Climate change updates from COP21

Photo © Asian Development Bank

Over the two weeks of this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP21, SAIIA youth participants will be following the debates and decisions of world representatives. From Paris and from Johannesburg, we will sending daily updates and explaining how young people who have been following these issues for many years feel about the direction the negotiations are taking.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Saturday, 12 December 2015: the day that close to 200 envoys from all over the world adopted an agreement that will limit global warming, and the day that our world leaders gave us hope.

In general, this historic agreement on climate policy received a positive reaction from all stakeholders. However, people still criticise the agreement for being too ‘watered down’ in attempt to get all the Parties on board. Of course, the agreement contains a lot of flaws. Parties have agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 2°C while ‘pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C’ – not very ambitious. Human rights language appears only in the preamble and not in the purpose of the agreement (Article 2) which will have negative effects on its implementation. Also, the type of funding that developing states will receive is still very unclear as the language pertaining to ‘new, predictable and additional’ finance has been removed from Article 6 of the agreement.

I could write an entire article on why I think the agreement is not strong. However, I choose to join those who cheered at the adoption of this agreement, and not because I am ignorant of the agreement’s shortcomings but because I believe that it provides a good base from which we can continue to improve its content. As South African Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said, ‘The text we have before us is not perfect, but we believe that it represents a solid foundation from which we can launch our enhanced action with renewed determination.’

I am writing this blog post back in South Africa, and so I thought it appropriate to reflect on agreement and what it means nationally. What we should be focusing on now is the implementation of this agreement. Presidents, ministers and negotiators have made pledges and adopted agreements from an international platform that are going to have wide-reaching effects on the local people of each country. A bottom-up approach needs to take place in countries and communities in order to see the COP21 agreement come to life. There is also a complex relationship between local, national and international policymaking that the Parties need to reconcile. During the conference, it was all about the world leaders and what they are able to accomplish. However, today, it is all about the citizens and how we can push climate change policy forward.

At the moment, all eyes are on businesses and the markets to drive the change. For too long, the world has depended on the economy to bring about the change that we so desperately need. And for too long, the profit-driven markets have failed us. Instead, we need to ask, how can the most vulnerable (the women, the youth, and the poor) be involved in the implementation process?

Finally, I would like to speak to the leadership that was shown by team South Africa (especially on behalf of the G77+China and in the Africa Group). During the historic closing plenary on 12 December, South Africa was acknowledged to speak first. Minister Molewa, with Ambassador Nozipho Mxata-Diseko beside her and Judy Beaumont (Deputy Director-General Climate Change and Air Quality) behind her, spoke of the journey that was started at COP17 in Durban. I hope that South Africans will be able to acknowledge and understand what we have achieved.

Now that Paris has come and gone the real work begins.

‘Today we celebrate, tomorrow we have to act’
– Miguel Arias Canete (EU Climate Chief)

molewa and diseko
Department of Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa with Ambassador Nozipho Mxata-Diseko at the closing of COP 21 on 12 December 2015.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Today is the day that Parties were expected to adopt a new climate change agreement. However, like the last three conferences, the deadline has become unknown. There is a game running with all country Parties to see who can guess when the agreement will be adopted. In the South African delegation office, it seems that most of the negotiators think that we will have a Paris agreement by Sunday.

The conference site is also very quiet today. Most of the exhibitors have packed up their presentations and the side events are few. At this point, I do not think that there is much to be done by civil society, business or even most of the negotiators in terms of lobbying or adding to and changing any of the text. Right now, the remaining issues are largely political and are being handled by the ministers of each Party. All that’s left is for the different country Parties to make compromises based on political bartering: if the G77+China agrees to let go of Paragraph x then the Umbrella Group is willing to agree to the terms of Paragraph y, for example. It seems that the process becomes more exclusive and more self-interested as the conference comes to a close.

COP21 President Laurent Fabius has announced the release of a new draft text by 09:30 on Saturday morning as discussions are still underway.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

The most recent Draft Paris Outcome was submitted to the COP21 President yesterday afternoon. Parties immediately took to reviewing the document and worked into the early hours of the morning to inspect whether their interests had been well represented. As a result, the usually busy morning started off a bit slow while negotiators recovered from the sleepless night. At the moment, Parties are in the process of reviewing the document and submitting their issues with the document.

