Cynicism surrounds COP17 progress

2011-11-27 13:03

Cape Town – High expectations are intentionally not being raised for a fair global climate accord for better progress at the COP17 climate change conference starting in Durban on Monday.

Although cynics believe that the gathering of the 20 000 participants in Durban, with all the hot air of their discussions, will only further contribute to climate change, Neil Morris of the KPMG audit group nevertheless expects progress in implementing decisions taken at COP16 in Cancún, Mexico.

These include the introduction of mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund and rapprochement on solutions in pursuance of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of next year.

Morris, the director of climate change and sustainability services at KPMG, also expects greater emphasis on initiatives for adaptation to inevitable climate change.

It has become clear that Africa already needs to start adapting. African people are among the poorest and most exposed victims of climate change.

Morris admits to the many agendas at COP17, with developed countries believing that developing countries also have to make a contribution to restricting greenhouse gas emissions, and developing countries arguing that they need the opportunity to grow further and adapt with increased funding from developed countries.

Island states are very concerned that they may cease to exist in the coming decades, and  countries like Saudi Arabia fear damage to their entire economies - which are based on fossil fuel - if strict limitations are placed on the use of fossil fuel.

Morris reckons countries will, against the background of almost irreconcilable differences, have to do their best to reach consensus on responding to climate challenges in a fair and balanced manner.

According to Morris, a recent KPMG analysis of South African companies' targets for greenhouse gas restrictions shows that the private sector can play a significant role in resolving the problem.

Based on the targets of participants in the 2010 Carbon Disclosure Project for the JSE's top hundred companies, the private sector can help reduce by about half the gap between South Africa's set target and “business as usual”.

Apart from the private sector, government, state institutions and each individual will need to make a contribution.

Every year South Africa releases around 500m tonnes of carbon dioxide, but a single institution, Eskom, with its coal-fired power stations, emits almost half of that.

A change in the energy mix and greater energy efficiency by all are therefore crucial for achieving South Africa's target of releasing 34% less carbon dioxide by 2020 and 40% less by 2025.

Morris stresses that the business sector requires certainty and predictability, and policies like government’s national climate strategy and  the proposed carbon tax therefore need to be transparent and predictable.

The carbon tax has the potential of harming the economy, although it can be an outstanding tool if properly put together and implemented.

Meanwhile, the Greenpeace environmental group in a recent report has alleged that corporate giants like Eskom, Shell, BHP Billiton [JSE:BIL] and ArcelorMittal SA [JSE:ACL] are publicly making positive statements about the fight against climate change, but that through pressure groups are actively opposing policies such as the carbon tax.

While Eskom on the one hand champions cleaner electricity, it continues building coal-fired power stations.

The Nissan Leaf electric car

A total of 11 Nissan Leafs will be used during the COP17 conference to transport delegates.

The Leaf, a 100%-electric vehicle, could be available locally from 2013 with government's support.

Since the vehicle is battery-driven, passengers enjoy a silent journey. The only indication that the motor has been switched on, is an electronic icon on the instrument panel.

As in the case of automatic vehicles, the driver does not need to change gears and simply chooses to go forward or backwards.

An information panel allows the driver to monitor his carbon footprint. Controls are also available to reduce energy consumption and during a journey a small tree grows in size on the instrument panel, depending on how economically the vehicle is being operated.

The Leaf's top speed is 145km/h and it can cover 175km with a fully charged battery. The South African selling price is estimated to be around R350 000.  

 - Sake24

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