All systems go for COP 17 - govt

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pretoria - With just a few months left before the UN climate change summit in Durban, the South African government has moved to quell scepticism around the state of preparedness for the event, with Cabinet ministers on Tuesday saying the country was in fact ahead.

Speaking after an Inter-Ministerial Committee meeting in Tshwane, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, who will be leading the country's delegation to the talks, said government had done a lot of work to date to prepare for the world's biggest climate talks.

South Africa is party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and is scheduled to host the climate summit from 28 November to 9 December this year.

After both the Copenhagen and Cancun discussions failed to produce a legally binding climate treaty, delegates to the Durban talks are under immense pressure to produce some kind of deal that will be acceptable to both rich and developing nations.

Added to this challenge is the fact that next year marks the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol, which binds nations to measurable mitigation and adaptation plans.

On Tuesday, Molewa acknowledged that a lot of work was needed to ensure successful talks in December.

"We have outlined our preparations and we think we are on course and we don't want South Africa to be the death of the Kyoto Protocol, but we need an African voice to achieve all of this," she said.

She said preparations in South Africa for the conference included the finalisation of a lobbying document, which is expected to be taken to Cabinet by October. The document will guide negotiators to ensure representation of developing nations led by Africa as continent.

There will also be a series of public outreach programmes that aim at creating awareness among South Africans on issues of global warming.

"If there's anything we can bestow as a legacy to the people of South Africa beyond this conference is the knowledge. We made a call in April for a South African team to lead the talks towards the conference and we can say that we have received a lot of interest from government departments who are willing to make this an African COP 17," said Molewa.

Climate change was one of the greatest threats facing the world and it was important for Durban to produce a "balanced agreement". South Africa was committed to support a common African deal and prepared to speak with one voice, she added.

The State recognised that South Africa was still a developing nation and as it deals with carbon emissions, it needed to still address development needs to deal with poverty and unemployment.

South Africa plans to cut emission by 34% by 2020 through the introduction of alternative energy sources.

"We have identified all sectors that will have to come on board ... our solar energy is in place and on a massive scale, wind energy is rolling out and we are on course," said Molewa.

International Relations Minister and incoming COP President, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said in its preparations for the event, South Africa had been working very closely with Mexico, which is the current President.

"The recent expression of unease with progress in the media has become part and parcel of the larger negotiating environment and happened also with previous COPs held in various parts of the world," she said.

Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa had "every intention" to use all opportunities to advance the COP 17 process to ensure that Durban was a success.

But negotiators could not "profess" as to what would be the outcome on 9 December.

"What we can commit to is that the conference should be transparent and balanced so that we can have a satisfying outcome. We are continuing to listen and we are continuing to engage," said the minister.

David Brown, CEO at Impala Group, said the business sector and captains of industry were ready to support South Africa's response to climate change.

"We want to give our assurance here today that we will be behind the government every step of the way... We will do this by participating in all discussions as Team South Africa to ensure a proactive business mitigation and adaptation strategy and the strategy of COP 17," Brown said.

He is among the group of 40 CEOs represented in the CEOs Forum, a structure that will be representing industry leaders in the talks.