South Africa gears up for climate change talks

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, October 26, 2009
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South African environmental activists took to the streets of the country's major cities over the weekend, urging the government to be proactive at December's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In Johannesburg, the World Environment Day on Saturday saw a giant statue of former President Nelson Mandela being draped with a banner, urging current President Jacob Zuma to attend the Copenhagen summit in person.

In Cape Town, the famous Table Mountain Cableway was also surrounded by large banners.

Although there has been no official word on whether Zuma will go to Copenhagen, South Africa has mapped out a comprehensive response to climate change.

The country, which is Africa's greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, is widely expected to commit to a carbon emission reduction roadmap at Copenhagen meeting. It will not be a simple rubber stamp when South Africa joins approximately 190 other parties updating their commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

While there is almost a universal agreement on the need to cut carbon emissions, South Africa sides with other developing nations in asking that developing nations be compensated if they set limits.

The crux of the argument is that developed nations have already caused most of the environmental damage to get where they are now, and they are still the major polluters. They can not reasonably expect nations which are still trying to develop their infrastructure and other facets, to cut back on carbon emissions, at least not without compensation.

Graciela Chichilnisky, an economics professor at Columbia University who helped design the Kyoto Protocol's international carbon market, said earlier this month that 60 percent of all carbon emissions come from rich industrial nations that house only 20 percent of the world's population but use most of its resources.

In Africa, South Africa is the most industrialized country and its economy is also the largest economy on the continent. Most of South Africa's electricity is generated from coal-fired power stations. Thus the government has identified electricity as providing the greatest potential for mitigation, which here means reducing carbon emissions.

In notes prepared for a video-link discussion before December's summit, the South African government said the country, like other emerging and developing countries, has not been spared from the potentially severe impacts of climate change.

For example, in the last two decades or so, South Africa has experienced a number of climatic hazards. The most serious ones have been dry spells, seasonal droughts, intense rainfall, riverine floods and flash floods.

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