Pressure mounts as climate talks draw near

Thursday, September 17, 2009

With only a few weeks left before almost 100 countries gather in Copenhagen for yet another round of talks on climate change, pressure is mounting for both the developed and developing nations to change their behaviour, writes Chris Bathembu.

While Africa is not the major culprit of greenhouse emissions, recent events indicate the continent is likely to be affected heavily by global warming. Signs of drought and disastrous floods are already starting to become a reality in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coastal area.

The Copenhagen talks are seen as a crucial step in reaching an agreement on the international climate change regime beyond 2012. This is when the present agreements come to an end.

But for the developing nations, the issue of economic growth and development appears to supersede the commitment to reduce greenhouse gases. South Africa this week said it was not prepared to agree on any targets that would undermine the country's growth plans.

While the African Union has agreed to send a single delegation to represent the continent in the talks, its no secret that countries will to a certain degree be fighting for their individual interests.

Buyelwa Sonjica, the Environmental Affairs Minister, said on Tuesday that while South Africa was committed to doing its fair share to save planet Earth, developed nations like the United States may have to take a lead role for others to come on board.

Sonjica conceded that if a deal was going to compromise the country's national interest it would not be supported by the South African delegation.

South Africa is said to be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Africa due to the country's heavy reliance on coal electricity. Around 1.9 percent of what Africa contributes to emissions comes from South Africa.

However, Sonjica maintains that developing nations were not committed to targets of reducing emissions.

"While all of us have to take responsibility in terms of combating the effect of climate change, our responsibilities are different as do our capabilities," said Sonjica. When major economies like the US and the United Kingdom were still labeled developing nations, the current developing nations were not benefiting.

"So targets are not prescribed for developing countries, targets are prescribed for developed nations in accordance with the science report and other factors," she said.

According to Sonjica, South Africa is working towards a strategic policy framework in which the country's emissions will peak between 2020 and 2025, stabilise for a decade, before declining in absolute terms towards mid-century.

She agreed that South Africa's reliance on coal as a major source of energy remains a thorny issue that needs to be attended to.

"We know that we are a culprit in terms of our contributions to emissions because more than 80 percent of our electricity is generated from coal," Sonjica said, adding that without money and the necessary technical support, South Africa will find it difficult to reduce its emission.

"This must also be understood in the proper context that South Africa is a developing nation that has both social and economic development challenges...we have a sizable number of our people without energy so you have to consider all those issues before you say you can move away from coal completely."

Sonjica will lead an inter-ministerial committee that will formulate a national programme for climate change and South Africa's final mandate to the Copenhagen talks.