Here are three of the biggest issues (that are expected to cause massive clashes between the Parties) that are coming up with regards to the Draft Paris Outcome:

1) There is still a great amount of disagreement around the differentiation issue. On one side, the developing world would like the new agreement to hold on to the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities as it is outlined in the UNFCCC Convention, while developed states quite desperately would like to amend the principle.

2) The 1.5°C versus 2°C battle remains unresolved. At the moment, it seems like the text offers three options from the Parties to choose from:

  • Nothing above 1.5°C
  • Nothing above 2°C
  • Officially, well below 2°C and unofficially aiming for 1.5°C

3) There is absolutely no agreement regarding loss and damage. It is currently placed under Article 5, but there is still an option to include it in the Article 4 text. The Alliance of Small Island States (and other developing countries) have called for the following three actions regarding loss and damage: it must be articulated under its own Article in the Paris agreement, the Paragraphs and commitments must be made clearer and that it has to be dealt with at COP21 (no postponement).

My colleagues (in Johannesburg) and I have looked at the Articles on adaptation, loss and damage, finance and capacity building and have outlined some of our own concerns. Some of these include a call for language in the text that speaks very specifically to decarbonisation and the divesting in fossil fuels, a concern over intergenerational equity in countries that have high greenhouse gas emissions today as well as a call to remove any text in the finance Article that allows climate financing to be included in development assistance.

The text looks like a good base to work from, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The Parties have until tomorrow to submit the final text, but there is a lot of doubt concerning whether Parties will submit this on time with most people guessing that COP21 will end on Sunday instead. I cannot wait to see what happens…

From Johannesburg: updates from the SAIIA Youth Policy Committee

Walburga Khumalo

Hot summer evenings are usually difficult to deal with, but this year the heat makes it especially hard to fall asleep. Receiving little sleep reminds me that climate change is more than polar bears on melting ice caps. I remind myself each day that what’s going on in Paris is about me, those I know, the strangers all around me, those I will never see face to face.

Today is Human Rights Day and like many others, I’d be more satisfied with a Paris Agreement text that is more inclusive of human rights, and is clearer about its legality with regards to protecting these human rights. As it stands, the only explicit mention of human rights is on the front page of the draft agreement. Simply saying ’emphasising… protecting… all human rights,’ on only one page does not feel like enough, especially because many aspects of the agreement might not enable this ‘protecting.’ The main concern is a number of parties still advocate the 2°C average. Anything well above 1.5°C, like they advocate for, will endanger Africa and will drown Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Droughts and floods cause displacement and directly threaten food security. I’m concerned because so many already vulnerable individuals face threats that will make their lives more of a struggle. I worry about subsistence farmers, who already are dealing with droughts each year. Ultimately 1.5°C and 2°C are more than numbers. This is a human rights issue.  It is not only about saving the polar bears and the rain forests. The Paris Agreement will save us as well (hopefully).

COP21 Legal and Linguistic Review Meeting
The Legal and Linguistic Review Meeting of the Draft Paris Outcome.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Today, the African Development Bank and the International Labour Organisation hosted a side event that focused on skills and human resources development towards green growth. As one of the people speaking on a panel that was made up of special representatives from the governments of Senegal and Nigeria and a gender expert from Kenya, I spoke about the ways that the continent can better develop the skills of young people.

My suggestions included the following three steps: engaging young people on every level of development (from decision-making to implementation), broadening the ways in which young people can engage in climate change issues and including climate change education in formal education from primary education.

Skills development is such an important issue in South Africa. It is also of significant importance to me as a young person in University hoping to have the skills that will allow me to get a job soon. And since we are moving towards a greener future, I hope that the conversation on skills development evolves and progresses with the conversation on the climate crisis.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Today, COP21 draws attention to issues of gender and Africa on the same day. Two issues that are receiving more attention from the international community than ever before and yet, at the same time, seeing sluggish action. I was overcome with frustration and disappointment when, on Gender day, I attended a side event that was made up of an all-male panel of speakers. I experience the same feelings of frustration over the issues of youth and African (youth) representation and participation throughout global institutions and, more specifically, in the UNFCCC. So, I thought that today presented a good opportunity for me to draw parallels between the way that the African group and women are positioned in the realm of climate change negotiations.

Today, during the ‘Climate Innovation: Empowering a Global Generation of Young People’ event, a speaker remarked that young people and women contribute the least to climate change but are disproportionately affected by the consequences. Sound familiar? Of course it does!

