Durban, South Africa — COP16-CMP6 president Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, officially welcomed South African President Jacob Zuma to the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol (CMP7) in Durban, South Africa today.
Before recounting the achievements of COP16 held last year in Cancun and handing the presidential gavel for COP17-CMP7 to South Africa’s International Relations Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Espinosa welcomed and thanked South African president Jacob Zuma for the country’s preparations and goodwill.
President Zuma, in turn, before offically declaring COP17 open, pointed out that climate change is a holistic sustainable development challenge. “Various regions of the world have different views on the issues simply because they are affected differently by climate change. For many in the developing world, including Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death.
“Africa is more vulnerable because of poverty to cope with the impact of climate change,” he said. Global warming could not be separated from the struggle to end poverty.
Parties should strive to find solutions in Durban. Among other things, “The expectation is that you must work toward an outcome that is balanced, fair and credible.”
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, in her opening address, asked delegates to be guided and inspired by South Africa’s can-do attitude and ability to overcome challenges.
She pointed out Africa’s vulnerability to the impact of global warming and to the fact that many in Africa are already suffering the effects.
“We (at COP17) meet when greenhouse gas emissions have never been higher and the need for action has never been more compelling or achievable,” she said.
“It is my hope that through constructive negotiations you will see your way forward.” Figueres stressed that there was a tendency to regard things as impossible “till they get done.”
This conference, she said, needed to reassure the vulnerable that tangible action is being taken for the future both in mitigation and adaptation.”
Negotiation to master the challenges would not be easy but Figueres called on delegates and negotiators to be inspired by what South Africa has achieved.
“We believe it is of special significance that, as the need to renew and revise the Kyoto Protocol becomes urgent, COP17 is happening on African soil,” Ms Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, said ahead of the official launch, which was attended by representatives and delegates from193 countries.
Molewa said before the launch that while Africa has contributed least to the build up of greenhouse gases globally, it will be in the frontline of the adverse effects of climate change.
“We are highly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as rain-fed agriculture. Combined with the severe development challenges the continent already faces, this makes Africans particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”
The average African generates about 13 times less greenhouse gases than his or her counterpart in the United States. In 2007, the continent was responsible for less than 4 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
“However, without an overriding mitigation and adaptation agenda, we may see these figures rise in years to come, as development and population rates grow,” said Molewa.
“The challenge for Africa is to decouple economic and social development from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation to an extent which has no precedent in the developed world. Africa needs to embark on a path of sustainable development with new, clean, appropriate technologies and to build climate resilient communities, so as to avoid the environmental mistakes of the developed world.”
Considering that 550 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity, she added, there is enormous scope for Africa to become a world leader in the deployment of renewable energy sources. “Hydropower, for instance, is an underutilized energy source, with less than 10 percent of the hydropower potential in Africa being currently used.”
The impacts of climate change knows no border and it has been a driving force for cooperation between African governments, Molewa said.
The Commission of the African Union was working on an African Strategy on Climate Change that is built on four interrelated themes, including (i) climate change governance, (ii) mainstreaming climate change in development, (iii) harnessing education, science, research and innovation for climate change, and (iv) promoting regional and international cooperation and partnerships in climate.
Now, in the face of dangerous environmental shifts, the concept of Ubuntu – acting as a member of the human family – is particularly important, she said.
Understanding and addressing the plight of Africa would be the key to unlock a new way forward for the rest of the world. It is essential that the COP17-CMP7 negotiations produce a credible, fair, equitable and balanced outcome, and lead the way for continent-wide adaptation strategies.