• Green Ultra Right Bombers

    So if you are wondering why the long silence since the post last week, well…I am in Durban after all, where things tend to move a little slower than Joburg and about as fast as Cape Town. And it has been busy: the ‘People’s Space’ at University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), mostly at the initiative of Patrick Bond, has taken off and is always buzzing with energy, people and a whole herd of news crews from local and international media. There are activists, socialists, NGO people, more activists and a whole bunch of artists as well, mostly thanks to the Climate Train initiative and the great crew that was on board that long trip around South Africa to Durban.

    The ‘occupy space’ has also been buzzing and you should take a look at the video post from the Ambush Collective who descended upon it and built a wonderful garden for the future. Which brings us neatly to another aspect of the ‘occupy space’ in Durban. It is not your classic people-driven occupy, but rather a city approved space for people to occupy during COP17, which was negotiated with the city by the civil society representatives on the C17. It is in that sense a new kind of occupy, a government approved and temporary allowance for people to express and engage.  While there are so many ideological issues with such a concept, I am trying to be brave and creative enough to let go off those issues and ideas of occupy as we know it from OWS and focus on what has been happening there and maybe, some thinking about what may come of it post COP17. So far, nothing has come of the ‘occupy space’ since the march on Saturday, 3 December 2011 and in the words of my colleague, John Treat, it is now de-funked, which may go some way towards debunking the myth that international NGOs (INGOs) are capable of hijacking the occupy idea. That is something we should all be very grateful for.

    And that is pretty much where I feel we can leave this blog as it seems that my assertion that NGOs and other movements in civil society will try to co-opt and cannibalise the ideals and methods of occupy for their current agendas was in fact prescient – but, I feel that maybe I am being too harsh on the people and processes in SA. And there is good reason to be kinder to our levels of (dis)organisation and the nuances of our political history which make engagements with the SA government a challenge fraught with tensions and high-drama instead of a simple critical intellectual engagement and consensus building on moving forward.

    The how and why we are here mired in this stalemate is the subject of not just another blog but of several issuances from academics to cartoonists, locally and across the know universe. Yet, we as people of this nation and across all sectors seem unwilling to be brave enough to change or are too content with this divided society we are building. Or maybe it is simply that we do not care enough about how we work or fail to. Almost all conversations with locals and visitors alike tend to lead back to the question of leadership and lack thereof among civil society organisations as the key weakness in our ability to engage critically and effectively with government. And I tend to agree, though I still hold that the concept of an apex representative structure for civil society that is recognised by government is not just outmoded but also potentially harmful to the growth of ideas that manifest as ideals and changes to the stark poverty and inequality in SA. But going back to agreeing with the notion that there is a lack of leadership in the sector and what some sober and principled leadership can achieve: for a start it may help with my desire to see a better engagement process than the current hobbled together rigmarole of government doing things, civil society organisations responding negatively to it and inevitably a court process to find a better solution. I find it baffling that, in a country with a globally lauded Constitution and a rich pool of intellectual talent, we are seemingly constantly finding ourselves at loggerheads with each other over things that, at first glance at least, seem pretty obvious or common sense. A good example is the demands around climate secrets by Right2Know and while the demands themselves make for interesting reading, the fact that we must demand these things, seems to me that the ideals of the Freedom Charter are somehow being lost in this transition to a form of capitalist sanctioned democracy we are building… but maybe that is a blog for another day.
    The march on 3 December was a great show of both strength and courage from a range of people and organisations not willing to be boxed into corners by a government that is increasingly moving further right in the way it treats its people. The use of what Rehad Desai calls the “Green Bombers” to intimidate other allegedly anti-government civil society groups was an appalling act of machismo and it is worth reading Rehad’s post about the incident on Facebook.

    I am reminded of the outburst from former President Thabo Mbeki about the ‘ultra-leftists’ and how perceptions of political allegiance and positioning are really just perspectives. Maybe Mbeki did not realise how far right he had moved and thus some people did seem to him to be ultra left. Which is pretty much where we seem to be going with the COP17 process. The current deal period is about to expire in 2012 and with no deal here in Durban, it just means that we will have to deal with what is left, instead of doing what is right.

    - Rajesh Latchman is the Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum, Volunteer Convenor of GCAP South Africa, guerrilla gardener, cyclist and an unreformed recycler. He writes in his personal capacity.

  • An Askew View of COP17

    Notes from the seaside

    Daybreak in Durban was the usual muggy warmth that seems to seep into every pore of your skin just as perspiration is trying to seep out, leaving you feeling grubby and damp and taking three showers before 10am…but that is a waste of water (which is thankfully being recycled) so let’s not dwell here in this damp spot and rather move on to occupying Durban and more specifically occupying the climate change talks…

    At 11am, bright and early saw the start of the Conference of People (CoP) General Assembly at Speaker’s Corner just across the street from the heavily barricaded International Convention Centre (ICC), site of the official, formal and much derided 17th Conference of Parties (COP17).

