/ 2 December 2011

SA heavyweights keep the talks on track

South Africa’s COP17 delegation, said to be more than 100-strong, includes key figures drawn from the private sector for the Durban mega-event.

The delegation gathered in the city for the first time on Wednesday night for a private briefing by the environmental affairs department’s negotiating team.

According to the department’s spokesperson, Albie Modise, South Africa’s strategy for multilateral negotiations on the environment and sustainable development is “to bring together many state entities and to work across their departments”.

We caught up with Kumi Naidoo, executive director of one of the world’s most visible and vocal environmental NGOs, Greenpeace. He outlines what the organisation wants to see happen here at the negotiations in Durban.

The job of deputy director general Alf Wills, the department’s chief negotiator, will be to ensure that South Africa’s negotiating efforts cohere across the six parallel sets of talks being conducted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, each of which has many agendas. Wills is widely regarded as the best man for the job.

In addition, COP17 sees a repeat of South Africa’s long-standing practice of cherry-picking negotiating capacity from the private sector for global platforms.

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson contracted former crime reporter turned propagandist Rams Mabote to join existing international relations adviser and former education director general Duncan Hindle in lobbying for a separate subset of negotiations dealing with climate change’s impact on agriculture, and vice versa.

Mabote and Hindle helped create an African consensus on the need to discuss agriculture at COP17, but Judy Beaumont, of the presidency, will handle the liaison between the Africa group and South Africa and advance their common position in the talks.

A source at the delegation briefing said agriculture was a big issue with the Africa group, and Beaumont would have to work hard to align the African position with that of South Africa.

Said the source: “African ministers called for agriculture to be handled jointly as an adaptation and mitigation issue earlier this year. However, the South African position is that agriculture must feature separately in each of the discussions on mitigation and adaptation, because of worries that developed countries will just focus on adaptation if the two issues are lumped together.”

Another private sector face is that of Richard Sherman, who comes from the environmental consultancy OneWorld. Sherman is handling negotiations on finance for the South African delegation and is concentrating particularly on issues relating to the Green Climate Fund.

The fund is a mechanism for supporting climate change related projects in the developing world. It was decided that it was needed at the Copenhagen conference in 2009, and issues relating to its formal establishment are expected to be worked out at COP17.

“Difficult issues for Sherman include where the fund will be housed, which is important because that country will determine its legal personality. He will also have to work to overcome opposition from Venezuela, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the proposals from the fund’s transitional committee,” a source said.

COP17 president Maite Nkoana-Mashabane apparently told delegates that informal conversations would be held with these countries.

“The last thing South Africa wants is the formation of a contact group for the fund, which could open it up for discussion again,” said the source.

South Africa’s broad alliances in the developing world have ­apparently resulted in a punishing schedule for negotiators.

“Every day negotiators must liaise with the Group 77 and China Group of States, the Africa Group and the Basic group, Brics without Russia,” said the source.

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.