Climate talks to leave paper trail

2011-09-24 20:18

The COP17 climate talks in Durban later this year may be about offsetting global warming, but the two weeks of negotiations will leave a trail of dead trees in its wake.

Proposals by the eThekwini Municipality’s strategic projects unit, which is coordinating the city’s preparations for COP17, for the United Nations summit to go paperless and to issue the between 15 000 and 20 000 participants with iPads to reduce the event’s carbon footprint have been rejected by the world body.

Instead, each day will see negotiators and support staff being issued with lengthy agendas and documentation which, at COP16 in Cancun, weighed in at 70 pages per delegate a day.

Julie-May Ellingson and Sue Bannister of the strategic projects unit told City Press this week that their hi-tech plan to have each participant pay a deposit for an iPad and receive automatically downloaded agendas each day had been turned down by the
UN organisers.

The two, who had attended the Cancun event, said they had been shocked by the amount of paper consumed by the daily sessions, which stretch over two weeks.

Their unit, which is preparing the city’s International Convention Centre and Exhibition Centre for COP17, has taken the initiative to ensure that they reduce the carbon footprint of the massive contingent that will descend on Durban between November 28 and December 9.

Ellingson said: “We have been looking at the most ecologically friendly way of providing the additional power points, internet connections, phone lines and so on for the conference. Delegates will be transported to and from the venues by shuttles, and are being accommodated as close to the venue as possible.’’

Food for the UN “city within a city’’ will be locally sourced, with no imported drinks being available inside the venue, which has set up several herb gardens to grow vegetables on site.

Lighting systems have been changed to greener technology, as has electricity, cooking, air conditioning and telecommunications.

The city itself has embarked on an impressive spread of greening projects in the months leading up to the conference.

The logistical preparations for COP17 are mind-boggling.

Said Ellingson: “Unlike other conferences, which are talkshops that run for normally three days or so, this is a working session that runs over a two-week period. People will be working a full day every day of the conference, and we need to keep them happy and fed. We are redesigning spaces inside the conference centre.”

Massive human resources are also needed for the conference: 200 volunteers, up to 1 200 additional hospitality staff, 100 UN security staff, 100 bus drivers, 200 support marshalls, and a large contingent of disaster management and medical staff – before the SAPS and Metro police are factored in.

Running such a massive conference at the beginning of the holiday season also throws up major challenges about how to allow the
city to continue operating with minimum disruption.

Said Ellingson: “Look, the city centre is going to be disrupted, but we have to try to manage it to make sure we don’t interfere with residents’ ability to access the city. Fortunately, we will have wrapped up before the holiday season begins in earnest.”

Ellingson and Bannister, who ran Durban’s 2010 World Cup programme, believe that COP17 will bring R500 million into Durban’s economy a week before the main holiday season begins.

Said Ellingson: “There are going to be massive gains for the local economy. Hotels are full for what is traditionally a quiet two weeks ahead of the December 16 shutdown.

“Delegates and support staff are going to be spending in the city and we are organising a tour area where accredited operators can take people for half-day tours. There will be a lot of entry-level jobs created, leaving people with skills they can use.”

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