Ambassador for the planet

South Africa has a positive reputation as a bridge builder in international climate change negotiations, and ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko is a vital part of the team.

During 2015, a crucial year in the international negotiations, she plays the role of climate change chair of the G77 and China bloc, the largest group of developing countries in the UN. 

“In this capacity I will be working to advance common positions of developing countries,” says Mxakato-Diseko.

The current round of negotiations will culminate in the adoption of a new legal instrument under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP21) later this year. It is called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, as it was conceived in Durban during COP17. 

“At the conference in Peru last December, I led the contingent from the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco), as part of the multi-stakeholder national delegation under Minister Edna Molewa,” she says. 

“South Africa promoted its national and regional interests and spoke for the interests of developing countries.” The country contributed numerous proposals, some of which made it into the final document.

She says South Africa adds a female finesse to the global climate change negotiations. “Our team at the UNFCCC has a particularly strong representation of women.

“I was appointed as South Africa’s ambassador at large for climate change in 2011 when South Africa hosted COP17.  As president of COP17, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane presided over the negotiations, culminating in the Durban Platform.

“The ministers of Dirco, environmental affairs and energy are all women, as is our lead negotiator in the UNFCCC.” 

South Africa has played a special role in efforts to implement gender-sensitive policies in addressing climate change: “I am pleased to report that ever since the Durban COP17 in 2011, where South Africa pioneered key decisions on gender and climate change, substantial progress has been made on all fronts,” she says. 

Climate change cannot be solved without empowering all sectors of society, particularly women and youth. It is clear that women, most notably in the rural areas, bear a disproportionate burden in adapting to climate change, she says. 

Mxakato-Diseko has had an illustrious career in international relations, including being a council member of the Council of Trade and Industry Institutions and chairing the group of 77 and China for the UN for three years. 

She headed the ANC in Sweden for three years and obtained an MA and a postgraduate diploma in development from Oxford University. Mxakato-Diseko is the deputy director general: Americas and Caribbean at Dirco.

A South African familiar with both its urban and rural landscapes, she knows that the local climate is unpredictable and harsh, and that this is a water-scarce country. “What we are seeing now is not a naturally occurring change in global climatic patterns, but the result of human interference.” 

She says she has always been concerned about environmental issues. “At the same time, I have always believed that a balance has to be struck between preserving the environment and allowing for human development. 

“What we need is a people-centred approach where poverty alleviation is prioritised, based on sustainable management of the environment. We must act now before the damage [done] to the Earth’s ecosystems becomes irreversible.”

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Michelle Nel
Michelle Nel has worked as a freelance environmental journalist, photographer and editor for more than 20 years. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Leadership Corps and was the first freelancer to win the SAB Environmentalist Journalist of the Year Award for print. She serves on the Linbro Park Environmental Monitoring Committee in Gauteng, which aims to turn a closed landfill site into a recycling and recreational area. She has helped numerous organisations with their communications strategies on issues ranging from people and parks to wetlands.

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