Monday, 12 December 2011

A movement for people and the world.

“There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”.
-          Martha Graham quoted in Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawkin

How do I sum up my first experience of COP into a measly blog post? Does the complexity of language used, action seen, colours viewed, emails exchanged, conversations had, thoughts entertained over the past two weeks even lend itself to being described? I now sit, post-Durban, in front of my computer screen and try to envision what I want to say.

I had wanted this post to summarise nicely what happened in Durban. Did the nations agree, what was the impact of us being there? However, my experience of COP was too complex, too volatile. It can’t be described simply. At times over the last two weeks I found myself wondering, why am I doing this? Am I making an impact? Dangerous thoughts weaselled their way into my brain, challenging my dedication and impact in the world. What if I’m misguided in my struggle and could concentrate my energy more productively to making the world a better place?

Maybe I felt this way because it was almost impossible to quantify what my being there actually achieved. There are so many people. So many youth. So many vegetarians. So many loud voices. So much enthusiasm. At the same time, there is intense fragmentation. Different claims. Different solutions. Different organisations. Different approaches.

Many people who I’ve spoken to about the experience agree when I describe the paradox of COP17: it felt so fragmented, so complicated, but at the same time, the reason we were all there seemed so simple: we want to address climate change, to stop the damage we’ve already done.

On the last Friday of COP17 I took part in a demonstration. After a clash with some UN police and last minute phone calls to ensure that we had “permission” for our event: Wearing our “Green Police” overalls, we walked backwards, holding signs which asked “why are we going backwards?”. The ridiculousness of the last two weeks seemed nicely symbolised by that action. It was innocent and simple, and our message was clear. But even to do it – to walk backwards – we were caught up in a chain of bureaucracy, layers of protocol; so much so that we were confined to one area, a time limit, and what we were allowed to do.

Does COP feel like an impossible task because of the way in which environmentalists, youth, and even well-meaning politicians are restricted by bureaucracy, by the “politics of knowledge”? And if so, what does this mean for our fight: do we continue, do we fly all the way to Qatar next year? And if so, what do we achieve?

Despite these questions, which still need a lot of mulling over in my head before I attempt to answer them, I can say this: COP made me realise that I am part of something big, something fundamental. The environmentalist movement spans all levels of thought, social injustice, political ability and articulation. It spans all races, ages, occupations. There’s something profoundly human about it, some recognition that we’re not doing stuff as well as we could, and a deep desire to change that.

And if for all the fragmentation of the movement, we’re relentlessly working towards something better, then, well: I’m in.

“Then finally,
we opened the box, we couldn’t find any rules.
Our heads were reeling with the glitter of possibilities, contingencies...
but with ever increasing faith we decided to go ahead and just ignore them,
despite tremendous pressure to capitulate with fate”
-          The Books, Smells like Content

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Translating willpower into action: a challenge for the “African COP”.

It’s not everyday you get to see Jacob Zuma, Nicholas Stern, Rajendra Pachauri, Jean Ping and various Nobel peace laureates sitting around a table, chatting about the future of the world. But this is how my second day of COP started – at something called a “high level dialogue” – a discussion on adaptation and sustainability for Africa between policy makers and scientists.

What was really encouraging was the nature of the event: both scientists and politicians sitting around a table and acknowledging each other (or at least appearing to). More often than not in the climate discussions there has been a separation of the two actors: the scientists presenting the hard, cold facts, with the politicians squabbling over who’s responsible for what, who owes who, and how to get the best deal.

The dialogue was focusing on adaptation, which is one of Africa’s most important issues: how do we adapt our industry (mostly reliant on the natural environment) around inevitable changes in climate and weather patterns? The swirling of big brains around the table were tangible: these guys know a lot of stuff and can present it eloquently. Amongst the discussion were ideas that the re-shuffling of economies to be more eco-friendly should happen and be a “win-win” situation, that there needs to be more research coming from African institutions and especially (thanks to Naledi Pandor’s remarks) indigenous knowledge, that political will and transparency are needed.
At the "high level dialogue" - political will, scientific knowledge

It was great to listen to the issues being discussed so openly and also being agreed upon: I came out of the session feeling uplifted and hopeful. But later I started to think, “what about action?”. The political will to take action is there. The scientific facts are there. But why does action not seem to be happening?