African leaders and the leaders of the developing world have emphasised this in their call for support, ambition and inclusion throughout the COP process. Indeed, the statement is true for both the African group and women. However, especially during this round of COP negotiations, it seems that Africa is becoming a key player. The unified Common African Position that has been upheld by the African Group of Negotiators throughout the process is one of the reasons for Africa’s increase in bargaining power. However, while this is good news for Africa, the under-representation of women panellists at COP21 side events is telling of how much more needs to be done to achieve the same for women.

The draft text includes language on gender and gender-sensitive approaches to dealing with climate change. However, once again, there seems to be a massive gap between what the negotiators are saying and what is happening in reality. If you look at any panel at the conference, the lack of women on these panels is something that is immediately obvious. The climate change discussions are dominated by men (and a particular group of men) and this is detrimental to the development of effective solutions to climate change. This is because when the talks are held amongst men, they reflect male priorities. Of course, research in science and in the social sciences can point the negotiators to the problems that are faced by women due to the changing climate. However, these men will never be experts in those issues because there is nothing better than actual, lived experiences to inform the type of solutions that will be most effective.

Women are still often marginalised in African countries. The issues of inequality between men and women in Africa play an important role in the hindrance of female participation in these negotiations processes. This means that even if gender issues may be gaining traction in the international community, African women will still be left behind if our domestic gender-based issues are not prioritised at every level of development.

It is time for the entire United Nations body to make serious changes towards gender justice. For example, the UN must consider having gender policies in place that determine the voices that we hear from throughout all institutions of the UN. If not, the gender conversation remains just that – a conversation.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Week 2 of COP21 kicks off with the opening of the High-Level Segment, where ministers and mayors are meant to iron out any lingering disagreements between the Parties before the document can – according to COP21 President Laurent Fabius – be finalised by Thursday (because of certain procedural constraints) and then adopted on Friday.

Although the negotiators were able to deliver a draft text by 5 December, the 48-page document is crawling with square brackets and options – signalling a great deal of disagreement between the Parties. This means that the ministers have a lot of work to do in about four days.

Amongst the various areas of disagreement, there are two areas that stand out: the question of whether the text should reflect a global temperature increase that is to be kept below 2°C or 1.5°C, and the issues around the principle of CBDR-RC (Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities).

As it stands, Paragraph 1(a) of Article 2 states that the Parties will aim to ‘hold the increase in the average global temperature [below 1.5°C] [or] [well below 2°C]’. The developed world seems to believe that the planet can handle 2°C. However, many developing nations want the goal to be no more than 1.5°C. These are the nations that are already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change, and it is concerning that the developed world seems unwilling to compromise on a point that is so closely linked to the reality and the survival of the states that advocate for it.

During the Leaders Event in the first week of COP21 as well as the opening of the High Level Segment, world leaders called for ambition. However, few have stepped up to the plate in terms of the average temperature goal. We have already witnessed a gap between rhetoric and reality when states called for a 2°C goal and submitted INDCs which, aggregately, shot way above this goal. So, if we settle for a 2°C goal that is proposed by some, then the current and future generations are in danger.

As young people, we do not want to renegotiate the terms of this agreement once we are in a position to do so (the civil society and youth view is line with the SIDS and developing states position). Instead, we want a long-term and ambitious agreement that we will start to implement immediately and carry forward once we fill the shoes of the negotiators. However, what is more worrisome is that if the leaders do not keep this goal to less than 1.5°C some of our generation and future generations will not have the opportunity to discuss these issues in the future.

In the spirit of justice and equity, the UNFCCC developed the principle of CBDR-RC due to the massive role that developed countries had to play in the emissions of the harmful gases that brought us where we are today. At first, the Convention divided states into two categories: those who are capable of responding to the issue most effectively and the rest of the world. Over time, the lines between the categories have become blurred due to the development of countries. As a result, the developed world calls for a review of the categories and the principle of differentiation. The statement made by Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko (South Africa) on behalf of the G77+China, summarises what the Parties have said in opposition to this: ‘The Paris outcome must be under the Convention and in accordance with its principles and provisions and must not rewrite or re-interpret its decisions.’

At this point in time, there are two things two things that are very clear: there is a lot of work to be done and we need #1point5justtostayalive.


Young people and climate change event

On 5 December, SAIIA hosted a special event to highlight the work of young people on climate change. We began with a briefing on the first week of COP21 by SAIIA Youth Policy Committee (YPC) learners and students. At 18h00 we went live to Paris to watch a special panel featuring presentations from outstanding young women from around the world.

