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25 October 2014 08:05 (South Africa)
Opinionista Jay Naidoo

Durban to Rio could be our Road to Damascus

  • Jay Naidoo
Are our negotiators part of the problem or part of the solution? Do our governments represent the real interests of the people? Are the shadowy global interests that manipulate our politics and our lives that invincible?

Walking among the throngs at the People’s March for the Environment on Saturday, I realised although we were high spirited, we had failed to capture the scale of the human catastrophe of climate change. We had not mobilised as we had done in the struggle against apartheid, nor connected the issue of climate justice to lives.

I felt the despair and the disempowerment. Many had travelled from far. The caravan of Hope from Burundi, the peasant farmers from India and Latin America, indigenous people who bear the brunt of climate change.

I am now convinced we cannot place all our hopes and those of our children on the current negotiations. They are not designed to bring the changes that will benefit humanity. They have become elitist. Unfortunately many governments cannot be trusted. The Arab Spring and Occupy movements and the rising tide of restlessness in the world demonstrate that people are losing confidence and trust in public and private institutions. They feel disconnected even from civil society organisations.

So what is to be done? What is our theory of change?

Firstly, non-state players have to abandon their fixation with turf. I have been in meetings of international NGO's where I see the same level of petty politics we see inside the UN negotiations and governments. Certain leaders and organisations act as “gatekeepers” constructing an industry around poverty. Their obsession with “brand” and the belief that they alone represent the aspirations of the poor means that they can never mobilise people. They have to learn to work together, to build joint campaigns and a shared vision of the future.

The labour movement as the single largest organised movement in the world has to bring its negotiating skills to this partnership. We need a negotiating agenda that is not a wish list, but a focused set of demands that we must take back to the villages and the cities, the factories and farms and beyond the Earth Summit in Rio.

Secondly, we need a different negotiations process. Our negotiators cannot see the trees for the jungles. Left alone it will result in the type of intellectual hyperbole that has bogged down the Doha Round of development talks on agriculture and food security. We need civil society sitting at the main table. We need a focus on solutions.

Thirdly, there are green solutions that are proven effective, but lack the real investment to make them commercially sustainable. This is where public investment is critical to take the first risk to invest.

I look back on the growth of mobile telephony and see similarities. Very few visionaries foresaw the growth of mobile.

I see civil society wanting to exclude this type of entrepreneurship from the equation to build a green economy. Working together with the private sector, we can create the marketplace for green energy in which private and social entrepreneurs can thrive. We should be united behind the demand for new investment in the green economy. Our demand for a Green Climate Fund must be linked to the promotion of small-scale entrepreneurial solutions at a grassroots level. We should be mobilising around the demand for a financial transaction tax?

Fourthly, we need to build the momentum so that Durban will not be the graveyard of climate talks. The strongest allies of the SA government is civil society. We cannot be accountable for the failure of COP17. Only citizens have the power to place electoral pressure on their governments.

The SA government needs to do more to mobilise the African lobby. The failure of these talks have huge consequences for Africa. Our continent has paid heavily for the climate changes that have wrought devastation across places like the Horn of Africa. President Jacob Zuma must now lead the charge. We are being set up to fail and the rich countries can walk away saying we did not provide the decisive leadership needed.

We need to exercise the power we have as part of BRICS. This is an exclusive club that should share a common vision that reinforces our shared interest. Now is the time to call in our favours.

Our allies in small island states, countries with low-lying coastal areas such as Bangladesh, as well the least-developed economies which need to be consolidated to take a strong stand and hold to account the disrupters. They must have no room to manoeuvre. Global blame must be laid directly at the door of the grinch that steals our hopes.

Lastly, Brazil has a deep interest in resolving issues in Durban – or it will inherit a disaster for the Rio Earth Summit. We need to work closely to ensure that the key issues are in the DNA of the climate negotiations. Undoubtedly we cannot leave Durban without an accord on the extension of the Kyoto Protocol and a simultaneous track on a long-term agreement to replace Kyoto. We need an “operationalisation” of the Green Climate Fund which provides funding through the financial transaction tax to pay for mitigating the damage we face, especially in Africa. Simultaneously we need to insist that African institutions like the African Development Bank are the conduit for funds that benefit and create African enterprises and capability.

Ultimately the vision of COP17 has to be the challenge of eradicating poverty and inequality: to ensure we comprehensively build a process to ensure viable agriculture in a way that addresses household food and nutrition security and promotes women's empowerment, leadership and incomes.

That should be our political narrative on the road to Rio. We need an integrated process that ensures governments are responsive to the interests of the people above the interests of dirty industry lobbies.

This is the time for a revolution in our thinking. Let us throw the deadwood of dogma out of the window. Dogma will not answer the desperate questions of mothers who see they children starving to death in the villages of northern Kenya, the refugee camps of Somalia, the desperate voices of children whose tearless eyes cry for hope in villages of Bangladesh and India.

Let us be bold. We need credible, powerful leaders with a track record to unite the strands of restlessness we see in our world as it hurtles towards a precipice of unmet expectations. DM



  • Jay Naidoo
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Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, former Minister in Mandela Government and Chair of a GAIN a Global Foundation Fighting malnutrition in the World. You can also visit his Facebook Page or www.jaynaidoo.org.

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