Perhaps, I found myself thinking, our political systems are just too archaic to deal with rapid changes and action. After all, there is a huge dichotomy: on the one hand, there are the problems, and on the other, fantastic solutions. Why are they not being carried out?

Yesterday I was lucky enough to see Norbert Röttigen, the German minister for the environment, speak on Germany’s energy policy for the future. Some of my doubts, at least, about archaic political systems were disputed. Germany is one of the most progressive countries in terms of their energy policy. Not only are they talking about change, but they are actively carrying it out.

Germany is a hugely industrialised country, reliant on using large amounts of electricity. However, it is spearheading renewable energy and is fully committed, both politically and on the ground, to changing from fossil fuels to renewables.

What is interesting to note (not forgetting that my view is slightly superficial, coming from the outside), is the fact that whilst Germany is using a similar political and economic system to much the rest of the rest of the world (and that with a conservative government!), it is being a lot more effective about institutionalising changes to it’s energy policy. Why is this so different and what can the South African government do to follow in their footsteps, so that the change on the ground is actually carried out?

Of course, South African society is very different so Germany – we’re much less industrialised, have a huge vested interest in producing cheap coal, and face substantial inequality and poverty. But what would our country start to look like if the government were as dedicated, not only to talking about changing, but actually putting in the sweat and grime to carry it out?

Monday, 5 December 2011

The organised chaos and its legitimacy: the second week of negotiations begin

It’s officially week two of the climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa. Yesterday was also my first day as an official delegate, and as I joined the throngs of people heading through security I felt a tangible excitement (or nervous energy perhaps?) at the prospect of the week.

Having spent the previous week at Howard college in the Civil society space, which was particularly disorganised,  the chaotic atmosphere seemed similar in COP – amongst the masses of people, sessions, side events, negotiations, the atmosphere was overwhelming.

However, unlike Civil society, COP has an aura of being “the real deal”. The ritual around attending COP gives its delegates legitimacy, a kind of importance and agenda which makes it differ from the happenings at Howard College; the delegates differentiate themselves from the public, both physically and symbolically. To enter the conference, delegates get on a conference shuttle, walk through the CCR into a restricted area, go through security and into sectioned and partitioned hallways; they all wear the UNFCCC lanyards. Joining business men in suits, African women in traditional dress, press wielding cameras in their morning ritual gave me a sense of importance and excitement; I too was entering the world of the “official”.

How scary it is that, despite being as chaotic in nature as the civil society events, COP itself has real legitimacy and power. Is the power arbitrary? Is it simply created by an unequal amount of political and economic agency?

It certainly appears so. Despite wearing the right uniform and legitimising lanyard, I was restricted from attending the high level negotiations of the Parties, who differentiated themselves even from the other delegates. Despite being in the conference, we were restricted by layers of exclusivity; hierarchy.

But over the course of the day, unlike our experience in Civil society, we did come to find some general awareness about what was happening in the negotiations. There were whispers of the Green Climate Fund’s controversial move from the COP proceedings into the G20; the EU’s alternative proposal to Kyoto and surrounding support or decline; the ALBA countries’ and youth support of a Kyoto second term. Nothing was very clear, but there were general feelings, issues which were tangible in the general “delegate psyche”. More then that, however, was difficult to grasp amongst the complexity and sheer amount of events happening throughout the day.

