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‘There is no planet B’

South Africa

This weekend was abuzz with talks of a looming Durban Mandate that would be crystallised as one of the outcomes of the Climate talks.  As delegates try to make sense of the unfolding drama there are strong indications that the talks will end with a political declaration that would essentially lock the world into inaction over the next decade.

It was for precisely this reason that more than ten thousand people took to the streets of Durban on Saturday, 3 December 2011, to demonstrate civil society’s determination for a common goal: climate justice. Protesters from across the world marched, sang, danced and displayed disdain towards the polluters’ unwillingness to recognise that there is no “planet B.”

One of the groups that stood out in the march was the Waste Pickers Association. They see themselves as key actors in the fight against global warming as they engage in rubbish sorting, recycling and reuse. Their clarion call was that their towns should not be incinerated, a direct reflection of their demand for the halting of polluting rubbish incineration. They are  a growing workforce with full official recognition in South Africa.

During a stop on the march outside the climate talks venue, the president of the Conference of Parties (COP), Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was addressed by representatives from various groups including Friends of Earth International.

Speakers  made strong calls for negotiators and governments to realise that the COP was not meant to be a Conference of Polluters but one to take real action to combat a planetary crisis.   I spoke on behalf of African civil society and  underscored the fact that Africa was a crime scene and it would be unacceptable for politicians meeting in Africa would agree on a deal that would cook the continent.

The COP president assured the marchers that she will ensure that talks are transparent and inclusive and that the voices of the people would be heard. That promise however, did not align with information emanating from the meeting halls as well as ongoing private consultations.

Since the second week of the talks began, ministers of environment are arriving and the politics of climate change get thicker. Indications are that developed nations are still unwilling to commit to anything that requires compliance in terms of emissions reduction and will make sure that Durban’s outcome will practically be hollow and devoid of substance.  At the same time, the climate politicians are keen on spinning that outcome as progress in the right direction.

The substance of any truly progressive outcome would have to acknowledge the Kyoto Protocol, pledge to work on it and promise a binding agreement for another commitment period by say 2020.

Meanwhile, the inadequate system of voluntary and non-binding pledges cooked up at the two previous round of UN talks – Copenhagen and Cancún – is likely to take over.

Analysts believe that the pledges made by the developed polluting countries since the Cancún summit would place the world on the road to a 5ºC temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. If that happens, Africa will experience a temperature rise of between 7ºC and 8ºC.

Analysts have also shown that developing countries have made higher pledges than developed nations, those responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions historically and thus the most responsible for climate change.

However, developed nations in Durban insist that ‘growing economies’ – particularly Brazil, South Africa, India and China – are not doing enough.

The Unites States –the largest historical contributor of greenhouse gases – is one of the countries flying this kite while not making any real commitment to cut its emissions.

The alarm bells are already ringing on the continent of Africa and the Small Island States.  Experts believe that even a two degrees temperature rise Africa would face cataclysmic impacts in terms of water stress, desertification, droughts, floods, coastal erosion and major crop failures. With already visible impacts on the continent, Africa is becoming a climate crime scene.

Agreeing to a so-called Durban Mandate will negate years of negotiations, avoid reaching agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and will launch these negotiators into a new round of dithering and fiddling while the planet burns.

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International

COP17 UN climate talks will run from 28 November to 9 December.

This is penultimate blog of a four part series.

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