Dane Labonte is one of our current CIDA IYIP interns based in Durban, South Africa. For the past couple of weeks he’s been experiencing the action at COP17 first-hand.
The circus has arrived in town. Several blocks of downtown Durban have been transformed to accommodate the estimated 20,000 visitors. The UNFCCC negotiations, which attempt to create an international response to climate change, are notoriously slow paced and expectations for this conference were low from the outset. The hope is that the Kyoto Protocol would not die at this conference, as the first five-year commitment period is set to expire in 2012. However, it seems unlikely that this will be achieved.
It is not particularly inspiring to be a Canadian during these international climate talks. While the discussions are challenged for multiple reasons, Canada is seen as a roadblock that is uncommitted to progressing negotiations. This article gives quite a good idea of the Canadian approach. Having had the opportunity to travel, I can honestly say this is the first time I have had people react negatively on hearing I’m Canadian. I’m not certain that Canadians at home understand the degree to which our international reputation is being tarnished. It’s been a shock for me to discover.
That being said, fortunately there are a lot of interesting things happening in and around the conference at the local level. Imagine Durban partnered with the Institute of Democracy in Africa (IDASA) to host a two-day conference called Africans Dealing with Climate Change: Citizens Approach to COP17. The event was well attended, including many youth and civil society members from throughout the continent. The conference closed by developing a list of recommendations based on the discussions and suggestions from the participants, which were then given to Honourable Cyprian Awudu Mbaya of Cameroon who agreed to take the recommendations to the negotiations.
Another promising local event came from Asiye eTafuleni, a local NGO which is implementing an Imagine Durban demo project funded through Sustainable Cities International, who held a public event to showcase their work. Asiye eTafuleni works with informal recyclers in the inner city. They do this by designing carts to ease the collection of recyclables, giving recyclers uniforms to improve their presentation, and running a Friends of the Recyclers Program which aims to improve the relationship between the recyclers and local businesses. The project has been successful in increasing the recyclers’ weekly income, improving co-operation among recyclers, and lifting their ability to interact with other members of the public. At the event, the recyclers were able to meet with other recyclers from India and Brazil who had come to the conference with their own supporting NGOs. Recyclers discussed issues such as managing illegal metal scavenging, group organization, and the various price differences for recyclable materials. These events build the pride for their work and allow them to gain a broad scope for how their work contributes to waste management.
Finally, the talks have also motivated the Municipality to invest in various green initiatives like bike lanes that will ultimately improve the livability of the city.
Personally, I question the effectiveness and cost of the COP process. However, it’s difficult to deny that the conference facilitates the convergence and networking of passionate people. I suspect that this is where the real gains are made even though they will not be mentioned in the public statement on December 10th.