Overall, from speaking to people who have been to many other COP’s, it is clear that everyone finds the first COP experience rather overwhelming and chaotic, which is encouraging. However, what is rather underwhelming is the fact that the chaos is something which is legitimising or enabling high-level decisions about the future of the world to be made in an environment of unequally-shared power. It is our job to remain aware of this - and in turn hold leaders to account on their amount of power.

being a veg

Yes, here it is. The dreaded vegetarian post.
When I became a vegetarian 6 years ago it was purely for ethical reasons. I loved the taste of meat, chicken curries were the best, but felt like a hypocrite for being a huge animal lover and then eating chicken and beef which is so evidently neglected in most feedlots and abattoirs around the world. So that was that, one night after yet another documentary on the maltreatment of chickens and cattle I called it quits on my carnivorous lifestyle. I am very aware that one person turning into a vegetarian is not going to make any difference to the meat supply chain but I still do not want to contribute to any more chickens becks being burnt off or a cow spending its whole life in a 5m sq enclosure.

Upon attending COY I was so pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by other people who were also like me. I would say 70% of the people there were vegan or vegetarian. The reason I know is that I handed out lunch on day 2 and most people double checked the food was defiantly vegan. The reason veg food is spoken about and supplied at a climate change conference, not one on animal welfare is that meat is a major cause of global warming.
The reason is that 70% of the Amazon rainforest is cut down if for meat production and livestock produces more greenhouse gases then worldwide transportation. Another indirect problem with cattle farming is that a large percentage of the grain grown worldwide (half of the world's total grain supply to be exact, 760 million tons) is grown to be used in cattle feed. So 3,4 billion hectares of land which grows grain does not end up feeding starving people but feeds cows. These cows are then eaten by rich, developed countries.
A major problem in developing countries is that as the upper class become richer they eat a diet higher in meat which further contributes to more of the countries' grain being used for cattle feed and even less food for the poor.
Meat also used 16X the volume of water than fresh produce and therefore results in use of 70% of the clean water on Earth. As we know, water is going to be an even scarcer resource from 2020 and
Research by the University of Chicago (Proff. Eshel and Dr. Martin) found that going vegan for one year saves 1,5 tons of emissions relative to standard American diet, 50% more than switching from an SUV to a Toyota Prius.

I could go on and on with facts about carbon/methane and livestock farming (particularly cattle) but wont, you get the point.

I'm not saving become a vegetarian, it isn't easy to give up all meat, you need serious will power. but even eating less meat may help the fight against climate change.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

end of week one. Greenbelt Movement

As the negotiations carry on this week and Canada begins to infuriate most people (they have threatened to pull out of the Kyoto protocol) everything becomes more and more complicated. Although all the bodies (COP, Subsidiary Body, LCA etc) all work so hard and have long days it doesnt seem like 2 weeks is going to be long enough. Hopefully there are huge break-throughs this week. I don't think I have written it yet- but well done to the ethekwini municipality, all in all they have done/are doing a sterling job! I went for a run yesterday at the beachfront and could not have seen more policemen in one place and streetcleaners, lots of climate change posters and information and best of all so many happy durban local running and pushing prams. Go Durban! Hopefully is persists even once COP is over.

Unfortunately I didnt get to go to many side events on Friday ( I only went to one) because I was on duty lots because I was helping a friend out. The one I did go to was hosted by Greenbelt and was so interesting. A local village lady from Uganda called Constance, spoke so well and described all the changes to the village in the last 10 years due to climate change. Most women in Africa are the food providers, water collectors and child carers whilst men go off to urban areas or work away from the house during the day. This means that women will be mostly affected by climate change. As temperatures increase and rainfall changes, agriculture for these village women  because exceedingly difficult and they have to walk further and further distances for water. It is at this local level that the impacts of climate change will be really felt and because it is the women who are the subsistence farmers in most parts of Africa, there situation is dire.

Greenbelt is one organisation which helps local communities generate income by including them in tree planting projects. It also trains and educates the grassroot communities about the value of their forests and all the ecological services forests offer. They prevent soil erosion and allow ground water capture. Greenbelt also creates income by training the women in bee keeping, to make pottery, weave baskets and farm indigenous crops which will be more resilient to changing climate.

