Zuma will put Africa's case in Copenhagen

by Sheree Béga 

Environmental groups have welcomed President Jacob Zuma’s decision to attend the UN Copenhagen climate talks after his office initially insisted that he did not need to be at the crucial summit. On Thursday, the cabinet announced that President Zuma would lead South Africa’s delegation to the Danish capital, together with Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica and other senior government officials.

Last month, the Saturday Star reported how President Zuma’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, claimed there was no need for the president to attend as the Summit – which gets under way on Monday – “did not depend on personalities”.

The Mail & Guardian reported yesterday that the about-turn came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Zuma to attend, joining forces with France and Brazil in pledging a reduction by 2050 of carbon emissions to half the 1990 levels.

US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao are also due to attend the talks. These nations are the biggest polluters. Conservation group WWF-SA said they were very happy that President Zuma would attend.

Tasneem Essop, WWF-SA’s international climate change advocate, said: “South Africa has long been a progressive voice in the negotiations and also has the interests of the African continent and the global South (developing nations) at heart. The country has been vocal in putting pressure on wealthy nations for ambitious cuts in greenhouse emissions and in highlighting the need for these countries to support adaptation efforts in the world’s poorest nations.

“As a water-stressed country in a region where warming is already happening at around double the average global rate, and where the population is especially vulnerable to climate change and variability, we have a very real interest in a successful global deal that is fair, ambitious and binding.

“It’s especially important that we get heads of state from developing countries to attend, particularly from Africa, the continent with the most to lose. Their attendance will help break deadlocks, so that we come out with something much stronger than just a political agreement,” she said.

WWF-SA expects South Africa to put a package of actions on the table as part of a low-carbon development plan for the country. Makoma Lekalakala, the programme officer for Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, said the most important contribution from the government was a willingness to achieve a globally binding agreement to reduce global emissions, with a minimum of 40 percent greenhouse gas reductions from 1990 in 2020 by developed nations.

“Countries like South Africa also need to reduce their emissions at home. Is President Zuma willing to reduce emissions at home?” Lekalakala asked. “Is he ready to stop both Eskom and Sasol from increasing their carbon emissions?  “If he is, just his presence at Copenhagen will help to bring about the kind of agreement necessary for a real, lasting and just change. “Climate change is not about individual countries, but the fate of humanity as a whole. Every leader needs to commit to real action in the name of our common good.”

Fiona Musana, communications manager of Greenpeace Africa, said: “All the world’s leaders, including Zuma, should be there (in Copenhagen) to make sure that whatever legal agreements are made, each leader is able to say ‘Yes, I own a part of this. I’m going back to my country to make the commitment at a domestic level to reduce coal use and embrace the energy revolution’. “Zuma’s being there is critical. It’s about personal commitment to demanding action from the developed world. Only when leaders sign on the dotted line will they make Copenhagen meaningful.”

(www.thestar.co.za / www.pretorianews.co.za; 20091205)

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