Significantly, the Africa Group is the only official negotiating coalition present within the UNFCCC. As a united Group there has been some success in shaping the direction of negotiations. This includes the push to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive. Ensuring the future of the Kyoto Protocol remains central to the Africa common position, particularly ensuring the survival of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. This, in turn, is linked to questions of equity (whether past, present or future) in sharing the responsibility to protect the global commons. Without agreement on this, the future of an outcome that is fair, transparent and credible remains in doubt.
In the lead up to COP17/CMP7 the Chair of the Africa Group, Mr Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu (DRC), has indicated that the Africa group is looking for ‘ambitious progress in the climate change talks’. This was certainly reflected in the Group’s position in Panama (October 2011) where emphasis was given to achieving an agreement that includes a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. It also gives attention to the idea of the environmental integrity for Annex 1 Parties to the Protocol. This focuses on closing the loopholes in the agreement, limiting the use of carbon markets and project-based mechanisms to 10% of commitments, and ensuring carbon credits clearly reflect emission reductions that are additional.
In line with questions of equity the Africa Group is also calling for greater leadership from developed countries in terms of their own mitigation efforts with calls for emissions cuts to 40% below 1990 level in the next 5 years and 95% by 2050 as well as delivery on the promised fast track finance ($30bn from 2010-2012 and $100bn per year by 2020). Yet the current international context raises a number of challenges for the African common position in pursuing these aims, not least the ongoing financial crisis in Europe that has the potential to hamper the operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund.
Negotiating the future climate change regime is an inherently political process, presenting the Africa Group with perhaps their greatest challenge as they navigate the changing geo-political landscape. Achieving the Group’s ambitions will need a strong, capable and united Africa. In recognition of the importance of the common position the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) bureau was formed in June 2011 to enhance Africa’s international engagement on climate change. This is particularly significant in light of the more peripheral role the Group has found itself in following the rise of BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) at the Copenhagen negotiations. Their performance, however, will be measured on the ability of the Africa Group to maintain its common position beyond merely the broad principles that currently keep it together.
The countries that comprise the Africa Group are as diverse environmentally as they are politically. Within the Group there are the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) states that place an emphasis on response measures. The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are pushing for all large GHG emitters to take more responsibility in reaching the target of 1.5°C limit in temperature, while the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have a particular interest in finance, technology transfer and adaptation. Within this mix South Africa stands out, not only as one of the continent’s largest economies but a significant contributor to GHG emissions (12th internationally). Over the course of the numerous climate change negotiations South Africa’s position vis-à-vis Africa has come under pressure. This was patently apparent following the emotional outburst during COP15 from former representative of the G77+China, Lumumba Di-Aping, when he posited South Africa had ‘actively sought to disrupt the unity of the Africa bloc’ (although apologies later followed).
South Africa is keenly aware that there is an element of suspicion from the continent regarding its role and position. This not only has a historical basis from Pretoria’s engagement with the continent under the apartheid regime, but is also linked to questions of South Africa’s own national interests. Since the advent of the ‘new’ democratic South Africa (1994), Pretoria has been at pains to demonstrate its commitment to the region and the pursuit of an African agenda internationally. In the context of climate change, COP17 has been presented as a means to showcase the challenges that Africa is facing as well as the activities being undertaken in addressing these challenges through the African Climate Pavilion. In spite of efforts that support of the common position, the challenge facing ‘Team South Africa’ as both host and negotiating party is that while it is part of the Africa Group, it is also aligned with other geo-political groupings including the BASIC, IBSA, and BRICS. The role of bloc interests, or ‘club diplomacy’, along with pressure from developed states has raised concern that international pressure may see South Africa adopt a more compromising role as it seeks to play the role of bridge-builder in an effort to secure an agreement to proclaim Durban a success. Yet, this position in myriad multilateral fora also creates opportunities to engage with parties in finding common ground and advancing an African agenda.
The course of negotiations hardly ever runs smoothly and questions will remain concerning the alignment of South Africa’s position with that of Africa in pursuit of an outcome that will truly benefit the continent (and developing countries more broadly). The choice of the Baobab tree as the symbol for the conference is aimed at depicting ‘endurance, conservation, creativity, ingenuity and dialogue’, but it should serve as a reminder of the African proverb that ‘wisdom is like a baobab tree: no one individual can embrace it’. This is true of the climate change negotiations. It is going to take an agreement between all parties in order to achieve a climate change regime that is fair, transparent and credible.
This article first appeared at www.stakeholderforum.org/sf/outreach/index.php/cop17-day1-home/467-cop17-day1-item1. Lesley Masters -Dr. Lesley Masters is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), a foreign policy and diplomacy think tank based in Pretoria, South Africa.