South Africa’s position on climate change ahead of UNFCCC COP 21 Summit

Thursday, November 12, 2015

By President Jacob Zuma

The Twenty-First Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) takes place in Paris at the end of November through to mid-December.

This is an historic opportunity for the international community to respond to the challenge of climate change collectively and with a renewed sense of urgency by adopting an agreement with supporting decisions under the Convention that will contain legal obligations for all countries to take actions to address climate change. This agreement has to set the world on a trajectory to keep the increase in average global temperature since the start of the industrial era to below two degrees Centigrade.  

For South Africa, a fair and ambitious agreement will mark the successful conclusion of a mandate agreed to by consensus at the Durban conference in 2011 to enhance implementation of the existing Convention. Having launched the negotiations that will conclude this year, South Africa has a special interest in doing all that it can to ensure the success of the Paris COP and is providing its full support to the incoming French Presidency.

The Paris Agreement needs to be as ambitious as possible and to address the environmental challenge, whilst protecting the development space of developing countries. It is in our national interest to have a legal agreement that is fair, strengthens the multilateral rule of law, provides predictability and allows us to respond more effectively to our pressing socio-economic challenges and acute vulnerability to climate change.

As the current Chair of the Group of 77 and China and an active member of the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN) and Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) Group, South Africa also has the special responsibility of advancing the collective and shared interests of developing countries in the negotiations for the Paris Agreement. This necessitates defending the legal rights of developing countries under the Convention, including to receive the support they require to make the transition to a low carbon economy and to adapt to the reality of a climate that is already changing and the loss and damage that is associated with this. It is also a fundamental principle of the Convention that our actions must be based on equity and differentiation of action and support, given different capacities and national circumstances and different responsibilities for causing climate change.

The provision of financial resources, technology transfer and development and capacity building, is central to the Paris Agreement. The reality is that without adequate, predictable and sustainable means of implementation, it will be impossible to reach our agreed temperature target. This is because key mitigation potential is in developing countries, such as South Africa, and these countries are not able to realise this potential on their own.

We also have to be guided in Paris by the latest science on climate change. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that each of the past three decades has been successively warmer than the preceding decades and exceed levels reached at the height of the industrial revolution. The evidence of accelerating global warming and its devastating impacts are clear for all to see.

It is in this context of the need to urgently address the global problem of climate change that South Africa has submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC Secretariat well ahead of the Paris conference. The level of ambition contained in our INDC is an affirmation of the seriousness of our commitment as government to deal with climate change.

The INDC builds on a strong basis of existing national policies and actions, given that as an African and developing country, climate change is not a new issue for us. Our society has long since been forced to adapt to the reality of a changing climate and increasingly frequent extreme weather events that are the result of emissions of greenhouse gases generated over centuries, predominantly by developed countries.

The impacts of a changing climate affect nearly every sector of our economic and social development, governance, as well as the delivery of services to our people – from healthcare to agriculture, to infrastructure and human settlements, to defense, water and sanitation. Effectively managing this challenge requires a national response that builds and sustains South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience as well as our emergency response capacity.

The South African INDC therefore sets out our national adaptation and mitigation plans and emission reduction targets and indicates the financial and investment requirements. It is the product of an extensive nationwide public participatory process, within the short time period provided by the United Nations. Over the past four months government held a series of provincial conferences, engagements and stakeholder workshops with business, labour, academia, civil society groupings and all three spheres of government. The result, in our view, is an INDC that is ambitious, fair and pro-development. It takes into account South Africa’s triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment, but yet still represents a progression beyond the voluntary pledge we announced at the Copenhagen COP in 2009.

The UNFCCC Secretariat has just released a synthesis report on the aggregate impact of all the INDCs received ahead of Paris and civil society groups have produced their own independent and impressive scientific analytical works on the INDCs. These studies clearly show that we are not on track to meeting the less than two degree goal and that there is a serious disparity between the ambitious plans submitted by developing countries and the far less ambitious plans from developed countries. These studies also show that for the Paris Agreement to be effective and equitable, it must unlock substantial public finance for mitigation, both to fulfil developed countries’ fair share and to help unlock greater ambition in developing countries.

Our message ahead of Paris is that climate change is a global problem, requiring a global solution, which can only be effectively addressed multilaterally, under the broad based legitimacy of the UNFCCC and with all Parties contributing their fair share. –

*Issued by the Presidency

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