COP17 hits a snag

2011-11-29 09:40

The start of the biggest climate change conference to date hit a snag when countries failed to agree on the agenda for the 15 000-delegate meeting in Durban.

After the positive sentiments emerging from speeches by political leaders like President Jacob Zuma at the Conference of the Parties (COP17) yesterday, the conference got down to business at the International Convention Centre.

The first agenda item was to adopt the agenda, which is generally a straightforward affair.

But delegates from India threw a spanner in the works.

They insisted to the COP17 president – Maite Nkoana-Mashabane – that they want the agenda to include discussions on intellectual property rights, equality and trade.

These are all issues that emerge from discussions around climate change but which other delegates feel may derail the conference as they are viewed as sensitive.

As the host, the South African government has tried to manage expectations in the run-up to the conference, to avoid the meltdown that happened at the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009.

Now South Africa wants to, like in Cancun, focus on the low-hanging fruit instead of grappling with the big issue which is getting countries to legally commit to reduce their carbon emissions.

India has emerged as a strong voice on climate change since the last conference in Cancun in 2010.

It has been adamant that climate change is a problem introduced by Western countries who developed and prospered on the back of massive carbon emissions which caused harm to the environment.

India feels it is now the time to eat for emerging countries like itself, China, Brazil and South Africa.

It says the Western countries must carry the largest burden of climate change and commit to funding climate change initiatives in developing countries.

One way of doing this would be to set up and finance the Green Climate Fund, which is co-chaired by planning minister Trevor Manuel.

The fund needs $30 billion (R251 billion) to get started and will be used to help poorer countries switch to more energy efficient practices. But despite the hiccup in Nkoana-Mashabane’s first session as COP17 chairperson, the fight was taken outside the room.

Nkoana-Mashabane agreed to discuss the issue with India privately and find an agreement, so the agenda was provisionally adopted pending these discussions.

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