Monday was a grey and gloomy first day of work for the Ministers here in Cancun – but that’s the weather, not necessarily the politics.
South Africa has a large delegation in Cancun (over a hundred people are on the delegation, but only around 20 of those people are negotiators – the rest of the delegation consists of parliamentary representatives, different government stakeholders and some South African businesses).
Both the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs (Edna Molewa), and the Minister of Energy (Dipuo Peters) are here, and it is expected that President Zuma will be in Cancun from Wednesday. An indication of how seriously the South African government is taking COP 16 in Cancun and COP 17 in Durban? I hope so.
On Monday the Ministers from the BASIC block (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) held a press conference that was completely unscheduled, and not on the daily programme. Despite this, the press conference was jam-packed with journalists – showing that around the world, people are interested in what these key emerging economies are doing (and in this case, saying).
The Ministers basically outlined that they will not agree to any kind of deal unless a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to, fast-start financing to start flowing to developing countries, and there was some agreement on how to work technology transfer (and the sticky issue of intellectual property rights) from developed to developing countries.
One interesting aspect about the press conference was that the USA was mentioned a number of times – and never in very positive or glowing terms. This is interesting because it was BASIC + the USA that came up with the Copenhagen Accord this time last year, and now it’s BASIC that are openly criticising the USA emissions reduction promise and their commitment to funding. And in fact, funding is at the core of the issue for developing countries – who don’t have the money to adapt to the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. So, because developed countries have a historical responsibility for creating climate change, they also have a responsibility to provide developing countries with funding to deal with the problem.
The BASIC countries are amongst the highest emitters in the world (South Africa is the 12th highest emitter in the world, and China and India are in the top 5). And under the Copenhagen Accord, all four of these countries agreed to act on climate change and reduce their emissions.
They do however have responsibilities that are different to those of developed countries (like the USA) because they do not bear the historic responsibility for causing climate change. And so the press-conference was a miniature version of the political power-play embedded in these negotiations: where countries have to make deals (and then have to live with the consequences), compromise, find their non-negotiables and hopefully move forwards instead of backwards.
I ended the day at a cocktail party hosted by the South African government in celebration of South Africa hosting COP 17. A number of declarations were made about making COP 17 a success, including one statement about hosting the climate negotiations as if it were another version of the World Cup.
It’s great that the issue of climate change combined with the climate negotiations are being given so much importance and attention. The difference being that as much as we wanted the World Cup to be a success, we need COP 17 to be a success. And the definition of ‘success’ is that when countries leave South Africa they don’t just leave with a good impression of our beautiful country, but that they leave with a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal. Nothing less will be a success for us, or for the climate.