    About a hundred people gathered here on this little triangular island and it took me about 10 minutes to work out that about half of them were media folk – obviously looking for something slightly higher up the heart rate monitor than the talks going on inside the International Conference Centre (ICC). I am not so sure they did in fact find it but at least the people here looked more colourful than the grey suited clones streaming into the ICC. I often wonder how people who have such a dull dress sense (and a clear lack of style) can even begin to think creatively about how we can build a just global climate treaty, but maybe that is a blog for another day.

    At speakers corner, thankfully, there was no tie and dye to be seen, though there were a couple of headbands and some level of slightly dishevelled hair on people, and they did all smell remarkably clean and there was no shortage of designer labels on clothes and shoes or the cameras either…it is good to see occupy in Durban being led by well-dressed people with tidy hairstyles and a sense of good taste in their clothes too, though it would be awesome to see some real style in the dress sense. It was a wonderful relief to see some people from the ambush turn up in their pseudo prison garb and hopefully tomorrow they will ambush the space and plant some bright and useful plants to help occupy people to live off the land if they choose to stay in Speaker’s Corner for a few years.

    So, what was said and done? Well pretty much what has been said for a while about the whole climate change debacle – too much emissions, too much reliance on fossil fuels, too much waste, too much corporate power, too much collusion of governments with corporations and of course, too much negation of traditional ways of living in harmony with the world and it’s people. All good then, and in reality, not stuff that many people walking past on their way to find jobs or get lunch or just meandering aimlessly would happily agree with…but and this is a but of rather large proportions – that virtually none of the people walking past bothered to stay and join the occupation… admittedly, some did stop and check out the occupy action – but given the lack of free t-shirts, lunch or other forms of simple but effective bribery – none stayed to occupy in solidarity with the occupiers...which is a pity.

    So the main outcome of the assembly was to hold an assembly each day – in the same space and develop some sort of way of distributing more information about the occupation and hopefully gathering more people to the space. While it may look like a damp squib (and INGO heavy) start to a Durban occupation, there is hope that tomorrow, a whole bunch of slightly more excited people will rock up and help grow the occupy seedling in Speaker’s Corner.

    I will do my best to stay on top of this rapidly changing and always on the go occupation and I hope you will follow this occupation and tell the two friends you know in Durban to come join us…it should at least be a great way to meet well dressed international NGO types, if nothing else...

    - Rajesh Latchman is the Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum, Volunteer Convenor of GCAP South Africa, guerrilla gardener, cyclist and an unreformed recycler. He writes in his personal capacity.

  • NGOs, Stakeholders, Discuss Climate Change

    The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations held a meeting to discuss major issues from the 17th Conference of the Parties from civil society organisations and government perspectives in Lehakoe, Maseru.

    Apart from that, the participants and stakeholders mapped a way forward in addressing climate change issues and challenges in Lesotho, and also forged working relationships.

    In the same vein, one of the participants, Maqhanolle Tsekoa from Lesotho Metrological Services, has been quoted as saying that they will be working all the stakeholders to protect the country against the climate change.

    To read the article titled, “The Lesotho council,” click here.

  • Ecological Debt Tribunal – Holding Polluters Accountable

    The faith community is among key stakeholders calling for the establishment of a permanent International People’s Tribunal on Ecological Debt. Such a tribunal would hold environmental violators accountable for the climate change they are causing in local communities, particularly in developing nations.

    There are many definitions for ecological debt. The concept highlights the disparity between industrialised nations, which consume a greater share of the global resource pool, and developing nations, who have larger populations, but consume fewer resources and produce less waste.

    Spurred on by social movements from relatively poor countries, many government officials have pointed out at the 17th Congress of the Parties (COP17) meeting that the principle of shared responsibility demands that rich nations go beyond donations or adaptation credits. They should make reparations that recognise their ecological debt for excessive emissions over several decades.

    Based on this concept, the permanent tribunal would hold hearings on cases brought by states or local communities against companies they say violated people’s rights through environmental degradation. The hearings would then determine the level of compensation.

    However, tribunals need not be the only route to bring justice. People’s tribunals have been held before and have done little to deter the transnational companies, international financial corporations and others. It would be progressive to pursue other methods to ensure that those who have committed crimes against the environment and consequently on humanity, are made to pay.

    This was the main message that came out of a parallel session held by the Economic Justice Network (EJN), the World Council of Churches, Jubilee South, Observatorio de la Deuda en la Globalisation, Accion Ecologica, Oilwatch and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance on 7 December 2011 on the sidelines of COP17. EJN coordinates Councils of Churches from 12 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states.

    Currently there is no international legal framework to prevent and punish climate and environmental crimes, hence a demand for the creation of an international tribunal. The International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal would have the legally binding capacity to prevent, judge, and punish those states, companies, and individuals that pollute and cause climate change by their actions or omissions.