Representing South Africa was YPC COP 21 Liaison, Morategi Kale, who presented on our work. The keynote speaker for this panel was Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

morategi mary robinson
A special panel with Mary Robinson in Paris featuring presentations from outstanding young women from around the world, including SAIIA’s Morategi Kale [far right].

From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Today is another thematic day at COP21 which is very closely linked to issues of children and youth: it is Education Day. While the challenges of climate change are increasingly gaining a lot of attention, there are still too many people who do not know enough about climate change. This may be because the conversations and the informal education about our environment and the climate are limited to the two weeks at the end of the year during COP, or because schools (in South Africa) do not offer formal climate change education. Both of these things have to change before any real change in the way that we treat the environment occurs.

Young people have repeatedly asked for the communication of climate change issues, from state parties to civil society, to be improved through simplification. Talking about climate change comes with a host of jargon and acronyms that can overwhelm anyone, and this excludes people from actively and deliberately being part of the solution. This is especially worrisome when people who are directly affected by the consequences of climate change do not, firstly, understand what is going on around them in terms of the environment and, secondly, cannot contribute to the discussion about climate change even though they are the primary experts on their needs.

Climate change and sustainable development have to be ongoing and continuous conversations between the state, businesses and civil society. However, the way that we talk about climate change can be just as important as us talking about it at all. Climate change is always packaged as a scientific challenge that is limited only to those who have an interest in the environment. However, the problem of climate change is so complex that includes almost every other social and economic issue that we face. As a second year humanities student, I have lost count of the number of times that my friends in the commerce and engineering faculties have told me that issues of race and climate change, for example, should only be of interest to the humanities students and the geographical science students (respectively). I believe that this kind of thinking is a result of an education system with a rigid curriculum.

We should all be learning, in some way, about the issues that affect all of us. For example, green finance and renewable energy businesses are an entry point to discussions about climate change that may interest those who are studying to be in the commerce industry whereas humanities and social sciences students can discuss the ways in which gender and climate change interact.

Climate change outside of the classroom is also very important. In a country like South Africa, where people are concerned about poverty and violence, climate change can seem far removed from the realities that they face every day. Communicating the importance and complexity of climate change has to be something that the South African government prioritises after COP21. A tool that the government can use to raise awareness amongst young people, especially, is social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) and can run campaigns throughout the year through mainstream media to raise awareness and educate the wider public. However, in doing so, the information has to be packaged in such a way that the public can relate and understand the importance of the issue that is being discussed.

‘I still do not understand why we don’t have people on the streets every single day raising their voices for the climate.’ – Christiana Figueres

This morning, a youth organisation from Brazil (Engajamundo) set up a Limbo line at 1.5 degrees Celsius to push negotiators to commit to a 1.5 degree and below target. During the demonstration, representatives from indigenous communities informed the spectators about the conditions that they face in Brazil as a consequence of climate change. An effective and creative way to protest and educate!


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Today is the fourth day of COP21 and also the Young and Future Generations Day. This afternoon, I attended a side event that was organised by young people from different parts of the world. All of the speakers, except Christiana Figueres (UNFCCC Exeutive Secretary) and Ahmad Alhendawi (the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth), were young people doing all sorts of really exciting things in climate change and sustainable development. The media presence was impressive, the room was filled and I was very excited. By the end of the event, I was happy to have met so many amazing young people. However, being at the event also highlighted some of the issues around the youth and our position in the climate change discussion.

After Christiana Figueres and Ahmad Alhendawi took to the podium to address an enthusiastic and vibrant crowd, it was the turn of a young woman from Canada to tell her stories of change. Anjali Appadurai expressed frustration at how young people are not given real opportunities to voice their opinions and pointed to the fact that both Figueres and Alhendawi had left the room soon after their speeches and before we could ask them any questions and engage with them. This was definitely a ‘YASSS’ moment for me.

Ms Christiana Figueres spoke about our role as young people in climate change. She said that real, substantive change is driven forward, for example, by what we choose to buy as consumers. However, neither Figueres nor Alhendawi made any reference to young people driving change through policy engagement and negotiations, and this is where the decisions are made. To me, this was testament to the fact that the youth are not really part of the discussion. Instead, institutional leaders see us as a group that they only engage with once the decisions have been made and it is time to implement them.

