news analysis advocacy
For more frequent updates, visit the AfricaFocus FaceBook page
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail! on your Newsreader!

Format for print or mobile

Africa: Climate Talks Background, 2

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 27, 2011 (111027)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Running from 28 November to 9 December, [the Durban conference] will be at least a theoretical chance to restore faith in the glacial progress towards agreement on an effective way to slow the human contribution to climate change," notes a commentator in the Guardian for October 24. But rich countries and developing countries are deeply divided. And media attention and public pressure are flagging, particularly in the United States which remains the principal obstacle to progress.

A Nielsen poll in August (see below) showed particularly low levels of concern about climate change in the United States, compared to other countries surveyed, as well as declines in concern in China. Although the poll is of consumers rather than a random survey of populations, the comparative results are striking, and correspond with the generally negative political climate in the United States on climate change, despite repeated confirmation of the seriousness of the crisis by scientific studies and the frequency of "extreme weather events."

Major changes in public consciousness on neglected issues are possible (witness the changes in world and U.S. opinion on HIV/AIDS following the Durban HIV/AIDS conference in the year 2000. As yet, however, a parallel outcome based on widespread activist mobilization following this year's climate change conference shows little sign of emerging, despite efforts by some activist groups.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a selection of excerpts from recent articles, with links to the full text of each, including links to two action campaigns, one in South Africa and one in the United States; several overview articles; and several sources on South Africa's climate change policy, including release of a new Climate Change Response White Paper this month.

Two other AfricaFocus Bulletins released today also deal with climate change issues. One, sent out by e-mail and available on the web at, has excerpts from a new international report highlighting two priority actions that national governments can take on climate change, namely removing subsidies on fossil fuels and imposing new charges on international aviation and shipping fuel. The other, at, contains the most clearly written roundup I have found of issues in the talks preceding Durban, from the always well-informed Third World Network.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on issues of the environment and climate change, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

"Global Concern for Climate Change Dips Amid Other Environmental and Economic Concerns"

August 29, 2011 / direct URL:

Nielsen poll of consumers in 51 countries

Today, less than half of Americans (48%) say they are concerned about climate change, which contrasts sharply with reported concern in Latin America (90%), Middle East/Africa (80%), Asia Pacific (72%), and Europe (68%). Among the 21 percent of Americans who are decidedly not concerned, 63 percent indicated they believe natural variation - and not people - causes climate change/global warming.

"During this period, Nielsen's Global Online Consumer Confidence Survey found heightened American consumer concern around the economy, rising gas prices, and debt," said Todd Hale, SVP Consumer & Shopper Insights, Nielsen U.S. "With financial concerns still on the minds of many Americans, they're indicating less and less concern about climate change and other environmental issues."

In China, concern about climate change/global warming is higher than in the U.S., but dropped 17 percent in the last two years from 77 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, concern in India has gradually risen in the past four years, and with 86 percent of Indians currently worried, it remains one of the markets most concerned about climate change in the world."

Links to Action Campaigns

(1) We Have Faith, Act Now for Climate Justice

Faith leaders - representing all faiths - from South Africa and abroad will have a strong presence at COP17, supported by a huge body of young people from throughout Africa who will join in the "We have Faith - Act Now for Climate Justice" campaign.
Our Demands:

  • Commit to a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement and to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol to ensure the survival of coming generations.
  • Set clear short and long term targets for carbon emission reductions that keep average global temperature increases well below 1.5 degrees centigrade, and to support solutions that contribute to healing the earth.
  • Ensure there is adequate finance for adaptation in Africa. Such finance should come from historically polluting nations in recognition of their ecological debt and be additional to existing development aid, governed inclusively and equitably under the United Nations.

Related link:
Southern Africa Faith Communities' Environment Institute / direct URL:

(2) ActionAid USA and partners

The Stand with Africa campaign calls for a just and ambitious US position in upcoming climate summit in Durban, South Africa, starting in November 2011.

The Petition

Dear President Obama:

The impacts of climate change no longer just await us in the future; they are with us today. In the United States, we have been affected by tornadoes, severe floods, droughts, wild fires, and heat waves. The Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in over 60 years. We call on you to show bold leadership and address an urgent crisis-- the climate crisis--that is disproportionately affecting people living in poverty--particularly people who have the least capacity to adapt to changing climates and who have done least to cause the climate crisis.

