NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Climate change

24 November 2012, Posted in NUMSA News

April 2012

South Africa hosted the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) on Climate Change which kicked off in Durban in December 2011. Numsa dispatched a delegation to represent the union at the COP17 deliberations and to participate in the activities coordinated by the World of Work (WoW) pavilion in the civil society “C17” space at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Read more on pages 7-8 of this issue.

COP17 ‘for better, for worse’
By Woody Aroun
If all the leaders of the world stood before the high priest and made their vows to reduce carbon emissions in a legally binding way, the world would have had much to celebrate.

But this didn’t happen. Instead, the recently concluded Conference of the Parties 17 (COP17) in Durban turned out to be another global fiasco. While some rejoiced and hailed COP17 as a success, others lamented its failure.

As we move from Durban, the world leaders accompanied by their entourage of legal experts, environmental gurus, text writers and what have you (the state is paying!) are already packing their bags for a honeymoon in Rio – Rio + 20.

Hot on their trail, a large number of civil society formations, trade unions and environmental groupings are also gearing up for a rendezvous in Rio, hoping for a miracle that will save the world from meaningless destruction and degradation.

Numsa’s participation

Philemon Shiburi, Kolya Abramsky and Woody Aroun participated in a number of different panel sessions organised by WoW, covering issues such as climate change and its impact on the lives of the working class, mobilising for alternatives (hosted by the International Transport Federation) and greening the workplace and building alliances (hosted by the British Trade Union Council).

Interviewed by Henrietta Mongalo of Terraviva, Shiburi said that South Africa would have to make the transition from dirty coal-fired plants to cleaner sources of energy, but argued that this change would have to be made very carefully without compromising the developmental agenda of the country.

On December 4 last year Numsa hosted a one-day seminar on the theme “climate change and class struggle”. Cedric Gina, President of Numsa, George Mavrikos, General Secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), and Pablo Solon, former climate change negotiator for the Bolivian government, addressed delegates at the seminar.

Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria (Environmental Rights Action/OilWatch) touched on the role played by greedy corporate multinational companies in their quest to pillage the earth’s natural resources. Sisa Njikelana, chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy, also took some time off from his busy schedule to attend the seminar.

South Africa’s dual role at COP17

COP17 represents a historic event not only for South Africa’s young democracy, but for the rest of Africa as well.

As the third African country to host this event (Morocco and Kenya also played host to COP in 2001 and 2006 respectively), the task of ushering in a new multilateral agreement on climate change posed a major challenge for both the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).

The prospect of a successful outcome could mean many things: improved international relations, political prestige, and material and other benefits. Failure, on the other hand, could only mean one thing – political humiliation!

However, for both Dirco and the DEA a last-minute bid to salvage the negotiations in the form of a Durban Platform prevented any further collapse of COP17. For now, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, incoming president of COP17, will continue to facilitate the work set by the Conference of the Parties until such time as the presidency is handed over at the next session (COP18) in 2012. The DEA will continue to carry South Africa’s mandate in future negotiations and summits, balancing the developmental interests of the country against climate change initiatives.

South Africa’s position and the Durban Platform

According to the DEA (2011) the South African position is informed by some key underlying principles.

They are to balance climate and development imperatives by ensuring that global emission reduction efforts are sufficiently ambitious to avert dangerous climate change, while respecting the developing countries’ overriding priorities of development and poverty eradication.

South African negotiators also emphasised the need for a future climate regime that would include “a comprehensive multilateral rules-based legal regime”. (DEA, 2011)

However, the lack of commitment and low levels of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by some of the leading industrialised countries of the world continued to block moves towards a conclusive binding agreement. COP17 did, however, produce a package of agreements, notably:

• Adoption of the Durban platform for enhanced action;

• Adoption of the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol; and

• Establishment of the green climate fund.

According to a draft decision on the establishment of an ad hoc working group on the Durban Platform for enhanced action, the Conference of the Parties also decided to launch “a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties, through a subsidiary body under the convention … to be known as the ad hoc working group on the Durban Platform for enhanced action.

It was also decided that the ad hoc working group on the Durban Platform for enhanced action will complete its work as early as possible, but no later than 2015, in order to adopt this protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.

While some see the Durban platform as a weak compromise, South African officials are upbeat that COP17 represents a major breakthrough in climate change negotiations.

As Numsa we will have to take stock of these agreements and make our own assessment. Hopefully we will have more to say about COP17 and the Durban platform in coming editions of Numsa News and Numsa Bulletin. In the meantime, as Rio+20 approaches, let us hope that the negotiators will rewrite their vows to read as follows:
… for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part, we promise to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions through a legally binding agreement, save our planet and build a better future for all those who live on it. Amen!

Woody Aroun is Numsa’s parliamentary officer.


Numsa News No 1