Climate change beef over ‘pork-barrel politics’

Richard Calland (“Planning needed to avoid climate change COP-out in Durban“, November 19) raises questions about South Africa’s preparations for hosting the 17th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations (COP17) climate change negotiations and is pessimistic about the likely outcome.

He suggests the selection of Durban as the host city has “a whiff of pork-barrel politics” about it but does not provide any justification for this.

In fact the department of environmental affairs conducted a thorough evaluation based on the requirements of the UN, taking into account the most functional venue and the efficiency with which a UN precinct can be established.

The cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg and the eThekwini municipality [Durban] were invited to submit proposals. All three did and the final city was chosen on the basis of a thorough technical evaluation.

As Calland mentions, Durban does have an excellent International Convention Centre. Not only is Durban a beautiful city with excellent convention facilities, it is also a leading city in South Africa in terms of responding to climate change.

Among other initiatives, the eThekwini municipality is pioneering the application of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) financing to waste-to-energy projects at the Mariannhill, La Mercy and Busasa Road landfills.

CDM, established by the Kyoto Protocol, is a mechanism for facilitating investment from developed countries in clean ­development projects in the ­developing world.

The eThekwini municipality is seeking to position Durban as the sustainable energy manufacturing hub for the Southern African Development Community region. It therefore seems an excellent choice for hosting the next round of climate negotiations.

Putting plans in place
The negotiations, recently concluded in Cancún, are not only about achieving globally binding mitigation targets. They are also about putting in place the finance, technology and skills-transfer mechanisms required to establish a low-carbon growth path for development.

Thus it is of great significance that COP17 is taking place in Africa. Although less true of South Africa’s carbon-intensive economy, Africa as a continent has contributed least to climate change but stands to suffer most from its effects. Building resilience to climate change is a critical developmental challenge for this continent.

The South African team is widely acknowledged as playing a leading role in these complex negotiations, so it is more than up to the challenge of pulling together the Durban event. The relationships we have been carefully building will stand us in good stead in the coming year.

Also, the contribution of the country’s scientists to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s work is an indication of the depth of knowledge and ­experience South Africa has built up in this area.

In terms of South Africa’s preparation and capacity to lead the process, a dedicated Interministerial Committee on Climate Change has existed for some time and will coordinate all aspects relating to climate change and the hosting of COP17. This will involve the collective resources of the entire machinery of government.

The Cabinet has just released for public comment a green paper on a national climate change response policy and the department of environmental affairs is about to engage in an intensive public consultation process to inform the drafting of the Climate Change White Paper. This will involve workshops in each ­province and national sectoral ­consultations.

Calland is correct that expectations for COP17 in Durban are already higher than they were for COP16 in Cancún. A key lesson from Copenhagen is the need for a transparent and credible process that is respectful of the UN’s multilateral process and that is capable of hearing multiple concerns if a viable agreement is ultimately to be brokered.

South Africa’s wealth of experience in hosting complex international events, including the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, stands us in good stead to lead this negotiation to a successful conclusion.

Joanne Yawitch is deputy director general: environmental quality and protection in the department of environmental affairs.

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