The upcoming climate summit in Durban, South Africa, in November 2011, represents a major opportunity for you to stand with the worlds' poor and to take bold steps to address the climate crisis. We call on you to commit in Durban to:

  1. Support calls to stop temperatures from rising. The US administration should work to ensure that global temperatures do not rise more than a 1.5 degree Celsius above preindustrial level - the threshold beyond which irreversible, catastrophic damages may occur. Additionally, the US should lay out a clear plan for how it will meet and exceed its current emission reduction target.
  2. Announce substantial new and additional funding to help communities adapt to the changing climate and reduce emissions. The United States must show its support for innovative mechanisms to generate public funding to help the world's poor confront climate change. Possible mechanisms to generate the needed finance include the use of levies in the shipping and aviation sectors, a tax on speculative financial transactions, and use of Special Drawing Rights.
  3. Deliver the funds through a democratic and equitable Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund should be operationalized in a way that ensures full community and civil society participation in all layers of decision making and independence in management and government from international financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Overview Articles

(1) Durban May Be Last Chance to Stabilise Climate Under Two Degrees

By Stephen Leahy

[Excerpts only]

The window to limit global warming to less than two degrees C is closing so fast it can be measured in months, a new scientific analysis revealed Sunday.

Without putting the brakes on carbon emissions very soon, large parts of Africa, most of Russia and northern China will be two degrees C warmer in less than 10 years. Canada and Alaska will soon follow, the regional study shows.

"If one is sincerely committed to limit global temperature increase to below two degrees C ... (governments) committing to a global peak emission level and peak year makes sense from a science perspective," said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Governments will be meeting in Durban, South Africa starting Nov. 28 to launch the next round of climate treaty negotiations, which so far have failed to ensure their goal of less than a two-degree C increase will be achieved.

IPS asked Rogelj if government delegates in Durban ought to set a specific year by which global emissions will peak and then decline to ensure the two-degree C target will be met.

"Committing to such targets would ensure that we embark globally on a technologically and economically feasible lowemission path," Rogelj said.

Rogelj and a group of leading experts show in this state-ofthe -art analysis that to have a 66-percent or better probability of staying below two degrees C this century, global carbon emissions must peak before 2020.

(2) Alex Kirby, "Will the Kyoto Protocol Survive the Durban Climate Talks," Guardian, October 24, 2011 / direct URL:

[Excerpts only]

Running from 28 November to 9 December, [the Durban conference] will be at least a theoretical chance to restore faith in the glacial progress towards agreement on an effective way to slow the human contribution to climate change.

There are three main stumbling blocks. One is whether to try to resuscitate the international climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase expires in 2012.

The developing countries want to keep the Protocol, the only legally binding agreement requiring the rich world to make necessary (but far from sufficient) cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases.

The US has refused to ratify the Protocol, saying it won't accept constraints that do not apply to the world's other principal greenhouse polluter, China. And China, like other developing countries, is exempt from Kyoto's provisions.

The European Union and other industrialised countries say the US will never ratify Kyoto, and that therefore the world should let it die and work instead on some new and as yet undefined way to reduce emissions.

Then there's money. Both mitigation and adaptation (reducing emissions, and learning to live with the consequences of those you cannot avoid) are expensive, and the developing world says the rich are not keeping their promises to help them to pay to pollute less.

The third problem is really stark: how do you reduce emissions far and fast enough? Kyoto requires developed countries to cut theirs collectively to around 5% below what they were in 1990. Most climate scientists say what's needed is cuts of 80-90% below 1990 by the middle of this century.

(3) Lisa Friedman, "Nations Heading to Durban Climate Talks Remain Deeply Divided," New York Times, October 10, 2011 / direct URL:

[Excerpts only]

The 1997 treaty requires carbon emission cuts from industrialized countries, and the first phase of the agreement ends in 2012. Developing countries are adamant that a second commitment period is non-negotiable. Moreover, they insist any follow-up should closely hew to the original agreement: Wealthy countries must agree unilaterally to cut steeper emissions, and poorer ones would cut carbon voluntarily after financial assistance from the rich.

"Much as some rich countries like to repeat that discussing scenarios that they oppose is not 'realistic' or 'practical,' they must recognize that there is no point in insisting on a solution outside of the Kyoto Protocol when 132 parties have strongly declared that they can only accept a second commitment period as a meaningful outcome," Jorge Argüello of Argentina, speaking for the G-77 group of developing countries, said in a statement.


