Thoughts on my way to Durban


Taking off, 2 hours late on the plane to South Africa to go to the Climate Conference, I shut my eyes and wish the plane up.

The pilot may think he is flying the plane through by the power of  thrust and acceleration, but ever since childhood I have held a belief that it is only through the combined will and concentration of the passengers that an unlikely  hulk of metal, filled with people and plated meals is able to leave the ground.

Before Copenhagen in 2009– or ‘hopenhagen’ as the PR spinners dubbed it there was a feeling that if enough people closed their eyes and wished, a forum of nearly 200 sovereign nations could make hard, smart, binding and unanimous decisions, to get a global deal on climate change to fly.

Two years later the global deal is still taxiing on the runway, and nothing – not undeniable moral argument, nor the logic of economic costs and benefits – has enabled it to fly. And with the end of the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period coming up, we are getting close to the end of the runway.

There are political leaders, civil society advocates and technical experts who urge us to continue to invest hope in this process.  Some point to signs of progress; pledges of emission cuts and money made at Copenhagen and formalised in Cancun, establishment of a Green Fund and a framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Others continue to campaign for the same goals that were missed in Copenhagen and Cancun. I’m not sure that these hopes that a global deal can fly are any more robust than my childhood views of aerodynamics.

As the most recent analysis by UNEP shows the pledges go nowhere near far enough. An adequate global deal cannot be wished into existence. We are trapped between the inadequate and the improbable.

So why am I on my way to Durban? I am going to play a small part in helping to launch the South African Renewables Initiative (SARi), a project of the South African Government that I have been involved in for the past two years.

SARi is one of an emerging new fleet of bottom-up initiatives that are trying to shift public and private resources away from high emission activities into low carbon economic growth. They are not waiting for an impossible ‘nobody moves till everybody moves’ global deal, nor settling for  project-by-project small scale action, but are aiming for change on an ambitious scale which just might work.

Alongside SARi there are other initiatives such as the Moroccan bid to become the solar power hub for Europe, The Amazon Fund, The Governors Forest and Climate Taskforce and Energy+, not to mention scores of low carbon economic growth plans being developed. These initiatives combine entrepreneurial action by the public sector, ambitious bilateral deals and vision for green economic growth.

‘Green growth’ is something we will be hearing a lot about on the sidelines of the Climate Conference,  in numerous side events (including some very swanky ones) where the buzz-words  are ‘opportunity’,’ jobs’, and ‘investment’.

Green growth or “resource efficient, low-carbon, climate-resilient and socially-inclusive growth” to use the full definition seems like a good idea. But then so did a global deal on climate change. The question is how can it be delivered.

More tomorrow….

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