Of air cons, gas guzzlers and paper

2011-12-03 15:33

About 36 hours before kick-off of COP17, its secretary Christiana Figueres announces a project to offset the estimated 15 000 tons of carbon the 10-day UN climate change talks will generate.

It’s boiling hot and it’s bug city.

The project is about employing locals to remove alien vegetation and planting indigenous trees, with COP17 participants picking up the tab.

Splendid. Figueres leaps out of her chauffeured ride – not a hybrid or an electric, or even a park and ride shuttle – but a big, sleek, gas guzzling, carbon spewing German beast worthy of the blingest South African cabinet minister.

Her hosts, eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo and city manager Mike Sutcliffe, aren’t far off. Sutcliffe arrives in a white 4x4 – albeit self-driven and with mum in the passenger seat.

Nxumalo is already there, his security chilling in the mayoral rig. It’s a little smaller than an aircraft carrier.

When the conference gets going, it’s much more of the same. Day one is all traffic gridlock, blue lights, bodyguards, cameras and overhead helicopters while the city recovers from a deadly and totally unseasonal storm the night before.

As the week goes on, the International Convention Centre (ICC) morphs into a city within a city, a blue-cordoned, air-cooled orgy of paper consumption, with teams of negotiators locked in on minute detail about agreements with mind-boggling acronyms.

There are tables laden with fliers, agendas and pamphlets as suited bureaucrats, strutting politicos, earpieced lobbyists and greenies hustle from meeting to meeting. The smoking area’s permanently packed.

There’s a briefing on every topic imaginable every couple of hours. The ICC’s UN-run and no longer on South African soil.

This doesn’t stop government spindoctor Jimmy Manyi displaying his South African foot-in-mouth tendencies. Our man slaps a ban on asking ministers in charge of environment and energy portfolios questions about the climate change talks in the middle of climate change talks.

It’s a mad meeting of minds.

There’s this weird SA delegate who likens climate change to Y2K. “We’re all warned it would change the world and in the end nothing happened,” he rants.

How green are the delegates?

The Europeans and the Americans have elaborate plans about how to separate garbage.

They walk to work and give up cushy jobs to save the world. The Africans with electricity change their light bulbs to energy savers.

The Climate Change Response Expo next door is like the world’s biggest green toyshop. There’s water generating machines, cars, bikes, clothes, building technology, heating and cooling systems.

Across town at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is the parallel summit called by civil society organisation, the C17s, a two-week programme of lectures, meetings, movies and protest.

Thus far the entire gig has been celeb-free. There’s newsdesk rumours, but there’s no Angelina, no Arnie, no Branson, yet.

They’re only expected this week, along with the political leaders who will either ratify a deal to save the Kyoto Protocol or kill it dead and with it, the planet.

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