While the ‘on-the-ground’ work is exceptionally important, leaders like Figueres and Alhendawi need to recognise the importance of involving young people from the very beginning right to the implementation parts of the process. Mr Alhendawi also spoke about young people doing positive things so that the media, for a change, has something positive to report on. However, what Alhendawi failed to realise was that the media, oftentimes, does not have much of an interest in youth initiatives. As soon as Christiana Figueres and Ahmad Alhendawi left the room, so did most of the media that was present. It seems that they were not there for us, but rather for the UN leaders who, as Anjali said, tend to ‘co-opt our narratives’.

This year, across universities in South Africa, there has been a lot of discussion concerning privilege. There are certain social, economic and political advantages or rights that are enjoyed by one group of people (white people or males, for example) that are not available to others based solely on race, gender or ability. In terms of the climate change discussion on a global level, I think that there is a type of Western privilege that may disadvantage young people from certain regions of the world. In many of these discussions, young people are not able to participate because of a lack of resources and skills. On the programme for the Intergenerational Inquiry, for example, there was only one speaker from the African continent (a young woman from Ghana). The conversation tends to be dominated by the West (even at the youth level) and there are not enough African representatives to tell our stories and to articulate what it is that we want. Considering the fact that the effects of climate change are felt most disproportionately by Africans and that a large percentage of the African population is made up of young people, I think that we should work towards building greater, more substantive African youth participation. This does not mean just inviting young Africans to the conferences. It means that we have to go back to these African communities and equip the youth with the skills and resources that will allow them to actually engage on these issues.

The take away from Young and Future Generations Day, for me, is that there is still a lot to be done concerning youth participation. There are young people who are doing great work. However, I would like to see the world leaders do more to interact with us and the youth participation needs to be more inclusive. While we work on these issues, I remain cautiously optimistic.

From Johannesburg: updates from the SAIIA Youth Policy Committee

Walburga Khumalo

COP 21s use of technology to provide videos, PDFs and tweets has allowed for an enabling environment; streamlining the upcoming document will hopefully be more effective, because the background knowledge and processes can be well-understood. I appreciate the effort taken to increase transparency and open communication.

No doubt, transparency is important. Including it in all aspects of the process helps me believe that the calling for better accountability of each countries’ mitigation goals is highly likely. A space of understanding has been created, and for the people not in the conference halls there is comprehension of the language being used in formal documents and dialogues. Problematic details such as ‘net emissions’ can be looked at. Do they mean all greenhouse gases or only carbon? These are the types of questions that can be pondered. Access to the details means understanding whether or not the mitigation targets are as practical as negotiators are hoping.

Transparency has also improved what parties mean, when they say they want countries to measure, report and verify their mitigation efforts over the next century. Negotiators have been analysing two options: Should it be decided that countries keep their INDCs as is, then develop new targets at a much later stage or should targets be reviewed now, improved and added to the Paris agreement.

Vulnerable countries clearly support the former. Many of these states prefer that the first review of mitigation efforts happen now and have new targets developed by 2018. Hopefully time allows for something to be agreed on. Most NGOs and CSOs believe mitigation targets are too low and won’t benefit the 1.5 – 2°C temperature goal.

The past few days have been driving at how to turn the temperature goal into real and practical action. Many are advocating for drastic change by 2050. This is ambitious. The way things stand, negotiators have gone as far as they can, without getting into the details of financing. Detail on finance processes is highly anticipated. Thus far I’ve been able to discuss and summate a lot of the dialogue going on. It’s important that transparency continues. I can only hope that the overarching detail of finance will be as transparent and as clear as the rest of the negotiations.

Mpilo S’phephelo Shabangu

Is everyone willing to be equal with everyone else? This really is the question that I have been left with after following some of today’s presentations. With it being the Young and Future Generations Day, other than the focus on the activism of the youth on issues of climate change, there was a lot of focus on civil society and corporate organisations.

A presentation from the Corporate Europe Observatory Foundation on Fuelling the Fire: the Big Polluters Bankrolling pointed out how the progress on climate change action in many states has been hindered by large corporations funding projects. We can all clearly see how this results in a problem of conflicts of interest as the goal of 0° carbon emissions would require a need for drastic change if not the total end of many corporations.

Money makes the world go round, and with the huge financial chunks that these corporations control one can’t help but wonder if the transition to a carbon-free emission planet is really attainable.

