Deconstructing the African position at COP17

By Khadija Patel 8 December 2011

 If COP17 has demonstrated just how difficult it is to get the world to agree on a common path for the greater good, then it has also emphasised the number of voices clamouring to be heard in climate change diplomacy. By KHADIJA PATEL.

While negotiators at the ICC in Durban on Wednesday were cagey about progress in high level negotiations, the halls continued bustling with activity. As well as the negotiators, tormenting Durban’s roads with blue lights and break-neck speeds, the untold story of COP17 lies in the thousands who are not negotiating the UNFCCC draft proposals. Among the halls of the ICC, the Durban Exhibition Centre and South Africa’s Climate Change Response Expo, members of the private sector, civil society, academics and international organisations have gathered to share experiences and launch a staggering number of new programmes.  

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the lead negotiator of the African Group, the only regional grouping serving as a negotiation coalition, admitted at a press briefing on Wednesday that it remained for civil society, activists and the media to rescue climate change diplomacy from the doldrums of negotiating texts to the real-life effects of climate change.

He described the African position as “aiming for the moon”, but conceded that negotiations were about give and take. The continent’s lead negotiator stressed Africa had a vested interest in ensuring the Durban negotiations were a success. To this end, he said ministers had offered negotiators five pieces of advice prioritising multilateralism, a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, adaptation and concrete means of implementation and “operationalisation” through implementation of the Bali action plan.

While he offered a confident outlook on the outcome of the negotiations, Mpanu-Mpanu also highlighted the subversive impact of geo-political influence on the common African position.  

The African Common Position on Climate Change, is endorsed by South Africa, was agreed in September in Mali. While the united position held well for the first week of negotiations, reports indicate the common African position on agriculture has started to disintegrate after the arrival of ministers this week.

In response to reports of a fracturing African position Mpanu-Mpanu said, “Some issues cannot be resolved by negotiators. They require political solutions.”

Writing in the South African Journal of International Affairs, Lesley Masters, a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Pretoria said the number of international organisations involved in negotiations adversely affected a common African position on climate change negotiations. “In the context of the African common position, continental and regional bodies, as well as international organisations that have a particular interest and membership basis (such as the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries), have influenced the development and subsequent ability of the continent to sustain a common position within climate change negotiations,” she said.

Masters attributed the great upsurge in international organisations such as the African Group to the multidimensional nature of climate change. The effects of climate change are said to include economic, political, social, financial, legal and security vectors thus binding together groupings like the African Group and the European Union.

“The number of international organisations engaged on issues of climate change, whether directly or indirectly, has expanded exponentially since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm,” Masters said.

Policy on climate change, however, has not been prioritised by African states and it was not until the African Union summit in 2007 that the development of a common African position began. Masters said the formation of a united position provided much-needed political weight to African perspectives around the negotiating table.

Ultimately, however, Masters blamed divergent views within the AU for the fracturing of the common African position.

These divergent views within the African position was exemplified in 2009 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi issued a joint press release with French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, declaring the African Union position in COP15 was identical to the European Union’s position. Meles was publicly lambasted for the statement by Sudan’s ambassador and chairman of the G77, Lumumba Di-Aping.

While Meles is in Durban for the high-level segment of the negotiations, the African Group has evolved enough to deter him from making similar declarations on behalf of the continent.

Masters pointed out that such divergent positions within the African Group were emblematic of broader discord within the African Union’s ranks. “In effect the differing positions within the AU will impact on the ability to sustain the common position on climate change. While there may be agreement on the overarching principles within the common position, there are also a number of underlying competing interests and approaches,” she said.

Not least the South African position within the African position is a curious one. While endorsing the continent’s negotiations from a standpoint of being least responsible for the current climate quagmire, South Africa is the most culpable emitter on the continent. South Africa then negotiates from the African position as the weightier Basic group of emerging economies which also includes Brazil, India and China.  

Crucially, Masters warned it is not only individual state interests and political expediencies that impact on the cohesiveness of the African common position, but also international organisations and their own particular composition, interests and priorities.

Like the African Group, the European Union is stymied by competing views within its ranks. Although much of the final round of negotiations centres on the European Union proposal for a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, the EU is reported to have warned that its commitment is contingent on a stringent ratification process by its member states. DM

Read more:

  • UN climate conference close to deal on green fund in ibnLive;
  • COP-17: End the US-China ping-pong game, say negotiators in Business Day;
  • World powers and developing nations do battle at COP17 in Daily Maverick.



In other news...

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government - mission accomplished.

And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.

However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

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