African leaders pledge climate talks unity

The panel during the plenary 'The Durban Agenda' at the World Economic Forum on Africa, Cape Town, 5 May 2011 (Photo: Matthew Jordaan, World Economic Forum)“The question for us leaders is how committed we are to be a little less selfish and to think of the community as a whole,” Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba said in a session on the second day of the meeting on Thursday. “It is important for us as Africans to get together,” Ondimba said. “We will be determined to speak with one voice.”

COP 17 will aim to shape a legally binding agreement on global warming to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to end next year.

Failure in Durban ‘not an option’

“There are parts of the world where the challenge [of climate change] is very severe,” South African President Jacob Zuma told delegates in Cape Town. “For some, it is a question of life or death. The question that faces all of us is how we respond: are we ready to have a legally binding agreement that would try to accommodate all of us?”

Failure in Durban was not an option, said Kenyan President Raila Odinga, with rising food and energy prices, due in part to climate conditions, adding to the urgency. “There is a need to act now; there is no need to wait,” Odinga said.

To succeed in Durban and in the broader fight against global warming, governments must work with both business and civil society, the leaders agreed. “It is important to get the business community on board because financing is important,” Ondimba said. “Government cannot shoulder the whole burden.”

Business ‘ready to play its part’

The business community is prepared to play its part, said Pat Davies, chief executive of South African petrochemicals giant Sasol. “We need a Team Africa approach to make this a success.”

However, Davies added, whatever agreement is reached by governments “must not compromise competitiveness, growth and the alleviation of unemployment and poverty.” It was important to balance mitigation and adaptation efforts with economic development and growth, he said, warning against setting hard targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions without a clear understanding of their impact.

‘People first’

South Africa should lead the talks in Durban with the principle of putting people first, said Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, stressed the need to address the impact of global warming on women and children.

“We have to look at the social dimensions of climate change,” Sisulu said. “If Team Africa fails to fight for the inclusion of people, it would be more than unfortunate.

“The point is to act now,” Sisulu said, “not to act after Durban and an agreement is reached. This is not about what will happen. It is happening now.”

Noting that Africa’s potential as a global breadbasket could be compromised by climate change, Anand Sharma, India’s minister of commerce and industry, told participants that, as the international community aims to agree on a post-Kyoto framework, “equity is vitally important.”

There had to be equitable sharing of technology and resources, Sharma said. “Responsibilities cannot be compartmentalized. It has to be a team effort, a global partnership. No country or group of countries can address a problem of this magnitude.”

Source: World Economic Forum