure the decisions made in Cancun reflecting the agreements that have been made and agreed upon are operational.” Edna Molewa South African Minister water and environmental affairs says. “Every difficult decision was referred to Durban. We are expected to perform miracles here. We are confident of the parties attending Durban conference will rally them to agree on a multi lateral international agreement that is inclusive and fair.”

Edna Molewa (minister for water and environmental affairs)

Edna Molewa (minister for water and environmental affairs)

Indeed both Cancun and Copenhagen were turned by the major powers (China and USA) to be platforms where statements of intent were made but no binding decision nor concessions were signed. With such an imbroglio persisting the world is at the mercies of the Kyoto Protocol as the only instrument under international law that is binding on climate protection. Apparently the Kyoto Protocol expires next year. Should a binding decision be reached in Durban, this will be a major global diplomatic coup for South Africa in environmental diplomacy.

“We believe that we must have a strategic approach to this issue defining the steps to be taken and way forward. That way we look forward to the Durban Agreement and a regime that will recognize the development needs of all.” Says Molewa.

“Climate change is a big threat to sustainable development but it is also an opportunity for us to create prosperity, jobs and growing our economy.” Edna Molewa South African Minister for environment says.

Molewa notes that South Africa’s position stresses the importance of a legal framework on climate adaptation and the need to give room for developing nations to transition. The Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has been supporting South Africa’s ambitious goals in climate protection which are pegged on the hopes that the country will be able to reduce her emissions by 34% by the year 2020. Being a signatory to the UN Convention of Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, South Africa aims to raise her emissions reduction to 42% by the year 2025. Environmental watchers see this goal by South Africa as a tall order considering that 90% of her energy is sourced from coal.

Peter Conze who is GIZ representative for South Africa, Lesotho and SADC programmes reveals the extent of GIZ cooperation with South Africa on climate change: “We have been supporting and working very closely with the South African government in the improvement of Carbon dioxide balance and in lessening the effects of climate change. GIZ has also helped compile, coordinate consultations and finally developing the White Paper on South Africa’s National Climate Change Response Policy.”

The White Paper on South Africa’s National Climate Change Response Policy is said to be one of the key milestones achieved by South Africa in the run up to COP17. According to Molewa “South Africa now has a clear roadmap of how the nation must respond to the global challenge of climate change.” Says Molewa “This policy will guide government’s approach to climate change impacts and our transition to a climate resilient and low carbon economy premised on our commitments to sustainable development and a better life for all. It also aims to ensure that all sectors of the South African society take part in the effort to mainstream climate resilient development.”

The White paper on South African climate change response policy was approved by cabinet recently and launched early this week.

“This policy represents our commitment to adapt to climate change and contribute to the global mitigation effort. Adaptation is a poor cousin of mitigation and therefore it is important we agree on the design of the Green Climate Fund.” Molewa says. “We must be honest and realistic. The reality is that not much work has been done for Durban to reach this agreement. But we are ready to host the world this November and hopefully hammer a binding agreement.”

On the issue of hotels hiking their rates during the conference Molewa assures the world that the Department of Environment is working with 13 other governmental agencies to ensure Durban is a success. Molewa also asks environmentalists to scale down their jargon so that the climate change message can reach many.

“Climate speak needs to be demystified. People from different walks of life keep asking what is climate change? Whats the difference between climate change and weather? The bottom line is all about bread and butter.” Molewa explains.