However it was not all bad as there was a lot of excitement about the growing participation of the youth in the aims of COP21. As a youth, myself, I was encouraged by the individual-level activism from youth on all platforms so as to engage and educate people in their own communities about climate change and how it is affecting their daily lives. We are the tech savy generation that will not sit around and watch our planet die under the excuses of finance, resources, etc. The Ugandan winner of the 2015 Youth Video Competition said that the ‘youth are no longer the leaders of tomorrow but leaders of today’. Clearly we the youth must be empowered to bring about an effective change at all levels. It is extremely inspiring that many youth are taking matters into their own hands.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

The Ad Hoc Working Group on a Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is a subsidiary body of the conference that was created at COP17 in Durban, and this was the first COP that I had the opportunity to attend as an observer. The ADP was created to develop ‘a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force’. The contents of this agreement are meant to be adopted at COP21 in Paris. And now, five years later, I had the opportunity to attend the ‘ADP informal informal of the spin-off group on Article 6’ this morning. This is a long and complex phrase which basically refers to a part of the ADP negotiations that deals with climate finance.

The United Nations conferences, in general, are governed by a complex system of rules and procedures that are meant to facilitate a fair, diplomatic and well-structured negotiation process. However, as I watched the ADP negotiations this morning, I found myself feeling a little bit disenchanted by the process. So, here are the three things that surprised me about the negotiating process from the little bit that I witnessed this morning:

1) Time

The negotiating started about half an hour later than it was scheduled to start. Before the start of the meeting, the chair apologised for the delay and explained that it was due to a procedural uncertainties that needed to be clarified. However, once the meeting actually started, a large amount of it was spent discussing administrative issues (splitting up groups, what to discuss, etc.). The aim of the session was to streamline the document and make the commitments and the obligations in the document very clear. However, by the end of the three hours allocated, the paragraphs remained largely complex and unclear.

2) Language

I understand that these negotiations began years before the start of COP21 and that Parties have been able to negotiate a lot during that time. As a result, a lot of the negotiations that are held now concern the finer details, like the language in the document. For example, there was some disagreement about the way that the ‘provision’ and the ‘mobility’ of resources was included in the text and a lot of time was spent discussing this. I do believe that the language of a text is important to ensure accountability, and perhaps I was too naïve about how much time it takes to agree on the language in these agreements.

3) The technicalities

The United Nations is characterised by a multitude of acronyms, protocols and documents. And just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, there are always more waiting to confuse you. The UNFCCC, itself, is made up of a complex system of processes that are not easy to grasp at first glance. For example, the text in the meeting was crawling with square brackets and certain parts of the texts were referred to as a ‘chapeau’. There is a massive amount to get to grips with.

However, the way that the negotiations are run does help with certain aspects of the process. The restrictions on speech times allows all an equally opportunity to speak and be heard in the same way that the more administrative tasks help to keep everyone up to date.

From Johannesburg: updates from the SAIIA Youth Policy Committee

Walburga Khumalo

The larger implications of climate change are well noted. Society worries about the ice caps melting and how ecosystems can become irreparable. The WHO session on ‘Climate change, air pollution and your health,’ was immersive because it personalises the question “why should I care about climate change?”

Society can panic and preach about saving animal habitats and maintaining lush forestry, but for a lot of people climate change has to be made relatable so as to better the consideration and empathy they have for the situation and its discussions. This session was discursive and interesting because of its detailing of a seemingly less important issue relating to climate change. WHO showed the need to mainstream climate change policy and make it more practical in an everyday context.

The WHO session highlighted the presence of overlapping of topics. Interestingly, a practical climate agreement is critical because it assists in prioritising the protection of global health. The improvement of health care systems can be done efficiently if these systems become sensitive to climate change risks. A strong climate agreement means the introduction of more effective climate information resources. It’s fascinating how strengthening climate early warning systems, surveillance and response can help mitigate many short term health issues. The clearest example is the need to control malaria and cholera outbreaks after typhoons and floods. Many of these health systems are presently vulnerable, even without the presence of these disasters. Linking health care systems to climate limits the risks when disasters come about.

Additionally, diseases like TB and vascular diseases are progressively more of a challenge to control; informal areas are where households regularly use kerosene in order to meet their electrical needs. Emphasising social development in poverty-stricken areas links to the benefits of minimising health struggles while increasing the progressive ability of climate change policy. At present the climate change and health care community have mobilised, but not as well as they could. This is evident in how only 1.5% of climate financing will be allocated for health care. The good news is many INDC declarations make note of improving health care as a reason to migrate climate change.

