Closing Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Ms Sue van der Merwe, at the National Conference on Climate Change, Midrand, 20 October 2005

Honourable Deputy Ministers
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentleman

On behalf of the Ministry and Department of Foreign Affairs, I would like to express our appreciation for the work you have done and covered since Monday and the progress that you have made.

We have followed the proceedings of this conference and have noted a vibrancy in the discussion and the contributions from participants that have made this a memorable and ground-breaking event.

I am sure you will all agree that the real test of this Conference's success presents itself now in its final stages as we map the road ahead and in the period immediately after this event as we devise action plans with concrete deliverables so that we can reach our goals.

But I believe that the passion with which participants have expressed themselves in the last few days is a good basis on which to start our work, since it is this passion for our country, the wellbeing of our people and for the Earth itself that will provide us with the necessary energy to carry out the work that lies ahead, and importantly to conscientise others about what needs to be done, to create an awareness of our responsibility to our environment.

It is this same passion that President Thabo Mbeki articulated in his opening speech at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which South Africa had the honour to host in 2002, President Mbeki said that:

Understanding the umbilical cord that ties us to the planet earth, we are determined to do everything possible to save the earth from ourselves, to ensure that as it took millions of years for humanity to evolve and emerge, so must humanity survive and develop for millions more years on the basis of a healthy partnership between people and the planet, on the basis of a sustainable relationship between a prosperous world and a healthy environment.

Hosting the Summit was a most opportune moment for us, not only because it was the first time such a conference was held on our continent, but because it reflected our commitment as a country and as a people to play a leading role in promoting sustainable development at a global level.

As citizens of a country with a turbulent and painful past, we have moved towards creating a better life for all our people. We chose not to continue with the unsustainable practices of the past, but to nurture an environment in which people and nature could live side by side in harmony.

It is this vision that we carry with us even here today - to foster an environment which is safe and sustainable, in which we respect our surroundings, our homes, our world and recognise that there must be an end to human-induced climate change.

Indeed, we must come to the realisation that genuine human progress can only come about in a world in which we are creative and productive in the context of caring for our world and that our very inventiveness and desire for progress ought not to bring about environmental destruction and climate change.

Those who ignore the warning signs and have not recognised the tragedies that have befallen the world in recent years as evidence of our own human folly, take us on a path towards destruction of nature and self-destruction of humanity as a whole. This is not human development. This is disrespect for the present and for the future.

We have no choice but to change for the better and to persuade those who hesitate that it is all their future that is at stake.

At this critical moment in our history, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that our behaviour and lifestyles are negatively affecting our environment.

As South Africa, we convened this national consultation because we subscribe to the progressive view that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol have established multilateral mechanisms, policies and measures critical for the survival of South Africa, Africa and the world.

Indeed, our current and future generations' survival also depends on effective stewardship of our resources and it remains up to us to take leadership roles in our own way, to contribute to this vision.

We are encouraged that the two parallel sessions of the past few days have provided a sound platform for government, business, civil society and the scientific community to come up with a common understanding of the challenges that face us and to chart the way forward.

As so many at this Conference have said - there is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that global warming impacts directly on long-term weather patterns, and that human activity is contributing to the rate of climate change. This has led to the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes, and results in more intense droughts, desertification and flooding, the effects of which are becoming clearer and the dangers real as tragedy after tragedy befalls us.

It is estimated that 2005 may well be the first year since hurricanes have been named, that the World Meteorological Organisation will run out of the 21 designations chosen annually. Three weeks ago a team of eminent scientists published the results of a study into the frequency and intensity of hurricanes around the world - their findings indicate that although frequencies remain mostly unchanged, intensity has dramatically increased, with the percentage of largest storms - classed as Category 4 and 5 - having nearly doubled since 1990.

The consensus is that, even if the green house gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere were to be stabilised, climate change will continue to happen. It is therefore clearly critical to have in place policies, both at national and international levels that allow vulnerable countries to adapt to these impacts.

Even as we as Africans concern ourselves with Africa's development, we need to recognise that Climate Change undoubtedly impacts on sustainable development and the realisation of the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Because the contributors to climate change and thus the unsustainable patterns of development tend to be the developed and wealthy states, it is the co-operation and commitment of these states that is required to realise the development aspirations of the poorer countries.

Industrialised countries need to change their practices as indeed they need to recognise that the economic, political and social relationships they have imprinted on the world and the trading patterns that have favoured over years simply exacerbate inequalities between developed and developing nations and reduce people's abilities to see to themselves and to live in unity with the natural world.

For too long the African continent has been forced to produce what it does not consume and to consume what it does not produce. This is not sustainable and leads to a dependence on others even for basic necessities and conveniences; and our environment is put to use for that which is not useful to us.

As we put in place our action plans to redress this situation, we need to continue to engage in dialogue with the developed world to change this reality. And most importantly, we as a country need to continue to work with others like us, who have the same aspirations and principles as we do, of sustained development and for a more inclusive world.

As a country, we have recognised the significance and complexity involved in dealing with matters of this nature through our support for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. In this context, it was only logical that we would seek to address climate change concerns within a global and multilateral context.

Thus, we have been actively involved in pursuing and canvassing both an African position and a South-South approach to these matters.

