Promoting healthy ecosystems to build resilience to climate change


Speech by Ms. Buyelwa Sonjica, MP, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs on Copenhagen outcome and expectations (10 November 2009)

Department of Environmental Affairs
Programme Director,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

The clock is ticking and we don’t have much time to waste. We now have 26 days left before Copenhagen. Climate change continues to threaten our very existence as humanity. This morning I will briefly talk about the impacts of climate change on Africa, the status of the international negotiations,
South Africa’s position which is informed by our socio-economic context, and our expectations from Copenhagen.

Impacts on Africa

According to the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Africa will experience some of the worst effects of climate change. This is exacerbated by the fact that the region has limited capacity to deal with and adapt to these impacts. Agriculture production, including access to food, in many African countries and regions is projected to be severely compromised by climate variability and change. The area suitable for agriculture, the length of growing seasons and yield potential, particularly along the margins of semi-arid and arid areas, are expected to decrease. This will further adversely affect food security and worsen malnutrition in the continent. In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%. In addition, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water distress by 2020.

There are likely to be health impacts that will magnify the challenges of food and water insecurity. Increasing strain on the resilience of many ecosystems will affect the livelihoods of people living in rural areas. People and infrastructure in coastal areas will face the risk of coastal flooding because of sea level rise. South Africa will be affected by all of these impacts. Without being in anyway alarmist, it is safe to summarize that climate change will have disastrous impacts on the economies and people of Africa, and the development gains that have been made in the last decades will be severely undermined.

Status of the negotiations

So far, what we have seen in the UNFCCC negotiations is not only a erailment from the mandate for negotiations agreed in December 2007 and setout in the Bali Roadmap, but also a renewed effort by our developed country partners to renegotiate key principles of the Convention itself. The current dynamics are such that, despite all the efforts of the negotiators of developing countries, it appears to be increasingly unlikely that the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol, will be able to adopt outcomes in Copenhagen in December this year that will result in the strengthening of the international climate change regime. There are a number of reasons for this:

•Very few developed countries have provided political signals of their intention to show leadership by taking on ambitious legally binding mitigation commitments, in line with science. So far there have only been mitigation “pledges” with very low ambition;
•The USA is insisting that its commitments will be taken in domestic law only, and not subject to international compliance;
•There are few political signals from developed countries on their commitment to the scale of finance that is needed, and their intention to live up to their agreed financial and technology transfer obligations under the Convention

Instead of leadership from our developed country partners, we are hearing:

•that finance must be left to the markets and that developing countries must pay their way;
•that technology is simply a matter of co-operation on research, rather than real technology transfer and diffusion;
•that adaptation is a national responsibility that must be funded domestically by developing countries;
•that there should be a “common responsibility framework for mitigation” that re-interprets the principles and obligations of the Convention and that results in the demise of the Kyoto Protocol, and the loss of the distinction, or firewall between the legally binding mitigation commitments of developed countries, and the supported nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries;
•that developed countries will use trade measures to discriminate against products from developing countries that do not take on mitigation obligations

Programme Director, these signals are taking us far away from South Africa’s expectations and hope for an ambitious and legally binding 2 track outcome that is inclusive, fair and effective, and that has:

•one track for the amendment of Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol on further commitments by Annex I Parties for the 2nd and subsequent commitment periods in accordance with Article 3.9 of the Kyoto Protocol
•A second track which produces a separate legally binding outcome of the negotiations under the Convention.

Our expectation is that Copenhagen will achieve a strengthened multilateral climate change regime that balances mitigation and adaptation, and that:

•Resolves the climate crisis facing current and future generations
•While simultaneously supporting future sustainable economic development in developing countries that has the co-benefit of avoiding emissions.

Yet, it is increasingly becoming clearer as we approach Copenhagen that this outcome is threatened by the developed world’s inability to acknowledge and act on its historical responsibility.

South Africa’s socio-economic context informs our position for Copenhagen Climate change IS a threat to South Africa’s sustainable development. We are vulnerable to the same water, food security, health, livelihood and infrastructural challenges that face the rest of Africa. And we have major development and poverty eradication challenges. The size of our economy in terms of GDP is only 4% of that of the USA. Our Gini coefficient is the second highest in the world. Over 30% of our population live below the poverty line and close on a third of our economically active population are unemployed. Access to, and affordability of basic services, such as energy services, is a major challenge for millions of our people.

We recognise that we have an energy intensive economy and as a responsible global citizen, we want to take action, not only because we have a responsibility for future generations, but also because the science tells us that we are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We understand the need to increase our mitigation action over time, in a way that is consistent with our overall development objectives. So while we insist on the right to development, we will do everything within our capability to
achieve our development and poverty eradication objectives in the most sustainable manner possible.

We have at the highest level of Government agreed that our emissions should peak by 2025, plateau for a decade and then decline from 2035. In order to achieve this, we intend to implement sustainable development policies and measures, including shifting to energy efficient technologies, and using our abundant solar and wind potential to roll out renewable energies on a large scale. We have demonstrated, through our work on Long-term Mitigation
Scenarios and through our assessment of our nation’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, our willingness and readiness to mitigate our emissions and to take action to adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, without financial and technology support, it will not be possible to do more than what we are already doing. A positive outcome in Copenhagen on the provision of finance, technology and capacity building to developing countries is central to our ability to enhance our action on climate change.

South Africa’s expectations from Copenhagen:

It is clear to us that in Copenhagen, Annex I Parties to the Kyoto Protocol must commit to legally binding emission reduction targets for the 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, of at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Further, non-Kyoto Annex I Parties, such as the USA, must commit to legally binding targets comparable with those of Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, there must be global agreement to implement a comprehensive international programme on adaptation that provides access to scaled-up finance and technology, to reduce vulnerability and build resilience to the impacts of climate change, particularly in Africa.

Finally, developed countries must comply with their obligations under the Convention to provide finance, technology and capacity building support to enable developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and to take mitigation actions.

The message from a developing country perspective is clear: we take our responsibilities seriously and are already making a meaningful contribution within our respective capabilities. We are willing to do more, but developed countries must show the necessary leadership, take ambitious mitigation targets for the 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and comply with their Convention obligations on adaptation, finance and technology.

Programme Director, as we have gathered here today to discuss our position and strategy for Copenhagen, we should do so with Africa’s vulnerability and the survival of future generations in the forefront of our minds. South Africa will continue to negotiate in good spirit and do everything in our
power to broker a deal which results in a strengthened and durable international climate change regime that ensures the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention, through long term co-operative action, now, up to and beyond 2012. And you may ask, but what if this is not possible in December? Will South Africa accept a weak deal? The answer is a very decisive “No”!

No, we will NOT be politically pressurised into accepting a weak outcome that re-interprets the Convention and the Bali Action Plan to the disadvantage of developing countries. We would rather work from within the Africa Group to seek a suspension of proceedings and additional negotiating time, with a negotiating mandate that reflects the 2-track approach and the key elements of the framework set out in the Bali Roadmap 2 years ago. We cannot accept the demise of the Kyoto Protocol; we cannot turn the clock back on more than a decade of progress in building the international climate regime; and we cannot start a process of renegotiation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and productive work during the course of the day. I thank you.

Posted: 11/17/2009 (3:32:06 AM)

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