By Rashmi Mistry
Climate Change Lead, Oxfam, South Africa
It’s time for countries to seize the opportunity in Durban and mandate the IMO to develop and implement a fair scheme that could help small-scale farmers and fishing communities survive the effects of a changing climate.
Just over a year since the success of the football World Cup and Durban is again preparing to welcome thousands of foreign visitors. This time, the International Convention Centre rather than Moses Mabhida Stadium is the venue for a complex and globally critical event: the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) 17 climate change negotiations.
Africa’s third COP could be a significant moment for South Africa as it seeks a permanent place at the top table of international politics. If the negotiations achieve even a measure of success, the Government will be lauded for the Durban legacy, but while the big power politics may be alluring, those involved should remain focused on the golden opportunity these talks could present.
There is potential for the negotiations to reach agreement that will directly help millions of the poorest people across the country and the continent, people who are already suffering the impacts of a changing climate. It is the poor, rural communities across Africa, whose lives are inextricably tied to the environment, that must be on the minds of Governments and negotiators in Durban.
Small-scale farmers and fishers are reporting changes in weather patterns already, but the predictions for South Africa’s near-future climate look stark: further temperature rises, more extreme weather cycles and major changes to rainfall patterns, which will affect much of the country to varying degrees.
The Government bases its climate policy on studies by the South African Institute for Biodiversity (SANBI), which predicts that our coastal regions could warm 1-2°C by 2050 and 3-4°C by 2100, while the interior regions could warm 3-4°C by 2050 and 6-7°C by 2100. SANBI also expects major changes in rainfall, with much of the country likely to have less rain and become drier.
On top of that, the country is likely to see more extreme weather. The floods earlier this year that claimed more than 30 lives and reportedly caused over a billion rands in damage to crops and property are an example of the effects of extreme annual weather cycles that are predicted to increase by 2050 and could also include future droughts.
These climatic changes will affect the wellbeing of all South Africans, but the bottom line is that the poorest will be hit hardest. Human health risks will increase as a wetter, warmer climate expands the malaria footprint, while extreme weather could bring on cholera outbreaks. Food prices will rise further as agriculture and fishing sectors see crop yields fall and the length of fishing seasons and catches shrink.
Particularly at risk are people living off South Africa’s 1.3 million small-scale farm units. Many are already seeing crop yields becoming erratic and the likelihood is that the vast majority will be affected in the years to come.
Small-scale farmers are already feeling the impacts of a changing climate. Stories of unpredictable rainfall, flash flooding and dry earth causing rain to run off are commonplace, all impacting on their ability to grow food. The associated impacts on women who struggle to put food on the table for their families are heartbreaking.
So what will Durban do to help South Africa’s at-risk communities?
Two major subjects up for negotiation are the Kyoto Protocol and financing to help poor countries adapt to the devastating impact of climate change and to continue development, but along a low carbon pathway. Progress towards a binding agreement to cut emissions is vital as the traditionally rich countries have set us on the path to inevitable, global climatic change.
Setting up a Green Climate Fund is therefore critical. A proposal on the structure of the fund and how it will be managed has been debated across the year and must be finalised in Durban. But this is not enough. The fund will be nothing but an empty shell until rich countries put money in it to finance communities in developing countries, which need cash now to adapt and survive changing climates.
Countries such as the United States and some states in the European Union were the first to industrialise and have enjoyed the economic and social benefits, so they now have a responsibility to pay. In 2009, rich countries pledged to raise $100 billion per year for climate change by 2020, but we don’t yet know where that money will come from.
Historically, rich donor countries have not always honoured aid commitments. This and the scale of financing needed makes the need for supplementary sources of revenue, which are reliable and additional to existing funding commitments, an essential element to help fill the Green Climate Fund.
At the G20 in early November, South Africa joined Europe and others in backing a financial transaction tax (FTT) in Europe and other rich countries, which could see a small commission paid by financial institutions raising significant revenues for aid and climate change. Alongside that, they also supported perhaps the most promising opportunity to generate billions of dollars for the fund: putting a fair price on carbon emitted by the international shipping and aviation industries.
Emissions from shipping alone have doubled since 1990 to account for 3% of global emissions today, greater than the annual emissions of Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and twice those of Australia.
Without urgent action, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) projects that emissions could treble by 2050, very likely blowing any chance of keeping global warming below the 2°C target agreed by governments at last year’s UN climate conference in Mexico, let alone the 1.5°C that is needed to avoid of the worst impacts of climate change.
The international shipping sector must play its part, but the chance of a global agreement on a carbon price for shipping depends on the use of the revenues it g