South Africa

EXCLUSIVE

South Africa’s chief climate finance negotiator quits, takes on UAE COP 28 role

South Africa’s chief climate finance negotiator quits, takes on UAE COP 28 role
Zaheer Fakir (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)

Zaheer Fakir, South Africa's chief for climate talks, has resigned to take up a new role as senior adviser to United Arab Emirates’ COP28 team. This will now be a vital position to fill as South Africa negotiates for finance to de-carbonise a faltering economy that is dangerously dependent on coal and Eskom.

Fakir confirmed by WhatsApp to Daily Maverick that his resignation from his climate finance role at the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) would be in effect from the end of February.

“I have joined the UAE COP28 team as a Senior Advisor Negotiations. I guess it’s time for new challenges. I have done as much as I could in DFFE,” he said, without elaborating.

COP 28 is the next “Conference of the Parties” of the UN Climate Change Conference which will be held in the United Arab Emirates in November/December 2023. Among other things, it is at such gatherings where targets are refined for capping the greenhouse gas emissions linked to rapid climate change.

Fakir has been involved in the talks regarding the $8.5-billion in finance that has been pledged to South Africa by developed economies to hasten its transition from coal to renewables – a critical pivot that is required for the environment and also to make the economy competitive in a de carbonising world that will erect punitive measures for companies and sectors with heavy carbon footprints.

Fakir is also a member of the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team – whose leader Daniel Mminele stepped down recently.

“I facilitated the development of the Climate Investment Fund Accelerated Coal Transition Investment Plan with Mandy Rambharos which was approved in October 2022 for US$500 million,” Fakir told Daily Maverick, adding that he was also involved “in the design of many of these funds like Green Climate Fund and Climate Investment Funds.”

“I will still retain the chairing of the UNFCCC standing committee on finance and co-chair for ad hoc work program on the new collective finance goal for climate change.”

(Mandy Rambharos left Eskom in late 2022 and now serves as Vice President for Global Climate Cooperation at Environmental Defense Fund – Ed)

In an email provided to Daily Maverick, in which Environment Minister Minister Barbara Creecy accepted the resignation, it seems that Fakir was a valued official and that no bridges were burnt over his departure.

“Dear Zaheer, 

Let me start off by thanking you for the decades of service you have given to the South African Government and to our Department in particular. It has been my honour and privilege to work and learn from you over the past three and a half years and I will miss your in-depth knowledge of the climate finance space … best in your new role, and I know you will remain a friend of DFFE where-ever you go!,” it reads.

It will be of more than passing interest to see who replaces Fakir at a time when the South African government finally seems to be embracing the renewables drive with pledges for tax incentives to allow households and businesses to tap solar energy using rooftop panels and other measures to enable self-generation as rolling blackouts take a wrecking ball to the economy.

There is plenty of international finance available beyond the $8.5-billion pot and many inventive mechanisms to fund green energy initiatives. A capable climate finance negotiator will be needed to step up to the plate. OBP/BM/DM

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