Wealthy countries have vowed to deliver $100 billion annually by 2020 for poor and vulnerable nations to adapt to climate impacts and develop low-carbon economies. Countries have been in the process of establishing the architecture of a Green Climate Fund, agreed to at last year's climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, to distribute a portion of that money. But last week, the focus turned to the dollars themselves, and from where they would come.

Developing countries are largely insistent that the money come from public coffers in the United States, European countries, Australia, Japan and other wealthy nations. Many argue that the money essentially is compensation to poor countries for the environmental harm industrialized ones caused by emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for decades. That's not, however, the way the United States and others see it -- and they insist developing countries should have no say in where the money they get comes from.

On South Africa's Climate Plans

(1) Link to National Climate Change Response White Paper October 2011

(2) Patrick Bond, "The Durban Climate Summit: Climate Justice versus Market Narratives," Institute for Social Studies, The Hague, 30 June 2011

Too long and dense to excerpt here. Offers a detailed critique of South Africa's climate policies, as well as the South African government's role in international negotiations. Written before the most recent white paper.

(3) Andreas Spath, "SA's climate change plan" 2011-10-26 / direct URL:
[Brief excerpts only. For full text, see link above]

I'm usually very critical of our government's commitment to solving environmental problems, but there are some very positive aspects to the white paper. For starters, it unambiguously defines the administration's understanding of global warming by acknowledging that:

  • climate change is already a measurable reality;
  • climate change is primarily due to an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere as a result of human activities;
  • climate change is a major threat to the continent and our country;
  • South Africa, with its energy-intensive economy powered by fossil fuels, is "a relatively significant contributor to global climate change"; and that
  • climate change can only be halted by international cooperation.

It then goes on to spell out SA's vision of a transition to a "climate-resilient and lower-carbon economy and society" which is to be achieved by a combination of adaptation and mitigation.


Within two years, carbon budgets detailing desired reductions of emissions from high-emission economic sectors and companies will be established, and these sectors and companies will then have to provide plans on how they will cut back their GHG outputs in line with their carbon budget. A number of economic instruments, including carbon taxes, incentives and emission trading schemes will also be explored.


While the white paper may be full of good intentions, what government is actually busy doing is quite a different matter. It seems to me that if they were truly committed to a greener economy and society, they would not be considering a trillion rand nuclear energy programme, with all its environmental, human health and financial risks, and they would certainly not be building more giant coal-fired electricity plants like Kusile in Mpumalanga and Medupi in Limpopo.

(4) South Africa Enacts CO2 Emissions Cap as UN Climate Negotiators to Converge on Durban

By Andrew Burger | October 19th, 2011

[Slightly abridged: full text at / direct URL:]

The South African government will enact an emissions cap and new energy industry regulations in an effort to spur development of alternative, clean and renewable energy and mitigate climate change. The new regulations will penalize heavy polluters that don't comply with greenhouse gas emission limits with fines.

The new plan was adopted by the South African cabinet of President Jacob Zuma Tuesday in advance of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) representatives from around the world converging on the South African coastal city of Durban later this year in what's set to be the most important round of UN efforts to hammer out a successor or alternative to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol since the UNFCCC's 2009 Conference of Parties (COP) gathering in Copenhagen in 2009.

Gearing Up for the UN Climate Change Gathering

Due to be implemented over the next two years, the South African government intends to set emissions reductions goals and limits with the key companies in the nation's electricity, fuels, mining and transport industries, according to a Reuters news report. The intention is that these will enable South Africa to achieve its stated goal of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025.

South Africa is blessed with a wealth of potential renewable energy resources. It's also a nation of people that generally place a high value on innovation, technical expertise, self-sufficiency and nature. Unfortunately, much of this wealth - in terms of both renewable energy and human resources - is being suppressed.

Shifting, inconsistent government market and industry policies and regulations, along with persistent opposition from its state-owned power monopoly, continue to conspire and hold South Africa back from realizing the tremendous benefits available by genuinely committing itself to enacting strong renewable energy development policies and climate change action plans.

The Coal Monopoly, Government & Renewable Energy

Think "Big Oil" and the fossil industry wield undue influence and power over elected officials in the US? The situation may be even worse in South Africa, where the nation's power and energy sector - and all the investment and jobs that go along with it - is controlled by Eskom, South Africa's state-owned national electric utility. Similarly, the fuels industry is dominated by state-owned Sasol.

