African ubuntu saves climate change talks.

Author:Versi, Anver

Thanks to the African spirit of Ubuntu, the Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa (COP17) was rescued from going down the same drainpipe as the previous one in Copenhagen and, instead, produced the first global agreement that has real teeth to it.

As had happened in previous conferences, all the high-sounding rhetoric on the importance of cleaning the environment by cutting carbon emissions evaporated into thin air when national self interest was at stake. Everybody blamed everybody else for environmental pollution but no one was prepared to do anything seriously concrete about their own levels of emissions.

The rich countries blamed China (the world's worst offender) and other emerging economies for refusing to cut their emission levels while the emerging economies argued back that it was all very well for the advanced nations to ask each other to cut back emissions when they had been polluting the atmosphere for centuries as they build up their industries. They wanted the developed nations to drastically reduce their emissions but to be allowed to develop their own industries unhindered until such time as parity with the rich countries could be reached.

This has been the pattern for the last two decades with no one willing to give an inch while some of the world's worst polluters, such as the US (second biggest after China) digging out dubious experts and statistics to try and convince the rest of us that the whole climate change theory is hogwash.

This time however, the standoff was interestingly different. There were still two opposing groups but the configuration inside had changed. One group, led by the EU, contained least developed countries (LDCs) and small island states; the other group consisted of the US, Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

The first group wanted bigger emissions cuts faster, while the second group was firmly opposed to it. Once again, log jam. Two weeks of talks, discussions, arguments, emotional outbursts, abuses and name calling and nothing to show for it except so much hot air to add to whatever is already there in abundance. COP17 seemed destined to go the same sorry way as Copenhagen.

Then, just as the conference was about to close, South Africa's Foreign Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane decided enough was enough. It was time for some African style...

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