Remarks by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to Labour on COP17/CMP7, 29 August 2011

Programme Director
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am sure that by now you are aware that South Africa will soon welcome the rest of the world to the 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP7) in Durban, eThekwini, from 28 November to 09 December of 2011. You will agree with me and the rest of the world in expressing the hope that this Conference becomes a platform for the world to take a significant step towards a future Climate Change regime.

I am very pleased to be able to have this opportunity to speak to you on issues related to COP17/CMP7. I trust that this engagement with you will be the first as my door is always open for consultations in preparing for COP17/CMP7.

First of all, let me explain the differentiation of the roles between myself and Minister Molewa. Minister Molewa is leading the National Delegation whereas I am the incoming COP17/CMP7 President. In this regard, let me assure you that we are working closely together to strive for a credible outcome in Durban. I would also like to invite you to engage with the South African team as we have many challenges facing us. I hope that we will always have a vibrant dialogue between our team and all South Africans, including labour, business, civil society and all other stakeholders.  A week ago I addressed business.

It is imperative that we do not have a repetition of Copenhagen in Durban and that we should build on the trust that was rekindled in Cancun. The 194 Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change will be working together not to repeat the misunderstanding that took place in Copenhagen. You will be aware that President Zuma made certain pledges when he attended Copenhagen. I can assure you they were not reckless idealistic statements, but did place our national interest central. Please also note that the President however did qualify that our commitments are conditional on the necessary support we need to receive.

 If you would allow me, I would like to utilize this opportunity to highlight some of the specific areas that would require attention and where some gains could be achieved in Durban. I need to indicate to you that we face a number of challenges. It is important to mention that the negotiation process already began in Bangkok this year where we again experienced the mistrust reminiscent of Copenhagen which we fortunately could reverse in Cancun. Cancun restored faith in the ability of the multilateral process to achieve a globally acceptable agreement; however the trust built in Cancun is still fragile and we therefore require compromises from all Parties. The volume of work necessary to both operationalise the Cancun decisions and to effectively deal with outstanding political issues from the Bali Action Plan and Roadmap will require a transparent, inclusive, party-driven process which cannot rely solely on the Presidency.

I know that for labour economic development, competitiveness and decent jobs are paramount. Vulnerability to climate change is a direct consequence of poverty. Poor people have few resources to plan and implement adaptation strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change, changes that will occur in their workplaces, notably in the informal economy, in their homes or within their families. We must therefore work together towards Durban to achieve the success that will not only address these concerns, but of an outcome we will also be proud of.

Some refer to the Durban meeting as an “African COP”. This is not the first COP on the African Continent, but there is a particular way how Africa is looking at Durban. They want to feel the spirit of Africa and to use it to leverage partnerships and to showcase what Africa is doing, in fact what you are doing as labour. This is not like the World Cup where only a few qualified – for the COP all countries are here to participate and want to leave Durban as winners.

The African delegations are expecting the outcome to be aligned with their ambition. They see the 2nd Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol as one of the most important areas of work. They also want to know what will be the outcome of the negotiations, in other words what will be the legal outcome of the negotiations. Also important to them is the support they will receive to carry out their obligations and to cope effectively with the impact of climate change.

Adaptation is currently the most important issue within the African context, because they are among the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.  Since the impacts of climate change is already evident and that the level of ambition of the global deal on emission reduction affects the extent and cost of adaptation action, addressing adaptation needs is central to a global regime on climate change.

We are however concerned that adaptation is not receiving the priority attention that it deserves as the AWG-LCA is only considering issues related to the institutional arrangements for the Adaptation Committee with no processes for elaborating implementation of concrete adaptation actions.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of adaptation policies in terms of their positive effects on employment: policies that avoid job losses by changing the element in production affected by climate change (i.e. changing crops); and policies that create jobs by preparing the country for climate change, engaging in labour-intensive projects (i.e. large infrastructure projects). Adaptation could provide positive opportunities for sectors at risk and might even help to improve workers’ education and income. The outcome should therefore be what Africa wants within the limitations. It is therefore clear that what Africa wants will be beneficial for labour as well which has at its root survival.

The African Union Assembly decision on Africa’s preparations for COP17/CMP7 emanating from the AU Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in June 2011 commended South Africa and our partners for efforts towards Africa’s preparations for COP17/CMP7.  The AU Assembly called on Africa to participate fully in COP17/CMP7 and support the Presidency of South Africa in order to ensure the success of the Conference. This position received the endorsement of SADC at its Summit that took place a few days ago in Luanda, Angola.  Africa is behind us!  African wants to see us succeed in making COP17/CMP7 one of the important milestones in international climate change negotiations.

