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COP20: Will world’s carbon intensive behaviour change?

COP20: Will world’s carbon intensive behaviour change?

Dec 1, 2014

Johannesburg, 1st of December 2014- It’s that time of year again. Today the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the 10th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, begins in Lima- Peru. The UNFCCC is an international treaty to cooperatively act on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement between signatory countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  COP 17 captured the interest of South Africa when it was hosted by Durban in 2011, but sadly not much progress has been made since.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprises of a collection of scientists from around the world who inform the UNFCCC on the scientific evidence of climate change through means of consensus.

Working Group III recently released the full version of its contribution ‘Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change’ to the IPCC Fifth Assessment. The report finds that it is possible to limit the global rise in temperature to under 2 °C but that a wide range of technical mitigation measures need to be undertaken. Most importantly, the report finds that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change; the world must embrace change to the current carbon intensive behaviour.

This year’s COP 20 in Peru is of critical importance because it will determine if indeed the world is able to embrace change and limit temperature rise. COP 20 is the last chance that participating countries have of a full meeting to negotiate a new-legally binding climate deal before the deal needs to be signed in Paris next year at COP 21. If countries are unable to overcome their differences, then chances of meaningful agreement being signed next year in Paris are slim. If an agreement cannot be reached, some of the world’s heaviest carbon emitters; such as South Africa, will continue to contribute to unabated temperature rise and climate change.

This year, as usual, officials from the South African government and from the Department of Environmental Affairs Climate Change and Air Quality branch will represent South Africa in the climate negotiations.

Although South Africa is a member country of the UNFCCC and has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, it is deemed a developing country and therefore is not required to reach binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets at present. South Africa is the highest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions on the African continent and is the twelfth highest emitter globally; South Africa therefore has a significant role to play in the global effort to prevent further catastrophic climate change.

In 2009 South Africa committed to the “peak, plateau and decline” trajectory for future emissions at COP 15 in Copenhagen. Under this trajectory the South African government committed to limit the rise of greenhouse gas emissions to 34% below “business as usual” by 2020 to peak at 42% below business-as-usual by 2025. Emissions would then level off before declining around the year 2035.

Already, these limits were above what is required by science to limit climate change. But the most recent National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, published for comment in July 2014, shows that emissions in 2010 soured well above business as usual projections and have risen by 30% from 444 Mt of carbon dioxide in 2000 to 575 Mt of carbon dioxide in 2010.

Further, the Greenhouse Gas inventory acknowledges that data on actual emissions was difficult to obtain and therefore that emissions may actually be much higher in reality. The mega coal-fired power stations, Medupi and Kusile, will each add an extra 25 to 30 Mt of carbon dioxide a year to the countries carbon budget. The figures show that the government’s climate policy is primarily for show, and not a real commitment to mitigation in accordance to science.

Dominique Doyle, Energy Policy Officer at Earthlife Africa Jhb, says:  “South Africa can no longer hide behind the mask of being a developing country. As one of the largest carbon emitters on the planet and by far the largest in Africa, it must start to do its fair share towards securing a safe future. South Africa cannot go to this year’s COP, with begging bowl in hand, asking the rich countries for adaptation funds without owning up to its fair share of carbon pollution.”

Senior Programme Manager at Earthlife Africa Jhb, Makoma Lekalakala, hopes that at this year’s COP South Africa will encourage other developing countries to commit to binding carbon emission targets and encourage the rich countries to make an even more meaningful effort.

Lekalakala states: “Poorer countries need not wait for climate finance to venture onto a greener development path. Cleaner development is a win-win for any country because of the associated socio-economic benefits and energy independence, especially for those countries which have an abundance of renewable sources such as year round sunshine.”

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