There are many challenges associated with reforestation such as wildlife and pastoral grazers whose cattle eat the new seedlings. Fires are also a challenge which the communities have to try prevent. Although any tree planting project is such a long-term project, if the communities are involved in the project from the beginning it can be very successful, as it was on Mount Kenya.

It is important that I mention a major loss to the Greenbelt Movement community. Wangari Maathai started the Greenbelt Movement in 1977 and was a remarkable woman and role model. She was an advocate for better management of natural resources and for sustainability, equity, and justice. Prof Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She passed away in Septemeber this year from cancer. It is a great loss to all because she was a woman who founght for women in africa.

Civil society on crutches

I know I haven’t written in quite a long time. Partially, it’s because we’ve been fantastically busy, and partially it’s because I’ve been trying to formulate this blog post in a mind for a while now, rather unsuccessfully. How do I summarise the complexity and vastness of the past few days so that it’s coherent, readable? So perhaps I should start with a disclaimer: I might not be able to explain my experiences clearly, perhaps because the experiences themselves were not particularly clear.

I’ve been in Durban for about a week and a half now, and I’ve not yet been in the official COP negotiations – my accreditation only starts next week – but I have experienced a lot of what the civil society and side activities consist of. I did not have too many expectations about what the unofficial COP would present, but I must admit that I had expected slightly more evidence of “action” and organisation. After all, these are the people who actually do stuff on the ground, rather than make abstract decisions.

Perhaps it was watching the formation of various separate youth climate groups all with the same objectives, or experiencing the disorganisation of Howard Campus for C17, or the rather white-middle-class “Occupy COP17” which contributed to my sense of disappointment. To a large extent, I’ve been struggling with a cynicism about the whole thing; a niggling disappointment which echoes quietly a sad resolution in my head: perhaps we’re not effective; perhaps we’re not helping. It’s difficult to retain a clear sense of solidarity and motivation toward solving a problem which seems gigantic when there is so much going on; so many whistleblowers; so many events.

To try to describe my impression of the Climate movement during the last few days is very tricky, but perhaps the keywords complex and dispersed help me a bit. The vastness and diversity of highly motivated people’s movements working toward an ultimate goal is staggering and overwhelming. On the one hand, thinking about the amount of people working toward something is fantastic. On the other, seeing these people together in Durban in a situation which can only be described as “chaotic confusion” is rather disheartening.

On a plus side, it seems that the confusion within the actual COP negotiations equal, if not outdo, those amongst civil society. I’ve been very cynical about politics and the way that it restricts fast action and creates power disparities amongst people – it’s been no different in COP. With an emergency situation pending, our political negotiations are like a wheelchair on a sandy beach: trying to move forward but ineffective to match the speed of the incoming waves.

But the civil society does seem restricted to crutches in its attempts to be a real lobbying force for the climate movement through its dispersion and complexity. Perhaps it’s unity which we need – and by that, I do not mean the lack of diversity. There is no doubt that there are millions of fantastic initiatives around the world doing real changes and with diverse experiences and approaches – this is a strength, not a weakness, of the civil society movement. But our skills and forces could be utilised more effectively if we were more humble, more open to delegating and sharing our vision and tasks. Let’s not reinvent the wheel if it’ll get stuck in the sand; let’s airlift ourselves out of the reach of the waves.

Friday, 2 December 2011

C17 in pictures

Because it's been incredibly busy the last few days, this post is just some visual updates on the civil society events happening around COP17.

"Occupy COP17" happens every day outside the ICC at lunchtime. The objective is to re-claim the space in which the negotiators making descisions for the 99% are based. Usually there is a general assembly followed by working groups on various topics.

At the Rural Woman's Network press conference. Struggle songs with "iClimate Change" added.
Fellow COY friends discuss issues affecting their future in the discussion of an African Youth Charter for climate change

Busy at the civil society: advertising a banner-making session for youth at C17

Kumi Naidoo speaks on the importance of youth at a Greenpeace evening function on the beach.

The power of the youth.

