Cop17: getting down to basic

2011-11-28 00:00

SOUTH Africa is delicately poised between Basic and African interests.

That’s the view of South Africa’s position as both host and delegate at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP17), according to Francis Kornegay of the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD).

He was speaking on Friday at a conference, “Negotiating Africa and the Global South’s Interests on Climate Change”, organised by IGD, Ingabadi Group and the International Relations and Co-operation Department.

As well as being part of the African group at the conference, South Africa is a member of the Basic countries, along with China, India and Brazil — emerging countries that are allowed to play economic catch up by the developed nations.

China is now the number one emitter of greenhouse gases (the U.S. comes second) and though its emissions per capita are low now that China has become an economic giant, the argument for regulating emissions on a per capita basis is wearing thin.

Being a member of Basic is useful as it aligns China with other emerging nations wearing the label of “developing country”.

However, China is trying to move from being a major polluter towards a green economy, said Xinran Qi of Georgetown University in Washington, but its climate change policy is driven by a domestic economic agenda.

“Economic security is key to achieving its developmental goals,” said Qi, and the Chinese government is not convinced that cutting emissions will be good for the economy.

India is in a similar position with a huge population (1,171 billion to China’s 1,338 billion) most of whom live below the poverty line. “Energy access is still a big dream for many of our people,” said Swatt Ganeshan of India’s Energy and Resources Institute.

India comes in third as a carbon emitter while having the lowest emissions per capita in the world.

Various low-carbon strategies have been adopted both at national and state level, said Ganeshan.

“India is aware of the merits of new and renewable energy, but has to balance these within development constraints.”

At first glance Brazil looks to be on the high road to a green economy. Nearly 50% of its energy is from renewable sources and 95% of cars run on ethanol, all of which sees Brazil market itself as an environmentally friendly country, said Marco Vieira, lecturer in international relations at Birmingham University in the UK.

However, this is offset by deforestation, a major contributor to carbon emissions, as the Amazon rain forest is cleared to make way mainly for soya and beef production. Brazil ranks number 17 on the emission charts.

Agriculture is Brazil’s main employment sector. “While climate change is an issue,” said Vieira, “jobs are more important for people and climate change has to be accommodated within this priority.

“In the UK climate change is about switching off the light when you leave the room or deciding whether to ride a bicycle to work. In Brazil it’s about food production, employment and development. This is the problem for emerging nations.”

And it’s one of the problems that South Africa will be negotiating at COP17.

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