Save Earth, not money

Of­fi­cials in 137-mem­ber team say big del­e­ga­tion was no waste of tax­payer funds, but es­sen­tial to shape the right kind of cli­mate deal

CityPress - - News - YOLANDI GROE­NEWALD yolandi.groe­newald@city­press.co.za

In­flu­ence was the name of the game at the crit­i­cal cli­mate talks in Paris this week. And for South Africa, it meant ar­riv­ing with a strong con­tin­gent that could shape the kind of deal the coun­try wanted, said the South Africans. A list of del­e­gates showed that 137 South African of­fi­cials at­tended the talks, and the del­e­ga­tion was adamant that each mem­ber had a role to play.

Many ques­tioned whether South Africa was wast­ing tax­pay­ers’ money by send­ing so many del­e­gates.

Just un­der 40 000 peo­ple from around the world at­tended the COP21 cli­mate talks over the past two weeks. An agree­ment was due to be signed at the week­end af­ter del­e­ga­tions spent days and nights ham­mer­ing out a po­ten­tially his­toric deal.

Biznews said that while it was im­por­tant for South Africa to par­tic­i­pate in the cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions, 10 del­e­gates might have been a more ap­pro­pri­ate num­ber. Sev­eral min­is­ters, de­part­ment of­fi­cials, Eskom ex­ec­u­tives, may­ors and aca­demics made the trip. But in­cluded in Team SA were a num­ber of vet­er­ans with vast ex­pe­ri­ence in ne­go­ti­at­ing at such a con­fer­ence.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma also at­tended the start of the sum­mit with 18 pres­i­dency of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing a pres­i­den­tial in­ter­preter, pho­tog­ra­pher and per­sonal video pho­tog­ra­pher.

It is un­clear what the to­tal costs were of fly­ing out the del­e­ga­tion be­cause the dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment de­part­ments had not con­sol­i­dated their bud­gets for the trip.

But the South African del­e­ga­tion hit back at crit­ics, say­ing the team had done the coun­try proud and it was not de­terred by “un­in­formed crit­ics”.

En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Edna Molewa said South Africa’s “ac­tive and vig­or­ous par­tic­i­pa­tion” in the talks was “not ne­go­tiable”.

Molewa said the num­ber of del­e­gates who were listed was in­cor­rect, but she could not pro­vide an ex­act fig­ure. She said many of the of­fi­cials present had al­ready been sta­tioned in France, while many of the names listed had not at­tended.

En­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs spokesper­son Albi Modise said it was not help­ful that when teams spent sleep­less nights serv­ing South Africa, en­sur­ing that na­tional in­ter­ests were se­cured and the planet saved, crit­ics dis­torted the facts.

“They un­der­es­ti­mate the mag­ni­tude of work be­ing done here and fo­cus on count­ing heads out of con­text and try to mis­lead our na­tion,” he said.

He added that the Paris deal had come about as a re­sult of long hours, work­ing around the clock on com­plex, mul­ti­ple, par­al­lel work streams, for­mal and in­for­mal meet­ings, ne­go­ti­a­tions and con­sul­ta­tion ses­sions and side events.

“South Africa is re­garded as a con­struc­tive ne­go­tia­tor be­cause it plays a ma­jor role in en­sur­ing that par­ties reach con­sen­sus in ne­go­ti­a­tions,” he said. In­ter­est­ingly, South Africa’s del­e­ga­tion was more or less par for the course, con­sid­er­ing that the coun­try chaired the most im­por­tant ne­go­ti­at­ing block at the ne­go­ti­a­tions, the G77 plus China. South Africa was also not among the 20 largest del­e­ga­tions at the talks.

Nine of the 20 were from Africa. Guinea, with 398, was the sec­ond-largest con­ti­nen­tal del­e­ga­tion fol­lowed by Ivory Coast, with 338 del­e­gates. Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Syria, had the small­est del­e­ga­tion, with three rep­re­sen­ta­tives each.

The US, a crit­i­cal player at the talks, had 124 del­e­gates, mak­ing it the 35th-largest del­e­ga­tion.

China boasted 326 del­e­gates. Morocco, which is host­ing the talks next year, had the most ne­go­tia­tors at 439. Brazil had 319 of­fi­cial del­e­gates. Host coun­try France reg­is­tered 395 del­e­gates. South African civil so­ci­ety del­e­gate at the talks Re­hana Dada said South Africans had to ap­pre­ci­ate the com­plex­ity their del­e­ga­tion was deal­ing with.

Though civil so­ci­ety of­ten dif­fered with the del­e­ga­tion, its mem­bers agreed that the del­e­gate num­bers were jus­ti­fied.

Dada said it was cru­cial for South Africa to be a force at the talks.

“I’m just glad we have the re­sources to have a large del­e­ga­tion. Be­cause of this, South Africa is able to stand on its own at the talks. We can in­flu­ence a treaty that will have a great im­pact on the world,” she said.

South Africa’s lead­er­ship in the G77 plus China re­quired a great deal of sup­port from del­e­ga­tion mem­bers, she said.

“It takes a lot of ef­fort to hold the unity of this group to­gether. You need a large del­e­ga­tion to do that.”

Apart from the big pol­icy de­ci­sions be­ing made, COP21 had also been a meet­ing ground where many side deals were struck and crit­i­cal con­nec­tions made.

Most of the South African del­e­gates were stay­ing at the Hy­att, near the Champs-Élysées, and most of­fi­cials re­port­edly flew busi­ness class.

But Modise said gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials at the talks stuck strictly to the cost-con­tain­ment re­quire­ments spelt out by gov­ern­ment and had taken mea­sures to en­sure rea­son­able ex­pen­di­ture.

Iron­i­cally, many of South Africa’s ne­go­tia­tors did not even see much of the in­side of their ex­pen­sive ho­tel rooms this week, as they ne­go­ti­ated around the clock.

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