Day 3 of COP17 was a very limited day for me. As part of the University of Cape Town delegation at the conference i was required to work at the universities information booth. Because of this i was unable to attend any plenary sessions (official negotiating sessions). The extended time in the booth did however allow me the opportunity to think about a few questions that seemed to be on the minds of many of the youth at the conference.

This question dealt with the thought of whether the youth presence at the conference actually made a difference. As an member of a youth organisation at the conference my voice and involvement falls under YOUNGO, the UNs official youth representatives. Any and all interaction is done through this body. A result of this YOUNGO was my direct link to the secretariat and how i interacted with them. This 'at arms length' perspective meant that there was a decidedly biased impression put forth to the youth. Do not misunderstand me, i do see the reason for this segmented system. What it brought to my attention was the fact that any and all actions planned, any opinions given or any discomfort felt by the youth with official negotiations was diluted and censored by those who represented YOUNGO.

The long stretches of time also brought the following to my attention. If opinions of the represented youth were so watered down, what actual difference do they make? The official answer to this question is that all views are considered and taken into account, but the real answer is far less politically correct. Honestly this soapbox given to the youth is simply to keep them quiet. If any sort of negotiations came down to it would the executive take the side of a wealthy business which funds them or a handful of tree hugging kids? which side would you take? This cynical view clouded most of the day and resulted in not much actually being done.

Inbetween my working periods of great cynicism i did get the opportunity to take part in a session which looked into the various funding sources of coal mining and electricity generators who make use of coal to generate their electricity. This session brought to light many injustices around the world along with many other it highlighted circumstances in India where in many mines it was reported that there are children as young as 8 who work underground in the coal mines. This session perfectly showed the duality that is the climate change debate. On one hand there are coal mines who destroy the environment and reap massive rewards for this unbridled greed. Yet it is those same coal mines who employ tens of thousands of people and in turn provide a livelihood for hundreds of thousands more. This need for balancing between the environment and the economy could noted as one of the major causes for the delay in climate negotiations.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Prioritizing WATER

Upon attending a side event in the African Pavilion today I was so surprised to learn how little focus is given to water concerns in the climate change negotiations. For me- water is the MOST important resource which should be prioritised into mechanisms combating climate change. Adaptation funds should definitely expand to include water conservation projects. 75% of the events which will arise from climate change are water related. If this is the case why are other themes such as renewable energy, food security and developments mechanisms more discussed and considered in climate mechanisms?

Quite simply put- an increase in global temperature causes more evaporation and less available water. The water which is available will also be of low quality due to contamenation from extreme events. An interesting statistic is that by 2020 there will be 50% less available water on earth then currently available (and lets face it, countries like Darfur and Somalia have no water at present!)

Lake Chad is one such body of water that clearly shows climate change first hand. In the last 20 years the lake has decreased by 90%. Because Lake Chad is has such a large surface area but is relatively shallow, evaporation of the water is rapid. The scary reality is that 30 million peoples' livlihoods depend on the Lake so Chad is in a dire situation- there could ultimately be 30 million refugees in the next 10 years due to water scarcity.

Water managmement schemes need to be integrated into all sectors. Water is the medium which unites all themes from agriculture to clean energy. How can you expect hydro-elctricity generation as an alternative to coal if there may be no water in the future. This has been witnessed in hydropower schemes in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia where decreased volumes of water have compromised the powerplants.

The youth need to put pressure of all their governments to prioritize water into policies and climate change negotiations!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

REDD+ Scheme

An interest of mine at the moment is the REDD+ scheme which is one financial mechanism to combat climate change. On Wednesday I went to a very interesting session by CIFOR (centre for international forest research) all about REDD+ and have to share the complexities around this scheme with everyone.

First of all, for those who do not know. REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Deforestation is the permanent removal of forests and withdrawal of land from forest use. Forest degradation refers to negative changes in the forest area that limit its production capacity.
Very simply put, developed countries (annex 1 countries more specifically) actually pay developing countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Tanzania to NOT cut down their forests which very obviously play a positive role in combating climate change.

