Promoting healthy ecosystems to build resilience to climate change


Marthinus Van Schalkwyk addresses high level climate change seminar in Washington



I would like to express my appreciation to the NRDC and Climate Change Capital for hosting this event at such an historic moment in US history. The election of President Obama signals a much anticipated fresh start in our efforts to negotiate a fair, inclusive and effective international climate regime for the future. We look forward to the unlocking of a new dynamic in international climate negotiations as the US assumes an international leadership role that is underpinned by ambitious domestic action and solidarity with developing countries.  We are indeed encouraged by the new voices of reason emerging with the transformation of leadership in the United States.

Before I address our expectations for the Copenhagen agreement at the end of 2009, let me refer to what we are doing in the developing world, and in South Africa in particular, to address this urgent challenge.

South Africa’s long term mitigation scenarios and policy framework

Increasingly, developing countries are making substantive proposals to move us forward. During 2008 the G77&China produced detailed proposals on financing and technology. Africa adopted a roadmap for climate negotiations. China published their climate White Paper. Brazil tabled their Climate Bill, and India published their national plan. During the G8 Summit the G5 developing countries made proposals for an ambitious long term climate policy consistent with the most ambitious stabilization scenario assessed by the IPCC.

As a developing country, South Africa has stepped up its efforts. In July 2008, our Cabinet agreed an ambitious national climate framework. This framework is motivated by climate change concerns, but very importantly also by our energy access, energy security, sustainable development and poverty eradication imperatives.

In South Africa, the climate question is both an energy question and a development question. On the one hand, some 30% of households do not yet have access to modern energy services. On the other, the energy sector is responsible for some 80% of our greenhouse gas emissions, with electricity generation responsible for some 40%. Coal is the fuel used for 90% of our electricity supply. Needless to say, we have built economic competitiveness around coal, which is similar to the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels.

If we continue with a business as usual growth path, our emissions will almost quadruple from 446 megatons CO2 equivalent in 2003 to some 1600 megatons by 2050. Continuing along this path will be a high risk approach. We are clear that it would be socially, economically, politically and environmentally unsustainable.  We cannot continue to grow without a carbon constraint.

We find ourselves at the southern tip of the continent most vulnerable to climate change. In a “do nothing” scenario, the IPCC tells us that global average temperatures will increase far beyond 2 Degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

The projected impacts of this level of temperature increase for South Africa are alarming, with deep social and economic implications. Up to 55% of our current biomes will be detrimentally affected in the next 50 years with unmitigated climate change. Infrastructure, industrial production, income-generating activities and human livelihood strategies will be significantly affected. The number of people exposed to water stress will multiply, and productive land area will decrease. If no action is taken, vector borne diseases such as malaria will spread into disease-free areas with considerable associated costs.

In terms of food security we face a significant decrease in agricultural crop yields such as corn, which could decrease with as much as 20% in the drier western regions within decades, while heat stress is already having impacts on productivity in the deciduous export fruit sector.

In the face of these risks, the debate on climate change in our country is one on national, economic and environmental security. Those least able to adapt are the poor, and thus this is also a poverty issue. We have therefore decided to take decisive action.

We are not willing to compromise our long term development, competitiveness and survival by not taking action in the short and medium term.  We understand that all nations would have to do more, albeit in a differentiated way.

As a country that relies heavily on fossil fuels, like the US, we have therefore conducted an evidence-based process to determine what the risk threshold should be and to determine what South Africa's contribution to global efforts could be to keep the climate at safe levels. We have asked how we can simultaneously avoid the risks, and seize the opportunities of the global transition to a low carbon economy. We have also done extensive economic modelling which has shown that taking early action is affordable, and that in the long term ‘green growth’ is the best option for welfare, job creation and poverty eradication.

Based on this two year process and considering the fact the climate change solution must be global, the South African Government has committed to our emissions peaking between 2020 and 2025, then stabilising for a decade, before declining in absolute terms towards mid-century.  The political commitment to a ‘peak, plateau and decline’ path is highly ambitious for a developing country. We have achieved something remarkable by building a national consensus on a climate change framework that brings together government, business, labour and civil society.

In the context of this global nature of the challenge, we could only justify this domestically if all developed countries, including the US, took absolute emission reductions: a commitment to a peak and decline path with a near-term peak.

In Government’s decision, three areas – i.e. technology, investment and policy - are brought together into a coherent vision. State-led regulation will play a key role, complemented by getting the economic incentive and investment structure right and increasing long-term research and development spending.   Government has also made clear its intent to put an escalating price on carbon, be that through market mechanisms, a carbon tax, or a combination of these instruments.

We will also continue to set ambitious and mandatory domestic targets for energy efficiency and in the transport sector. We will continue to diversify the energy mix away from coal, whilst shifting to cleaner coal, by for example introducing more stringent thermal efficiency and emission standards for coal fired power stations. Incentivising renewable energy through feed-in tariffs and user charges is on the cards, and we have already set a requirement that all new coal fired power stations and coal-to-liquid plants must be carbon capture ready.

