COP 17 a defining moment: Zuma


28 November 2011

South African President Jacob Zuma welcomed more than 15 000 delegates from 190 countries to Durban at the start of the UN Climate Change Conference on Monday with the message that the future of the world was in their hands.

Speaking at the opening of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Zuma told the delegates that they had no choice but to find a lasting solution to the climate problem.

“Climate change can no longer be treated as just an environmental problem … It is a matter of life and death,” he said.

Calls for compromise, commitment

The much-anticipated conference kicked off at Durban’s International Convention Centre with calls for compromise and commitment to curbing global carbon emissions.

African leaders also urged rich nations to take responsibility for polluting the atmosphere by channelling funds to developing countries as part of a long-term solution to the problem of global warming.

Over the course of the next two weeks, the world’s representatives will need to establish some kind of basis for long-term climate cooperation, and in particular will have to negotiate a second, post-2012 commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.

With relative progress made during COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico last year, the South African talks are being touted as a turning point for implementing most of the crucial decisions made last December.

Cancun Agreements ‘must be implemented’

Zuma said it was crucial for COP17 to ensure that the Cancun Agreements, which included the establishment of a Green Climate Fund, were implemented.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change potentially meant not only droughts and severe weather patterns but poverty and serious food shortages for the continent.

“Severe drought in Somalia is causing serious problems and has displaced many. In the Americas, they are still battling to overcome the impacts five years after Hurricane Katrina,” Zuma said.

“Given the urgency, parties should find solutions here in Durban. The expectation is that you must be able to work towards the outcome that is fair, balanced and credible.”

While expectations are low for a comprehensive and legally binding agreement, there is hope for practical progress on specific packages concerning mitigation, the Kyoto-Protocol, finance and adaptation.

Zuma said developing countries required a quick start through early initial capitalisation and activation of the Green Climate Fund.

As it was held in Africa, the conference also needed to prioritise adaptation to save lives in many Island nations.

‘Part of the fight against poverty’

“We also feel strongly that as an African conference, the COP 17 outcome must recognise that solving the climate problem cannot be separated from fighting poverty,” Zuma said.

He added that Africa had committed to reduce carbon emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and by 42 percent by 2025.

South Africa had gone a long way to make sure this commitment was met, Zuma said, citing the country’s New Growth Path and the climate accord signed recently by the country’s government, business and labour sectors.

Earlier, delegates elected Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s minister of international relations, as the new COP president for the 2011/12, taking over from Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Castellano.

Nkoana-Mashabane urged the delegates to use their “boldness and courage” to make Durban a decisive moment to address global warming, adding that the world demanded action and a common solution for generations to come.

‘There is a crucial need to build trust’

UN Climate Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said that unresolved political issues needed to be advanced in Durban if the world was to achieve its goals on climate change.

“It is my hope that through constructive negotiations we will address these issues … this may only be possible if the results are both fair and workable for all of us,” Figueres said. “There is a crucial need to build trust as part of the outcome of this conference.”

Global warming has far-reaching consequences for the world with changes in weather patterns threatening millions of lives and expected to affect food security in developing countries.

As with previous Conferences of the Parties, the road to COP 17 has not been easy. Negotiators hope to build upon progress made during the pre-conference period to push for a more inclusive deal that will take into consideration the interests of developing nations.

The G77 countries, which include South Africa, remain committed to their long-standing position of achieving a legally binding agreement.

But given the ongoing rivalry between developed and developing countries, many analysts say they are unlikely to achieve this any time soon.

Developed countries such as the United States and Japan, however, remain entrenched in the long-standing position of refusing to accept their own legally binding targets without also including binding commitments from major emerging economies such as China and India.

Source: BuaNews