We shall continue to work in fora such as IBSA, AASROC, NAM, the African Union and SADC and within the structures of the United Nations to make our voices heard, to lobby for change and to use every opportunity to see that the interests of the poor and marginalised are seen as paramount.

Bringing an end to poverty and underdevelopment should be part of our starting point to regenerate the environment.

Bringing an end to conflicts and war is also part of what we do, not only to ensure the continued existence of humanity, but also so that humanity exists peacefully and side by side with the environment.

Our work in this regard on the African continent seeks to bring about not only a better life for Africa's people, but also is intended to safeguard the environment on which we depend for our very existence.

Even as we embark upon development programmes to improve African infrastructure, even as we modernise African economies and even as we continue with our South African project of integrated rural development and urban renewal, let us do so in ways that are not destructive, but create a more sustainable world.

"The regeneration of Africa" as Pixley Ka Seme wrote, almost one hundred years ago, must be a regeneration "thoroughly spiritual and humanistic … moral and eternal". The regeneration must resemble a plant, "take root in the teeming earth; and when the seeds fall in other soils, new varieties [should] sprout up."

I think that the same observations and vision with which Seme saw human and natural development as linked hold true in today's world as part of our international agenda for progressive change. This should be part of responsibility as residents of the globe and citizens of the world.

Globalisation in itself is not a completely gloomy prospect. In fact as a country we have been part of the world economy since this continent first engaged in trade with others in the East and since the days of colonial rule. Now through authentic interaction with others, a global solidarity for progressive change is developing in this world. It is through this multilateral approach that we can build a healthy world, a more egalitarian global community.

This is why as a country, we remain convinced that climate change must ultimately be resolved through successful negotiations at the multilateral level. Climate Change is an urgent global problem and requires a unified global response. There should be no attempt to undermine multilateralism through regional or bilateral approaches.

Therefore, we approach the Montreal Climate Change meeting at the end of the year with a firm belief that the challenges we face are not insurmountable, provided the political will exists for change.

We will therefore also contribute to the momentum in Montreal aimed at:

  • The successful implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and all 19 decisions;
  • Strengthening Kyoto and the Climate Change Convention, in particular, pushing the issues of adaptation, capacity building, new and additional funding and technology transfer to developing countries much higher on the agenda, and streamlining the clean development mechanism (CDM); and
  • Launching a process to set the direction for a more effective and inclusive global regime after 2012 when the first commitment period under Kyoto runs out.

In Montreal next month, South Africa will do all it can to:

  • Oppose any weakening of the Kyoto targets and timeframes, and support measures to introduce more stringent commitments for developed countries during the second commitment period;

In Montreal, we shall also

  • Support calls for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by major developed country emitters such as the USA and Australia;
  • Part of our task will be to ensure that any future commitments for developing countries supports our development objectives;
  • As South Africa, we will emphasise that commitments cannot focus only on mitigation, and must strike a balance with adaptation and dealing with the of climate change; and
  • Moreover, we shall signal our support for the continuation, streamlining and further development of the CDM beyond 2012.

The fact that South Africa contributes only a small percentage (1.01%) of the world's total GHG emissions implies that there is little direct impact that South Africa acting alone will have on mitigating climate change.

This means that the existence of an inclusive, effective, flexible and enabling international climate change management regime is vital for sustainable social and economic development in the medium and long term.

From our perspective, it is important to intensify the multilateral global processes to involve all contributors to GHG emissions, as well as all countries that will be affected by the impacts of climate change.

This process should lead to the development of a package of global solutions which will deal with amongst others:

  • dramatic and deeper cuts in global emissions of GHGs; and
  • enabling vulnerable countries to adapt environmentally, economically and socially to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

The ideal regime should be a unified one that will work for both the developing and the developed world, taking into consideration the reality that there is no 'silver bullet' or 'one-size-fits-all' solution.

South Africa, as a responsible global citizen, will play its part in the multilateral process and will in particular emphasise key issues of concern to the African continent and in the G77+China context.

This is particularly relevant, because South Africa will take over the chair of the G77+China for 2006. We will also actively pursue finding common ground on the continent during the Meeting of African Ministers of the Environment (AMCEN) in Nairobi on 23 October 2005. This meeting was proposed by South Africa and is being held under the auspices of UNEP.

We will also pursue these positions on Climate Change at the next India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) meeting.

We will continue to promote multilateralism and enhance North-South co-operation, as well as renew our commitment to sustainable development as we resolved at the G-8 meeting in Gleneagles this year. In this regard, we will co-operate with developed countries in devising innovative mechanisms for the transfer of technology and to provide new and additional financial resources to developing countries under the UNFCC and its Kyoto Protocol.

For us, even as we conclude this National Conference on Climate Change, our national concerns also demand of us an internationalism, a spirit of global solidarity, a belief that "I am my brother's keeper". The world will have to act as one to stop the tide of environmental destruction and enforced climate change.

We once more take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to all of you for your work here as you engage in matters of key national interest. Through meetings such has this one, we are assured our development agenda is on course.

The excellent conference statement clearly demonstrates this.

As we leave to return to different places and different walks of life, let us keep to the road that this Conference has helped to shape and commit ourselves to unified action for a more sustainable and indeed self-sustaining world.

I thank you.

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