There is a concern among developing countries that are only now starting to move forward who fear that they will have to curtail their own fledgling industrial activities, because there would be no other choice.  At the heart of the climate change discussion lays the issue of need for sustainable development and economics and those environmental concerns sometimes occupy a secondary position. If it was purely an environmental issue, I believe we would have been able to solve the issue a long time ago. But when it comes to development, national interests become critical and it has changed the whole dimension of climate change negotiations. Even the current categorisation of Parties within the UNFCCC structure is based on Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries, which is linked to the levels of the countries’ development status. This categorisation is in accordance with their "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions".  

The issue of equity is raised sharply in the debate on the actions that parties need to take. Developing countries in general are fearful that their growth and general advancement is being hampered by those who have a historical responsibility for polluting unchecked to reach the level of development they have today.  At the same time it is also recognised that the share of global emissions of greenhouse gases originating in developing countries is growing as developing countries expand their industries to improve social and economic conditions for their citizens, and will soon overtake the emissions of developed nations. As climate is a global problem every country must take responsibility to play its part in contributing to the solution.

Climate change in general and the climate change negotiations in particular have reached a point where Durban has become a critical point for finding a lasting solution and to minimise the devastating effects on the environment and our world.  With this realisation also comes the reality that global political dynamics both in the lead up to Cancun, and currently, are not supportive of a progressive trend in the negotiations.

In the context of the global political dynamics South Africa will have to facilitate a credible outcome in Durban, realizing that many developed countries seek “incremental progress” under the Convention (which implies no 2nd commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol), but that developing countries are seeking a global agreement within a two-track negotiating framework. It also appears that many developed Parties argue that with the current state of play, the politics cannot deliver on what the science requires, namely a reduction of emission to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. What can be done in their view is for the Cancun decisions to be operationalised and for the other issues to be developed over time and for mitigation pledges to be incrementally improved without any timeframe or process. As incoming COP President, I will need to find compromises that would protect the integrity of the process, while also recognizing the development imperatives as well as climate change vulnerabilities of developing countries.

In this regard, it is very clear that climate change is not the sole responsibility of governments especially considering the added weight of development and where labour is playing a critical role. We know that climate change is one of the most challenging issues facing trade unions today and all over the world they have been working very hard to put employment and their role at the centre of climate change policy debates both at national and international levels. We will therefore count on labour within their objective to support our approach to COP17/CMP7 and to become instrumental in finding solutions and a “just transition” to the pressing problems related to climate change. The COP therefore presents an opportunity to showcase what South African labour is doing to support the climate change agenda which could be facilitated through side events and meetings. And to explain, “Just Transition according to Brian Kohler who used the term for the first time is an attempt to reconcile the labour union movement’s efforts to provide workers with decent jobs and the need to protect the environment. However, Kohler is very clear on the issue as he stated: “The real choice is not jobs or environment. It is both or neither.” (Kohler, 1996)

You must have already heard that a selected group of Ministers have been invited to an informal Ministerial meeting to be held in Pretoria from 5 to 9 September 2011. This meeting is part of the mandate given to me to consult as widely as possible in order to achieve an outcome that everybody will be comfortable with. Together with Germany, I hosted a similar meeting in Berlin – The Petersberg Climate Dialogue II – where Ministers were able to give political guidance to their negotiators. President Zuma will be co-hosting a “Leadership Dialogue” with Mexico on the margins of UNGA 66 next month in New York.

We are mindful that you have your own ambitions for COP17/CMP7, but we urge you to work in partnership with us in order to engage your counterparts particularly in the developed world to facilitate a consensus, to put pressure on their governments to honour their responsibilities on issues where there are blockages. We are under no illusion that the meeting in Durban will not be an easy one. In Cancun we managed to restore some trust in the multilateral system as we could not afford another failure. However, as I explained some difficult political issues did not get any attention and it is now left to solve them in Durban, or at least set mechanisms in motion to address these. But I want to end by saying that when it seems that it is impossible, we can work together to rise to the challenge.

On the status of our readiness to host COP17/CMP7 in Durban I can confirm to you that all arrangements are in place and on track.  We are on top of all aspects of what goes into organising an event of this magnitude – from accommodation and venue preparation, to security and protocol support.  We have a national program in place to mobilise all South Africans, province by province.  Remember, we once organised the WSSD... the UN Racism Conference... we have the know-how and ability which we demonstrated when delivered the FIFA World Cup.  We have launched our website as well as the logo which is designed around the baobab tree – a symbol of Nature’s resilience and strength. This is well captured in the COP17/CMP7 slogan that we have chosen: Working Together! Saving Tomorrow Today!  That is, working together as the roots and the branches of the baobab tree to reach out to tomorrow to preserve the future for our children.

I trust that we will have a vibrant and interactive discussion with labour. South Africa is a country that specializes in multilateralism.

Thank you.


OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road

29 August 2011

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