The presence of the “why should you care?” question also lies in the daily activities civilians partake in. The monotonous stuck-in-traffic minutes contribute to non-discriminatory issues like asthma. What is done every day affects what is needed every day. And what is needed is health. Successfully building a health care system can’t occur if the degradation of air, water and land continues.


COP21 negotiations begin today. I hope that the negotiators help to maintain the general optimism around #COP21
— Morategi Kale (@Mowrat) December 1, 2015

From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

Today is the beginning of the negotiations process. During the opening ceremony, the leaders of the world described the legally-binding agreement that they would like to see come out of the conference. However, as French President Francois Hollande rightfully said, ‘good wishes and declarations of intent will not be enough.’ We need to take urgent action, and the negotiating process is the first step towards meaningful action in climate change.

I have participated in numerous Model United Nations debates, and one of the first things that I learned from my first Model UN conference was that negotiating is tough! Despite Senegalese President Macky Sall’s call for states to ‘overcome [their] national egos’ during the negotiations, it is for that very reason that states are oftentimes unable to reach an agreement. This applies to the real United Nations conferences as much as it applies to the Model UN conferences I attended. So, as the parties launch into negotiations today, I found myself thinking about the likelihood of an ambitious, legally-binding agreement being produced at COP21 in the face of national interest.

I will say that I do not have the technical expertise or professional experience to answer this question with a great amount of certainty. I have asked many who work in this field the same question and the outcome has been plenty of disagreement and a couple of ‘I-don’t-knows’. However, what I can speak about is what gives me hope for a favourable outcome.

The SAIIA Youth Policy Committee statement on COP21 (released at a media briefing in Johannesburg before the start of COP), states that the Sustainable Development Goals need to be integrated into climate change policy. We, the Youth Policy Committee, believe that SDG 13 is very clear about finding solutions to climate change. However, we also believe that the other SDGs on gender, poverty and inequality are very closely linked to climate change issues and should also be integrated into the climate change policy. But in order for that to be possible, parties need to integrate these issues into the negotiations that precede the final outcome and climate policies.

During the speeches made by heads of state yesterday, I was very pleased to hear some of the leaders bring these ideas into the discussion. President Hollande said, in his speech, that we do not have to choose between climate change and terrorism (referring to the November 13 terror attacks in Paris). He then continued to make important links between refugees, justice and climate change. This morning, I attended a side event that focused on the link between climate change and migration and how research in the social sciences and humanities are useful for unpacking this association.

These events signalled, to me, that both state and non-state parties are starting to recognise the importance of the integration of the SDGs into climate change talks. More broadly, however, it seems like states are ready to change the lens through which they view this issue of climate change. Too often, climate change was isolated and seen as a challenge that stood in the way of development. However, if we start to integrate more social and economic issues into the climate change discussions, starting from the negotiation process, then our governments may be able to see that tackling climate change is a step towards true human development.

As the negotiations process continues from today for the next two weeks, I remain hopeful as long as the negotiators keep discussions of the bigger picture on the table.

‘Essentially, what is at stake for this climate conference is peace.’
– Francois Hollande

#COP21 and SDGs: how do negotiators plan to reconcile these two areas?
— Morategi Kale (@Mowrat) December 1, 2015

From Johannesburg: updates from the SAIIA Youth Policy Committee

Annabel Fenton

While the Kyoto Protocol review and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) plenary began today, what has been interesting to me is the strong voice of the Women & Gender Constituency during these processes.

The key role of gender was highlighted late yesterday in the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO): Women’s Red Flags for the Climate Talks event, where the responsibility of women in climate change related disasters was discussed, such as the role women have in caring for their families. Furthermore, it was highlighted that women are more at risk of gender-based violence when they are displaced – this will be crucial to understand when looking at environmental refugees.

While there has not been a big response from national leaders regarding this issue, the urgency expressed by the W&G Constituency gives me hope that there may be. It is inspiring to see women like Kalyani Raj from the All India Women’s Conference push an agenda which will empower all women affected by climate change, especially those in developed countries. Their demands include a people-centred paragraph in the final outcome document, as well as eleven key demands, which are available here.

Kalyani Raj of the #COP21 women & gender constituency criticises market mechanisms due to harmful profit-driven motives. @Youth_SAIIA
— Annabel Fenton (@annabelfenton) December 1, 2015

The main COP21 plenary venue, La Seine.