Chair, we are putting our best efforts into making a fair contribution to this global challenge – but the extent to which South Africa will be able to realise this ambitious vision will depend on the support that the international community gives through finance, technology transfer and the building of human and institutional capacity. By implementing existing development plans we are already deviating from baseline. By implementing additional policies and measures, we can deviate even further from baseline, but we need predictable international support.

Reflections on climate negotiations in Poznan

Let me now turn to the recent climate negotiations in Poland.

In Poznan, we agreed to move into full negotiating mode in order to conclude negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Yet, when reflecting on Poznan, we have to acknowledge that although the process is now in place, the politics are not.

We are in particular concerned about the trust deficit; the widening gap in trust between developed and developing countries; and generally, we are disappointed by the lack of leadership by some developed countries. This includes (i) the inability of some developed countries to come forward with credible and ambitious mid-term targets; (ii) the deafening silence from developed countries in response to detailed G77&China proposals on technology and finance; and (iii) adaptation funding taking a back seat.

Yet, we are as determined as ever to reach an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen. What will be required is a transformation of the politics of distrust. It will require bold leadership on all sides. In particular, we need clear signals on mid-term targets from all developed countries, including the USA, as well as credible proposals on financing and technology in support of developing countries. Developed countries will have to make good on their promises, dating back to the signing of the Climate Convention in 1992.

Our expectations for the Copenhagen agreement

Turning to our expectations for Copenhagen:  The agreement in Copenhagen must balance climate and development imperatives, and adaptation and mitigation, and it must be supported by adequate means of implementation. 

On adaptation, the Copenhagen agreement must provide massively scaled-up and predictable support for implementation, and consolidate an international programme of work on implementation of adaptation, established within a binding legal instrument under the UN Framework Convention. New sources of funding could come from both market and non-market sources, including National Treasuries and the proceeds of the international auctioning of emission allowances.

Whilst recognising our shared responsibility for the future, we cannot wish away historical responsibility for the problem. The fact of the matter is that the carbon space is finite and 70% of the “safe” carbon space has already been used up, largely by industrialised countries. Any attempt to place an absolute cap on the access of developing countries to the remaining “safe” carbon space will therefore be counter-productive. An equitable burden-sharing paradigm requires that developed countries take leadership by committing to absolute and legally-binding emission reductions, whilst developing countries take meaningful actions, supported by effective means of implementation, to ensure a substantial deviation from business-as-usual.  

On mitigation, there are three strands that have to be woven into a multilateral framework. 

Firstly, more ambitious, quantified and legally binding emission reduction commitments for developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol.  Secondly, re-engagement of the USA in the full multilateral process. And thirdly, recognition of, and incentives for enhanced mitigation action by developing countries.

The science tells us that greenhouse gas emissions must peak and decline within the next 10 to 15 years. Therefore, commitments by some developed countries which focus on voluntary “pledge and review”, or emissions intensity, will not be adequate.

In Copenhagen, we expect Kyoto Parties in the developed world to adopt, in aggregate, targets towards the upper end of the range of minus 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% to 95% domestically below 1990 levels by 2050.

From the United States we expect comparability of effort. By that we understand comparability of targets and compliance, captured in a legally binding manner under the Convention, working in harmony with the Kyoto Protocol during the second commitment period. We cannot accept anything that suggests that, because the US has done so little for so long, we must allow them to do less than required-by-science in future.

Chair, we understand that it is critical that these commitments are encoded in US domestic legislation. It would be our hope that a cap-and-trade Bill can be passed as early as possible, and that it is given top priority by the incoming US Administration.  Equally important is that the US brings its action into the multilateral process and negotiates its commitment together with all nations. This would provide highly significant impetus for Copenhagen. For the global problem of climate change, the message can only be that together we can. 

In this respect the signals from President-elect Obama has been encouraging, even though in substance the incoming Administration is still on a ZERO reduction below 1990 by 2020. We do however recognize that this is an opening bid – and a much improved one. But what we need is a meaningful negative percentage compared to 1990 by 2020.

For developing countries the Copenhagen agreement could set the framework for a “toolbox” approach to mitigation, dependent on means of implementation that is also measurable, reportable and verifiable. This could be facilitated by a register of nationally-appropriate mitigation actions under the UNFCCC.

The message from a developing country perspective is clear: We take our responsibilities seriously.  We are already making a meaningful contribution within our respective capabilities.  We are willing to do more. But the trigger must come from the North. 

Besides broadening participation to include the USA, creating a more empowering technology and financing framework will be a precondition. I am quite certain that binding support to developing countries could trigger matching mitigation commitments to act.  A serious discussion will therefore be needed in the US on scaling up support for climate change action – including what share the US is willing to devote to support action in developing countries.


Chair, in conclusion, South Africa has signalled that it is serious about negotiating on climate change. We can do so on the basis of having done our homework at the national level. South Africa, along with other developing countries, is saying that it is willing to face up to its responsibility for the future. It will be critical that all developed countries respond by showing leadership and taking on their responsibility.

Thank you


Posted: 1/30/2009 (6:01:57 AM)

 Send to a friend
Copyright © 2008-2010 SA Climate Action Partnership. All rights reserved and asserted globally.