    However, missing from the otherwise vibrant meeting was a discussion on the gender implications of ecological debt. Also glaringly absent from all the presentations and the debate that ensued was an analysis of how establishing a permanent People’s Tribunal would differently affect the lives of women and men.

    The Jubilee South campaign acknowledges that climate change is one of the greatest problems humankind will face, not only due to its direct impacts, but also because other existing problems will become more serious, such as poverty, famine, violence and gender inequality.

    There is need for strong policy measures and mobilisation of all parties involved. The meeting referred to mobilising for the upcoming Rio Plus 20 Conference on Climate Change taking place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The question remains how voices of women, particularly from developing nations who are often not part of organised communities, can be heard, as well as how to ensure their cases make it to the court if ever established.

    As Wahu Kaara from the Kenya Debt Relief Network mentioned, women are a critical mass who if galvanised, can form a formidable force to change the way markets work. They have innovative and creative responses to overcoming the challenges they face around regimes of food and water, housing, energy, transport and migration. Men are usually absent from home as they go out in search of work, for example, in the mines.

    At a different session on Macro-economics for Economic and Environmental Justice convened by EJN on 8 December 2011, there was an acknowledgement that the policy framework has to shift to ensure sustainability of humanity. The results of neo-liberal macroeconomic policies are widening the inequality gap, increasing poverty and environmental destruction. For women this is a double tragedy.

    The meeting lamented the lack of civil society to capitalise on this and more importantly noted that very few gender organisations are working on economic climate justice issues. It is a space that networks such as the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance should occupy and begin to influence.

    - Loveness Jambaya Nyakujarah is the Alliance and Partnerships Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service and African Woman and Child Feature Service special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence and COP 17 Conference.
  • COP17 Preserved Kyoto, Says Molewa

    Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, says the Kyoto Protocol was saved by the last minute agreement reached by parties at the COP17 conference in Durban.

    Molewa points out that, "We have been able to preserve the multiple rules based system underpinning the mitigation regime by agreeing on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol."

    Meanwhile, International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, says that the talks have yielded a roadmap aimed at enforcing a legal framework to enforce carbon emission cuts from major greenhouse gas emitters.

    To read the article titled, “COP17 preserved Kyoto: Molewa,” click here.

    The Citizen
  • Canada Withdraws From Kyoto Protocol

    Canada became the first country to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, saying the pact on cutting carbon emissions is preventing the world from effectively tackling climate change.

    The country’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, says that following a marathon 17th Congress of the Parties (COP17), at which nations agreed to a new roadmap for worldwide action.

    "We believe that a new agreement with legally binding commitments for all major emitters that allows us as a country to continue to generate jobs and economic growth represents the path forward," explains Kent.

    To read the article titled, “Canada formally withdraws from Kyoto Protocol,” click here.

    The Citizen
  • France: Climate Deal a ‘Real’ Step Forward

    French Ecology Minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, has described the deal reached during overtime at the 17th Congress of the Parties (COP17) as a ‘real step forward’.

    However, Kosciusko-Morizet, points out that, "The progress on how we will finance the Green (Climate) Fund is two slow.”

    She argues that in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the full amount - in commitments - is not there.

    To read the titled, “France calls UN climate deal ‘a real step forward’,” click here.

    Times Live
  • Mangled Victory in Dramatic COP17 Overtime Finale

    Thousands of exhausted delegates burst into applause and cheers over the weekend after passing the final COP17 proposals, nearly 36 hours after they were originally scheduled to finish.

    The European Union (EU), under the passionate leadership of Connie Hedegaard, has come out the biggest winner, with the final outcome most closely resembling its proposals.

    Although some activists have criticised the African Group, Least-Developed Countries bloc and the Alliance of Small Island States for ‘watering down’ their positions, the EU ‘road map’ could not have passed without their support.

    To read the article titled, “Mangled victory in dramatic COP17 overtime finale,” click here.

  • Africa Pushes for Second Kyoto

    The 54-nation African Group says its minimum expectation from the COP17 climate change conference in Durban is a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol.

    The negotiating bloc's chairperson, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, says that the group wants to see the Green Climate Fund up and running.

    Mpanu-Mpanu states that the group wants to leave COP17 with a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, one which has legally-binding dimensions, not merely political ones.

    To read the article titled, “Africa seeks second Kyoto,” click here.

    The Citizen
  • Canada Declares Kyoto Protocol History

    Canada's environment Minister, Peter Kent, has declared that for his country the Kyoto Protocol ‘is in the past’, a position touching on the trigger issue at the climate talks here.

    Kent confirmed that Canada would not back a new round of carbon-cutting pledges under Kyoto after the first series runs out at the end of 2012.

    "We have long said we will not take on a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. We will not obstruct or discourage those that do, but Kyoto for Canada is in the past," he explained.

    To read the article titled, “Canada: Kyoto Protocol is history,” click here.

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