From Paris: update by Morategi Kale, official Youth Delegate for South Africa

My first day in Paris has been chaotic to say the least. Heads of state from over 150 countries have come to address the world at the opening of COP21. I spent most of the morning trying to find the correct venues and being denied access to certain spaces because I did not have the correct badge. Once the feelings of panic, confusion and frustration had subsided, I eventually found a way to navigate around the conference space just in time to watch the opening ceremony and the speeches from the heads of states around the world.

Following the opening remarks from heads of state, it became clear that all the states agree on the characteristics that the legally binding document should display: it has to be an ambitious, sustainable and credible agreement (amongst other characteristics). Most states conveyed similar sentiments about urgency and solidarity concerning climate change. While the President of the Republic of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, echoed the same important beliefs about the solution to climate change, his speech caught my attention when he called for the creation of an International Court for Climate Justice. While the international courts face a myriad of challenges (such as enforcing the rule of law), perhaps an international court for climate justice will be the start of prioritising climate change as an urgent international issue that is not isolated from other social and economic issues that we face.

Finally the main theme for today is ambition. Many global leaders have called for an ambitious outcome, but we will start to see from tomorrow how ambitious the states are actually willing to be.

From Johannesburg: updates from the SAIIA Youth Policy Committee

Annabel Fenton

In the opening speeches of the COP21 Leaders’ Event, both Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe emphasised the need for adaptation measures to be put in place, as only 17% of climate finance is going towards it. Throughout the speeches, presidents of developed countries such as Obama emphasised the progress they are making towards their carbon emission reduction targets, however adaptation does not seem to be a priority for them. There is a complacency resulting from the efforts they have already made. The only actionable effort towards adaptation seems to be that of China who mentioned, perhaps to mask their flaws, that they are contributing US$20 billion to a South-South Co-operation Fund that has already implemented 100 resilience projects in developing countries. There is probably a political motive behind this, and this is not enough commitment from emerging markets and developed countries. This in itself is especially worrying, as countries with the least amount of political sway are already facing the effects of climate change, evident in the droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa and rising sea levels threatening Small Island Developing States.

There seems to be a universal acknowledgement of the need for an equitable, legally-binding agreement. However, the geopolitical power of developed countries makes me wonder about how much commitment is going to be made to help those more vulnerable when developed countries cannot reap any benefits from adaptation funding.

There is a lot at stake, as almost all states are acknowledging Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, and there may be some very serious political ramifications for developed countries if they do not step up to the adaptation-funding plate.

Mpilo Shabangu

The opening of COP21 has begun with a new-found enthusiasm and hope, for there definitely seems to be a growing clarity on the urgency of climate change and its effects. As a realist I believe that this has only been brought about by the personal impacts that each state has suffered ranging from floods to droughts, and everything in between. Heads of states acknowledge the importance of clear outlined responsibilities moving ahead so as to bring about an evident difference. Many advocate for the solution of the COP21 conference to not impact the developmental plans for Africa.

Siwapiwe Madubela

I would like to express my excitement at Morocco’s decision to host next year’s conference, so that COP22 will be in Africa. More global south states need to be influencing the narrative when it comes to climate change. Things that I would like to see or hear about this week are how sustainable the implementation of the agreement will be? Whether the agreed on maximum increase will be 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius? Lastly, I would like to see how Small Island Developing State (SIDS) will hold their ground when it comes to reaching an agreement that is fair for the world and also fair for them.

Wal Khumalo

Introductory UNFCCC speeches were mostly mechanic, the generalized content felt fixed, almost as if speakers had brainstormed their ideas before COP21. The only detail left for the audience to anticipate was, ‘who advocates 2 degrees Celsius and who supports 1.5.’

COP21 delegates are sitting on the global warming fence. Many are unsure which maximum global temperature increase could be achieved. Expecting average global temperature to increase by 2 degrees Celsius each year is more realistic, in comparison to the 1.5.

Tangible expectations are necessary, but a 2 degree Celsius increase can hinder the 2020 dream. An average global increase of 2 degrees Celsius still means SIDS and African countries are hit hard by the effects of climate change. A 2 degree average might mean a 1 degree average for countries like the United Kingdom, but a 3-4 degree increase in most African countries.

30 Nov 2015
Blog by

SAIIA Programme