REDD is considered a carbon offset scheme, where annex 1 countries pay forested countries to maintain their forests and then gain carbon credits. By gaining carbon credits the industrialised country then aims to reach its reduction goals/targets. Because deforestation and degradation accounts for 20-25% of the green house gas emissions, making it more then transportation at this stage.

There are a few complications with the REDD scheme. The first very contentious issue around REDD is that by declaring forests protected it often means that governments also deny the indigenous communities of the forests to harvest wood which is denying them land tenure they have known for their whole existence. Therefore the equity issues around forests have made indigenous NGOs very anti REDD. Unless the governments make alternative livelihoods available to the forest communities they suffer under REDD. Often the REDD funding only becomes available once a forest has been protected and therefore no money is available for the indigenous communities. Compensation to the indigenous groups is often in the form of money but if it only comes later, these communities cannot survive whilst waiting for it.

Another issue is that around acquiring REDD financing. Often developing countries have no intention of deforesting their forests but threaten to do so or begin selling sections of their forests to timber companies so that they can get the REDD fund. Therefore REDD has in some situations made certain countries threaten or begin deforesting which would not have occurred without it- this is the case in certain sections of the Amazon. 

Another issue is that of MRV (monitoring, reporting and verifying). To be able to apply for REDD funding a country needs to provide reports and monitor there forest progress- which many developing countries do not have the capacity to do. Some people feel too much emphasise and money is spent on MRV which could go to indigenous communities.

There are also challenges around implementing REDD due to the fact that it has to be built onto national and subnational policies which is difficult and costly. I have no even skimmed the surface around the complexities associated with REDD but it is important just to know what it is and the theory behind it.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Day 2 Fact Sheet

Instead of droaning on about the highlights of my day I thought I would instead list all the facts I learnt today which I found particularly interesting/scary. As you can imagine most information we hear is pretty scary and depressing to say the least. But here are the facts of my day:
  • The Kyoto Protocol demands to limit the rise in avg global temperature to 2*C but that actually means a catastrophic 7*C for Africa
  • Investment  in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which is one strategy to combat climate change, has dropped to only $1,5 million, therefore is less money available to deal with the growing issue and very little of it goes into countries in Africa
  • To reach the 2020 reduction targets we need annex 1 countries to commit to the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol
  • The Kyoto protocol is the only reduction mechanism in operation~ so if you dont know what it is you better get reading on the internet
  • By 2020 we need a 40% reduction in emisson targets
  • Durban is the best chance we have before it is too late
  • Countries justify their inaction to climate change by saying it will destabilize their economy but the fact of the matter is INACTION will result in far less jobs then any conversion to a green economy
  • Australia has passed the Carbon Tax has began investing $13 billion in the clean energy sector- all countries should!
I went to an interesting session by GreenPeace on ''Coal-the dirty truth" which was so informative. To summarize the main points very briefly:
  •  the excuse by the energy department that coal is cheap and therefore far out plays renewable energy is a load of rubbish
  • it is not cheaper when looking at all the externalities associated with coal
  • SA is the 6th largest consumer of coal in the world yet we are not even attempting to convert to renewable energy
  • China consumes 45% of the coal in the world but is at least striving to develop renewable energy unlike us!!
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not not a solution to combat climate change; CCS is when carbon is captured out of the atmosphere and is stored in the earth kilometres deep.
    • unfortunately it requires 10-40% more energy, vast amount of water and the storage potential of the earth is not known
    • therefore it is not an alternative to reducing emissons

Experiences from the “People’s Space”: C17

8am, Howard College, 28 November 2011. I arrive at Howard College once again, following the weekend of madness that was COY7. Set up on the hill, spatially and symbolically far from the COP17 proceedings at the ICC, it felt strange to be on the side of civil society whilst Juli and Nick (along with Jacob Zuma) were down in the official space below.

Expecting to find the C17 more organised than the weekend, we were surprised to find the campus a hub of disorganisation – the programme and events were unclear, and the “youth space” which we headed to eventually was spectacularly empty. I couldn’t help but feel a sigh of disappointment. I could just imagine the politicians in their protocol-controlled sessions tut-tutting and saying, “typical”.

But despite this, we eventually stumbled upon a joint Eskom-UJ working group for youth on “Paradoxes of climate change: the green economy and sustainable development”. The delegates in the working group were actually there as part of a programme which will spend the next 10 days of COP working on this problem: addressing a workable solution to the “green economy” question. After the craziness of the first few days of COY, which – while amazingly educational – were pretty ideological and complex, finding ourselves in a space which was not only talking about the actual issues at hand but actually doing something about it was a great breath of fresh air. 

After taking part in this workshop, I started to understand a bit more about what the C17 space is about: providing workable solutions to the issues at hand. And as much as politicians feel indignant about the civil society’s disorganisation, so do many NGOs about what the “Conference of the Polluters” achieves, because they are actually already working out solutions to the issues at hand, but don’t have the political support needed to make larger changes.

And during this event, which is like a “global brainstorm” about a world-wide problem, one has to ask, why is there division between those thinking about what happens on the ground and those doing stuff on the ground?

To some extent, the fact that there is a separate “people’s space” to the “negotiator’s space” for COP17 points to a larger, more subtle problem. The separation of political rhetoric and what actually happens on the ground seems to be the status quo everywhere. Why is this? And could addressing this start to solve the political deadlocks and lack of progress over the last 16 COPs?

The Debate Begins

Monday the 28th November brought with it the official opening of COP17. The day began early with a youngo meeting that established the youths approaches to the conference and how they hoped to influence the negotiations at hand. In their meeting the global youth representatives used every opportunity to remind their colleges that what they, the youth, wanted from these talks was not another half measure by governments to prolong the fossil fuel generation. 6 of the members within the youngo meeting were even selected, by vote, to join the official plenary sessions. Although the selection process was open and fair there was a definite lack of African presence in those chosen. The main plenary sessions although late went on without a hitch, and unfortunately as expected the major leaders omitted the call for an extension to the Kyoto protocol or a legally binding agreement. The words of welcome from delegates like those of South African president Jacob Zuma were certainly warm. There was however the consensus that climate change is a devastating process that must be stopped and that the prior 20 years of stunted negotiations have taken far too long to have resulted in a lack of consensus. The official proceedings throughout the day followed suit. As a first time conference go-er the amount of formalities and greetings that preceded every parties statement was hard to adjust to. It is understood why they occupy this place yet the question that must be asked is, how much more negotiations could delegates get through if these endless greetings were removed from the official program.Along with the official proceedings cop17 also consists of many side events. One of these included a presentation by The Energy Research Institute, on India's response to climate change. This presentation consisted of an in depth look into local level mitigation measures that have been put in place by Indian local municipalities. This presentation not only included Indian officials but also academics, representatives of industry and other organisations. What this presentation showed was that even though these initiatives were of a local scale their principles could be put in place at an international level.

The final official session met in order to deal with a number of administrative matters and it also have the opportunity to parties to voice their expectations for the conference which lay ahead. Here again there was the consensus that there was a great opportunity for having up a legal agreement and that the time in Durban should not be wasted. Many parties like those of small developing island nations called for responsibility to am taken a developed nations for the sold they played in climate change and that developing nations should not bear the brunt of climate change alone. Observer organisations were also invited to voice their expectations and this is where the most inspiring calls came from. Pleadings like those of Gambia which noted that "No country is insignificant enough to be lost to the effects of climate change". Finally it was the turn of the African youth to voice their concerns. A member of the climate caravan from Nairobi, Ester, was given the honour of this task. She noted that "We cannot allow to leave durban without a legally binding agreement, it cannot be the death of the Kyoto protocol". It was inspiring messages like these that highlighted a day that was otherwise flooded by protocol.

