Government negotiators have called in former environment minister Valli Moosa in a desperate bid to stave off a stalemate at the COP17 climate change conference.
His brief is to try to prevent a stand-off between the world’s worst polluting nations that could scupper any chance of a global agreement being signed at the conference in Durban at the end of the month.
Observers this week said India’s refusal to commit itself to legally binding carbon emission cuts was giving the United States an excuse to play hard ball. India accounted for 6.2% of global carbon emissions last year, the US for 16.4%.
China, responsible for 24.6% of the world’s emissions, was also reluctant to take on binding cuts but had a more flexible approach, they said.
“India’s hard line is causing a stumbling block. India and China are saying they won’t move, so the US is also saying it won’t move. The three countries are holding things up,” said an observer with an insight into formal negotiations who did not want to be named.
Moosa was working on political solutions outside the formal negotiations in an attempt to shift India’s position, another insider said.
After his stint as environment and tourism minister from 1999 to 2004, Moosa went on to expand his green network as a member of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment and the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environment Ministers Forum.
He served as president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and is currently chairperson of the board of the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa.
He was a keynote speaker at the 2009 Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, which was moderated by one of India’s most outspoken opponents of legally binding cuts, former environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh, who is now a senior fellow at the Energy Research Institute.
Until July, when India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh was redeployed, India had weakened its stand against cuts, leading to optimism about an outcome in Durban that would be legally binding for both developed and developing nations. But the new minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, took a tough line against cuts, insisting India would rely on voluntary actions to reduce its emissions.
In September, she said India had voluntarily done “far more than developed countries” to cut emissions and wanted to know from developed nations about their efforts “before we talk about any other legally binding commitment”.
“Countries should avoid using environment concerns to further their economic interests. One should not pass on green protectionism — deliberate use of environmental policy to discriminate against foreign commercial interests — in the name of green economy,” she told the Indo-Asian News Service in October.
Her ministry placed three contentious issues — unilateral trade measures, intellectual property rights and equitable access to sustainable development — on the provisional agenda of COP17.
Ghosh and her other high-level supporters also took a hard line on climate finance this week, in response to the announcement that the European Union had earmarked $5.5-billion for developing countries.
“There is no new money coming from rich countries. They have been repackaging existing funds to help developing countries adapt to climate change and curb emissions,” Ghosh told the news service.
Attempts by the Mail & Guardian to contact Natarajan’s ministry were unsuccessful.
Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation, said Moosa was acting as an adviser and was not part of the formal negotiations.
“He is part of the incoming COP president’s [international relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s] team as an adviser on climate change.”
India was a member of the Basic (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) alliance of developing countries, which had held “three successful meetings” in the build-up to Durban, Monyela said.
After the last meeting, at the beginning of November, they issued a joint communiqué calling for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, with developed nations undertaking quantified emission cuts.
Developing nations would “implement enhanced mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development and enabled and supported by finance, technology and capacity building”, it said.
Moosa was reluctant to talk about his role in advising the minister on the Indian impasse.
“I am always ready to help out. I am available to help other countries too,” he said.
Blessing Manale, COP17 spokesperson for the department of environmental affairs, said Moosa had been “broadly advising the South African delegation on its listening campaign.
“He has a network of influential personalities in business, civil society and governments,” Manale said.
EU funds raise hopes — and suspicions
Milestones on the Road to Durban this week included:
- European Union finance ministers signed for more than $5.5-billion in short-term funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change and curb emissions.
The commitment in the midst of the eurozone crisis provided a glimmer of hope that environmental issues had not been knocked off the agenda, said non-governmental organisations, but they voiced concerns that the funds had been re-allocated from elsewhere.
“On first sight, European governments have done well in meeting their commitments to help poor countries cope with the immediate impact of climate change. But they have done this mainly by re-labelling development aid as climate finance,” said Lies Craeynest, Oxfam’s EU climate-change policy adviser.
The money is part of a pledge to provide $30-billion between 2010 and 2012 to developing nations. Known as “fast-start finance”, it was promised at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit and will be one of the hot topics at the COP17 climate change conference.
- The SA Agulhas, South Africa’s polar research and supply vessel, set off from Cape Town on a 10-day voyage to Durban. On board are scientists, academics, students and journalists sharing ideas about climate change and marine ecosystems.
For the past three decades, the SA Agulhas has been used for scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Oceans. By the time COP17 draws to a close, the ship will have left Durban and will be on its last voyage to Antarctica, to be replaced by a new ship in December.
- South Africa’s wine industry could be hit hard by plans by developed nations to introduce border taxes on imports of carbon-intensive goods from developing countries.
The proposal, to be presented at COP17, is opposed by the Brics alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). It could also affect gold, platinum, iron and steel exports to European countries.
Wine exports would have to be bottled in the United Kingdom in standard green bottles.
“This could have a serious impact on the packaging industry and the upstream industry in the Western Cape,” said department of trade and industry chief director Brendan Vickers. “We smell a little bit of protectionism here.”
About 30% of South Africa’s trade was with the EU, he said, so the impact of the proposed taxes would be “significant”.
- The treasury has begun setting up a Renewable Energy Fund to channel international donor and commercial funding to support South Africa’s renewable energy roll-out.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was quoted as saying that R800-million had been set aside for the fund and the government was seeking private partners to manage it.
South Africa aims to install the capacity to generate 17 800MW of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The Cabinet recently approved the South African Renewables Initiative, which will be launched at COP17 and will grow the green industry by financing the large-scale generation of renewable energy.
The government also signed a $250-million loan agreement with the World Bank for the development of wind and solar power by Eskom. The package will help to finance a 100MW concentrating solar power plant in Upington and a 100MW wind-power project in the Western Cape.
- The International Energy Agency estimated that global demand for energy would rise by a third by 2035, with much of the demand fuelled by rapidly growing Asian nations.
Current clean energy technologies were insufficient to meet carbon reduction targets so improving energy efficiency should be the top priority, it said.
The Paris-based agency represents the world’s biggest oil consumers and advises 28 industrialised nations.
Presenting its third annual World Energy Outlook report, its chief economist, Fatih Birol, said governments must slash subsidies for fossil fuels and push harder to increase energy efficiency.
If energy consumption trends continued, Birol said, international agreement to cap temperatures at 2°C above pre-industrial levels would not be achieved and serious climate disruption could be triggered. “I am very worried. If we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum for safety. The door will be closed forever,” he said.
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