Talks at fork in the road

2011-11-29 00:00

AGAINST the backdrop of the United Nations conference on climate change (COP17) in Durban, eight people died in the heavy rain storms in the area on Sunday night that continued into the early hours of yesterday morning.

“There is no starker reminder of the impact climatic events has on the lives of poor and vulnerable people,” said Tim Gore of Oxfam. Gore recalled the first COP held in Africa, COP7 at Marrakesh in 2001, where various promises were made to the least developed countries that have not been kept.

“Ten years on we can’t afford to allow history to repeat itself in Durban. The science indicates we have five years left to prevent irreversible climate change,” Gore said and went on to outline some of “the suffering behind that science”, especially the impact on food systems in Africa, which has seen famine in Somalia and droughts in Kenya that have pushed sorghum prices up 500%.

“The story of Africa is repeated around the world,” he said citing the 25 to 30% rise in the price of rice in the Far East as the result of recent floods, as well as the wheat crisis in Afghanistan where a drought has seen prices rise 79% above last year’s. Gore’s observations found an echo in President Jacob Zuma’s speech opening the conference. “Climate change is not just an environmental challenge but a holistic sustainable development challenge,” he said. “Climate change cannot be separated from the struggle to eradicate poverty.”

In his address Zuma invoked the spirits of King Shaka, Albert Luthuli and Mahatma Gandhi, all of whom had connections to the province of KwaZulu-Natal, as agents for change. They have a tough job on their hands at COP17.

“There is a huge gap between the two-degree Celsius target and what’s on the table,” according to Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There is a need for concrete steps to close that ambition gap.” Meyer said that COP17 is situated at a fork in the road with regard to the global response to climate change.

“Are we going to build on the Kyoto Protocol and create a new long-term binding framework (as the EU has put on the table) or do we see the protocol wither away and a move towards a voluntary framework that some would prefer?”

As Meyer pointed out, past history has shown that voluntary frameworks don’t work.

• feature1@witness.co.za

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