COP 17: Will Durban advance the Climate Change Agenda?

Image: Flickr, Nicolas Raymond
Image: Flickr, Nicolas Raymond

On 28 November 2011 South Africa will replace Mexico as President of the 17th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

As the incoming Chair of the COP, South Africa is uniquely positioned to help shape the future architecture of the global climate change regime – one of the most politically divisive and complex areas currently under discussion within the multilateral fold. South Africa has a rare opportunity in Durban to direct the multilateral agenda towards an ambitious and fair agreement, one that is legally binding and reflects equitable burden-sharing based on respective capabilities and circumstances.

South Africa, as the African COP President, should aim at advancing the cause of the most vulnerable, especially those within Africa. Climate change will exacerbate existing development challenges in Africa and introduce further socio-economic stresses on its society. The vulnerability of Africa’s people to climate stress is intrinsically tied to the welfare of the agriculture sector which is responsible for the livelihoods of two-thirds of the population. There is clear evidence that productivity in agriculture and fisheries, important sectors contributing to the overall national income, will be adversely affected by extreme weather patterns associated with climate change. Most African countries do not have the adaptive capacity and resources to prepare or buffer their communities against adverse climatic impacts.

African countries need to establish coping mechanisms to improve their adaptation strategies to these uncertainties and challenges. Strong institutions, transparency and the broad involvement of non-government actors are key to managing these challenges and should guide future policy and inform government decisions around climate change and development planning, regulation and monitoring. The cross-sectoral and multi-faceted nature of climate change requires a comprehensive response by all stakeholders, which includes better natural resource governance.

Africa is also central to mitigation efforts. The continent is home to the Congo Basin forests, a block of tropical rainforest second in size only to the Amazon. More than half of this forest is found in one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Forests can serve as either carbon sinks or carbon sources. So it has been estimated that emissions from deforestation exceed that of the global transport sector. It is for these reasons that reducing deforestation and degradation in tropical areas is seen as a high priority mitigation option for slowing climate change. The Durban negotiations will discuss national and regional incentive structures and mechanisms being developed to protect these forests and reduce emissions (REDD+).

Climate change and natural resource governance are intrinsically linked. SAIIA’s Governance of Africa’s Resource programme looks at the following issues:

The politics of climate change: South Africa as an agent of change

South Africa must demonstrate political will and act as an agent of change in the upcoming negotiations. At the domestic level, South Africa’s climate change actions are informed by a broad debate on how to make a fair contribution to the global effort to address climate change while at the same time ensuring that climate change related investments contribute to building its future economic competitiveness and economic growth. South Africa is the 13th largest global carbon dioxide emitter and therefore needs to demonstrate political leadership in terms of making ambitious domestic mitigation commitments. However, making a shift towards a low-carbon future is particularly difficult for a fossil-fuel dependent economy.


COP 17: What Role for South Africa as an Agent of Change? by Romy Chevallier, SAIIA Policy Briefing No 38, November 2011

Placing African Fisheries on the COP 17 Agenda by Alex Benkenstein,
SAIIA Policy Briefing No 40, November 2011

The Road to Copenhagen: Climate Change, Energy and South Africa’s Foreign Policy by Lesley Masters, SAIIA Occasional Paper No 47, October 2009.

South Africa’s Dilemma: Reconciling Energy-Climate Challenges with Global Climate Responsibilities by Romy Chevallier. (pg 145-174) Chapter in Climate Change and Trade: The Challenges for Southern Africa, Edited by Peter Draper and Ivan Mbirimi, August 2010, [ISBN 978-1-920196-28-8]. For more information on this book, please click here.

The Challenges of Carbon Mitigation and Implications for South Africa in the post–2012 Context by Auriel Niemack. South African Yearbook of International Affairs 2008/2009. Johannesburg SAIIA. (pg 67-84)

Climate Change: Africa Divided by Romy Chevallier, published by The, Issue 15, October 2011

Forests and the governance of the forestry sector:

An optimist would describe REDD+ in the DRC as an unprecedented opportunity to mitigate climate change, while promoting development in one of the poorest countries in the world. A realist would point out that the potential opportunities are at least matched in size by the challenges. REDD+ might be new, but the governance challenges it will encounter in the DRC are not. This report considers both the impact that governance issues can have on REDD+ and the potential impact of REDD+ on issues of governance in the DRC.


REDD Integrity: Addressing governance and corruption challenges in schemes for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) by Peter Bofin, Mari-Lise du Preez, André Standing, Aled Williams. U4 Report 1: 2011, Chr. Michelsen Institute.

Seeing the Wood for the Trees: Forestry Governance in the DRC by Mari-Lise du Preez and Kathryn Sturman, SAIIA Research Report, No 4, June 2009

The governance of the African fisheries sector

A SAIIA Research Report entitled ‘Troubled Waters: Sustaining Uganda’s Lake Victoria Nile Perch Fishery’ by Alex Benkenstein, October 2011, focuses on the sustainable management of Uganda’s fisheries resources, particularly the lucrative Nile perch fishery. Maintaining the health of Uganda’s fisheries is critical from an economic and food-security perspective, particularly given the growing pressures of rapid population growth, ongoing environmental degradation and possible stresses related to climate change.

Climate change and adaptation policy

Policymakers need to act urgently to help vulnerable communities adapt to these impacts. Strong institutions, economic and infrastructural barriers minimise the impact of climate change on vulnerable societies. However there are numerous barriers to adaptation policy implementation in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also important that African policy makers work towards integrating adaptation into already-existing development strategies – so as to enhance Africa’s development priorities and not undermine them. In this article Earthscan describes the importance of integrating adaptation policy at the local, national, regional and continental levels.


Integrating adaptation into development strategies: The Southern African perspective by Romy Chevallier. Chapter in Earthscan’s Climate change and Development special edition: Adaptation to Climate Change in Southern Africa: New Boundaries for Development. Volume 2, Issue 2, April 2010. (This article is available on a subscription basis)

Cooperation around climate change

The current geopolitical landscape and global financial situation makes an ambitious, legally binding outcome in Durban highly unlikely. African countries should use their collective weight to lobby the West for more equitable and fair outcomes. South Africa can play an important role in this regard, steering the negotiations in a way that pushes all countries to take the poorest and most vulnerable into account. South Africa pursues this approach through the involvement in the Africa Group and coordinates its negotiating positions with BASIC countries (Brazil, SA, India and China).


Facing the Challenges of Climate Change: The Case of South Africa and its Potential Collaboration with Other Southern Economies (pg 129-151) by Romy Chevallier. Chapter in Going Global: Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea and South Africa in International Affairs. 2011.

This publication is the product of a joint Australian Institute of International Affairs and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung event called ‘Going Global: Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Korea and South Africa in International Affairs’ held in Jakarta on 25-26 May 2010.The report was published in 2011. Download the full report here.

The IBSA States as Partners and Leaders in a Future Global Climate Change Regime by Romy Chevallier. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) International Reports No 4. 2011

Biofuel Technology Transfer in IBSA: Lessons for South Africa and Brazil by Lyal White & Tatiana Cyro Costa, SAIIA Policy Briefing, No 7, November 2009

India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA): A new geography of trade and technology cooperation? by Romy Chevallier, Christian von Drachenfels and Andreas Stamm

The German Journal of Economic Geography (Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie) 52 (1), 35-49: A New Global Shift. The Rise of Anchor Countries. 2008 (This article is available on a subscription basis)