South African Climate Summit (+ Obama)

I am currently in South Africa, at the national Climate Change Summit in Midrand, outside of Johannesburg. The purpose of the summit is to make sure that government, business and NGOs are up to speed on the international scientific and political context for climate change, and to help develop the national position that South Africa will bring to the table this December in Copenhagen. My eyes are primarily on the space that local governments care out for themselves in this process. But I may post on the more general context as well.

One thing that's become clear is that the profile of climate change in South Africa has risen considerable since they last held a summit three years ago. President Motlanthe gave the opening address, and I am told that it is the first time that a South African president has dedicated a full speech to climate change at this kind of forum. The other thing that's clear is that Obama's “Yes We Can” approach really has spread around the globe.

Even in the early days of his bid for the U.S. presidency there was a lot of excitement here about the possibility of having a black man in the White House. Now, his promotion of green jobs as the way to jumpstart the economy is on everyone's lips, from the President to high level Ministers. Obama wasn't the first to come up with these ideas. But as a political figure he has shown that a strong stance on environmental issues can be a source of political capital, rather than a political risk.

South Africa's energy utilities are some of the largest single Co2 emitters in the world, and its economy is completely (and I mean completely) dependent on cheap coal-fired electricity. It is also a major regional and continental leader. Despite considerable capacity problems at all levels of government, it is pushing for feed-in tariffs, green building policies, 10%-15% energy savings from households and businesses (prompted by a national energy supply crisis, but also relevant to CC initiatives) and binding policy to cap emissions by 2020-5.

They have yet to really get serious about renewable energy. But if they deliver on this, and the other issues that are being discussed, they could have a huge impact on the way in which climate change is addressed in Africa. Like many other countries -- developed or developing -- they also have a history of creating ambitious policy, but not following through. Obviously, we are all hoping that South Africa will see that there are real benefits to acting on climate change, not just talking about it.

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1 Response to "South African Climate Summit (+ Obama)"

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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