SA commits to lower emissions
The new climate treaty, which was expected to be signed in Paris late last night, may transform the global economy.
As a signatory to the deal, which still had to be finalised by the time City Press went to print, South Africa will have to start ridding itself of its coal addiction. Big questions remain on how the country will be able to implement the Paris agreement back home.
Delegates at the talks have struggled to construct the historic Paris agreement. Negotiations headed into the final hours of Saturday night, with ministers expected to sign the deal at about midnight.
In the South African delegation room, bets were on about the time when the deal would be concluded. The prize? A ticket back home.
Bleary-eyed negotiators wandered the halls of Le Bourget, the conference centre in northeast Paris where the negotiations were held. Most had last seen a bed on Tuesday night.
The final text of a draft agreement was agreed on at 6.45am yesterday after negotiators and ministers worked virtually nonstop through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
But overtime is not something particular to the Paris conference – it has happened at virtually every climate change meeting in the past 20 years.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon admitted that this year’s talks had been the most complicated and difficult negotiations he had been involved in. Sam Barratt of advocacy group Avaaz said getting 200 countries to agree on anything was tough.
“Getting them to agree on the future of the planet ... is probably one of the toughest pieces of negotiations they’ll ever get involved in,” said Barratt.
Economist and climate expert Lord Nicholas Stern said negotiating a low-carbon future was important for the business world and deserved careful consideration.
The stakes are high. Major developing economies China and India, with whom South Africa is closely aligned, accused rich countries of trying to railroad them into a deal that would damage their economies.
Along with South Africa, these countries insisted that no deal could be signed without rich countries committing to help finance developing countries to switch to low-carbon economies. They insisted rich nations should shoulder the blame for historic warming and use their allocation of the world’s carbon budget to help developing nations.
Jackson Mthembu, chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on environmental affairs, said South Africa had to be resilient in the face of climate change and capacity could only come from getting the necessary technologies and funds.
South Africa has committed to reducing its emissions by 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025, on condition it receives the financing to do so.
Mthembu said Parliament would play a critical role in enforcing the Paris agreement.
“It will be a very painful process; we need strong legislation to do this. We must legalise South Africa’s pledges at the conference into a strong legal framework at home. We will engage with industry to make this happen.”
He said South Africa had already begun work on this with its successful renewable energy programme; he insisted the political will existed to put South Africa on a low-carbon path.
“We see the big emitters, but we’ve got a stronger instrument at our disposal – the Constitution. Keeping in mind that we are a developing nation, we must find the spirit to do this.”
Greenpeace’s head, South African Kumi Naidoo, praised the nation’s efforts to keep developing countries together as a strong negotiating bloc. But he said there was a disconnect in the role South Africa played on the world stage and its domestic energy policy.