Monday, 28 November 2011

COP17 opening ceremony

Just to give everyone a bit of background to set the scene of what happens at a COP. After being body searched and sent through a scanner upon arrival I walked around for a while trying to get my bearings. The amount of people is overwhelming, everyone is there for buisness and has a definate goal they are trying to acheive. Is amazing how insignificant you can feel walking amongst all the international delegates and representatives. Nick and myself watched the opening ceremony from the room next to the offical delegation room (which no NGOs were allowed into)- in our 'non-offical room' there must have been around 3000 people- the scale of this conference and volume of people is mind-blowing. App, 40 000 people have flown into durbs for this.

Every person gets a set of air phones so they can hear any translations so mis-understandings are not a factor. We heard Jacob Zuma, President of Chad and Vice-president of Zambia speak which was fascinating. Jacob Zuma spoke exceptionally well I thought and kept reitterating how SA should be aiming for a Green Economy. He also spoke about projects which are in the works for SA such as hydrological schemes and wind energy capture. The most interesting thing he said which I didnt know is that one small island state, Grapati, has already started being evaculated due to sea-level rise. So we have already began losing countries of the world due to human action :(

The hardest thing for myself and Nick to get used to was the formalities and protocol which goes into the whole process. Each speaker takes 5 min to welcome everyone correctly before he/she can even begin seems crazy that time is wasted on formalities when there are so many issues that have to be tackled the next two weeks. The conference could probably be one week if there were not so many protocols. Also the countries which oppose a point which arises on the agenda also do so in such a polite, correct way. It is amazing to see such benign interaction among states with such different interests. Maybe the next few days will heat up with developing countries trying to make their voices heard.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

And so it nearly begins...

Nick and myself registered for COP17 today and boy oh boy are we in for a treat. There are two massive exhibition halls- the AFRICA section where all the African countries have their stalls I assume is amazing. They have split the section into the different ecosystems found in Africa. For example, there is a Rainforest area, Desert area (i think) and other ecosystems- will check properly tomorrow when we are actually allowed in.
Today at COY was great. Hearing Kumi Naidoo speak was wonderful- he is the executive director of GreenPeace international so it was amazing hearing such an inspirational man speak. The video who Bill McKibben (founder of recorded for us was great. What an amazing man- he has spent more days in jail this year then in his own bed because he has been campaigning for environmental issues. Go Bill- you are my hero. I also went to a wonderful, informative workshop on the Green Climate Fund which am so glad I did. I feel like I knew of the Green Climate Fund but it was great hearing all the details about it and hearing people talk about it who have been studying it since inception. I very long story short- the Green Climate Fund was started to raise funding ($100 billion) which will be used in adaptation and mitigation measures for developing countries. It is one attempt at climate justice but unfort it is still in draft form because at the last Tranfer Committee meeting in October the USA and Saudi Arabia would not sign off on the report and it therefore won't be finalized this COP, as was hoped :( Dam! is a pity considering the other 38 countries agreed on the report and because of 2 countries yet another attempt to combat climate change and empower vulnerable countries won't happen :(
COY is over but there is so much to come. Between COP and the civil proceedings (C17) I think the next 2 weeks are going to be JAM PACKED. Well done to all the COY people who partied til 3am and still made it today...very impressive!

Starting with the youth

Day 2 of Coy 7 was one that was proudly African. It started with learning about various youth initiatives around the world that have resulted in successes. This informative session was followed by lessons around the diversity of the coy 7 delegates and how we all have the opportunity to make a substantial difference in the climate change movement.

But the day was truly highlighted by the climate change caravan and the story of their great trek towards Durban, South Africa from Nairobi Kenya for cop 17. Their heartening stories informed and educated us. Day 2 also say the 1st meeting of what will hopefully develop into a South African youth coalition. This working group involved many different sections of the south African youth. From official university organisations to individuals who joined simply knowing thex want to make a difference. These inspiring individuals showed US what difference an individual can make. The working group was established in the hopes of not only forming a South African youth coalition, it also had the view of developing homegrown stratergies and initiatives that could help raise awareness and spead the word of climate change in SA.