Eskom has essentially held the entire nation's electricity supply hostage as it strives to protect its privileged monopoly position by thwarting renewable energy development and climate change action plans before they can even hatch.

The state-owned electric utility holds monopoly power over the entire country's electrical power sector. Virtually entirely reliant on coal as power source, the state-owned utility's ties across the coal power industry value chain, from mining to shipping and distribution, run long and deep.

Successive South African governments have publicly embraced the idea of enacting a policy and regulatory framework that would spur and foster development of alternative, clean and renewable energy markets, industry and commercial enterprises.

With chronically severe unemployment and under-employment persistently quoted as being in the neighborhood of 25 percent, you'd think South Africa government representatives would all be on-board and plenty well motivated to see such an initiative through to success. Unfortunately, it hasn't turned out that way.

Lack of Clear, Consistent, Fully Fledged Commitment

South Africa had invested only $125 million in clean energy as of 2009, placing it 17th out of 20 G-20 nations, according to the Pew Charitable Trust's 2010 "G-20 Clean Energy Factbook." That's despite successive South African governments dating back to 2003 proclaiming their commitment to promoting and fostering clean and renewable energy development and climate change mitigation efforts nationwide.

"The clean energy sector may benefit from South Africa's commitment to cut global warming pollution 34 percent from its current 2020 trajectory," Pew project researchers noted in the report. "Still, clean energy investments in South Africa remain insignificant. There is insufficient reliable data on installed capacity within the country, and it has thus been excluded from this profile."

In 2009, the South African government enacted a renewable energy tariff that's intended to serve as the linchpin of a broader national goal of generating 10,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of renewable electrical power by 2013.

The Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff (REFIT) continues to be challenged and stymied in the courts by opposition and has yet to make a significant impact, however.

The next year, the South African government enacted the "Integrated Resource Plan of 2010," thereby setting a goal of producing 17.8 GW of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. That amounts to less than 10 percent of projected 2030 national electricity demand production, a decidedly unambitious goal for a nation that has tremendous potential across the clean energy landscape, be it wind, solar, marine, biogas, waste-to-energy, or just about any other clean, renewable resource.

According to Reegle's Clean Energy Information online database service South Africa's government has established the following renewable energy targets:

  • Solar Photovoltaic: 14% of electricity supply by 2050.
  • Solar Thermal Electric: 43TWh (terawatt-hours) by 2030.
  • Wind Energy: between to 'modest' to 'abundant' prospects.
  • Hydropower: 4700 MW.
  • Biomass: In the longer term, around 9 to 16% of energy demand.
  • Landfill gas: 7.2 to 10.8 TWh of electricity generation by 2040.
  • Waves and other categories: 33 TWh per year by 2050.


(5) Bobby Peek, "Power to the People" Red Pepper, September 2011

[brief excerpts below]

The facts and figures tell a sad and depressing story.

  • 42 per cent of Africa's greenhouse gases are emitted by South Africa. So you would think that South Africa is a fairly developed nation with good employment rates. Not so.
  • 41 per cent of South Africa's potential workforce is employed, according to Advorp Holding's chief executive Richard Pike.
  • 16 per cent is the total amount of energy consumed by South Africa's residents.
  • 44 per cent of South Africa's energy is used by 36 companies. Industry, mining, agriculture and commerce use more than 70 per cent of all energy produced.
  • 11 per cent of South Africa's energy is used by one company, the Australian multinational BHP Billiton.
  • 9.7 billion South African Rand was the loss that Eskom, the South African power utility, made because of the provision of cheap electricity to BHP Billiton, according to Eskom's annual report, March 2010.


South Africans have to start challenging this political greenwash and start working on systems that give them independence from big power producers such as Eskom. This would mean getting small local municipalities to start thinking of local energy development for their own needs. It would mean calling for better housing so that in winter people do not lose energy through leaking roofs and poorly constructed state homes. It would mean that individual households get access to affordable energy and don't have to pay up to seven times more for their electricity than industry does. And it would mean ensuring that industry pays the real price of energy and doesn't continue to get the cheapest electricity in the world at the expense of the people.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Africa Economy & Development||Africa Climate Change & Environment|

URL for this file: