Exclusive: SA slams 'attempt to break up G77 unity'

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City Press, Paris, France

In an exclusive interview on the eve of a Paris deal, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, chair of the biggest group of countries in the climate talks – the G77 plus China – shares her concerns and previews what still needs to be done

Some rich countries were using new side coalitions to undermine developing countries, said Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, chair of the biggest group of countries in the climate talks, the G77 plus China, in an exclusive interview on Friday night.  Mxakato-Diseko has gained a reputation for her sharp words and strong demeanor. Her defence of the formidable G77 plus China unity has been a defining feature of the climate talks in Paris.


“There is nothing like a high ambition coalition in the official negotiations,” she said. “It does not exist. It has no status. It will not deliver anything.”
The South African UN ambassador accused certain countries who were “under pressure” of abusing their donor-based relationships. “We understand that their tactic is to find a shield from where to hide, an umbrella. And they want to broaden that umbrella so that they can hide beneath it all,” she said.
She said using the donor-based relationships was 'absolutely immoral”.


“They are reconfiguring these relationships, blowing them up and saying, 'we are leading with a coalition'. But what is this coalition? What do they want to do?” Mxakato-Diseko said coming into Paris developed nations announced targets with great fanfare, targets she said that should have been announced 10 years ago.

"A whole charade was created,” she said. “But we understood them for what they were.” Mxakato-Diseko said there has been a conservative effort to break the unity of the G77, but that the attempts were very poor. She related how numerous calls were made to President Jacob Zuma to appeal for her dismissal because she was “problematic”. The callers, whom Mxakato-Diseko did not want to name, even offered money as a sweetener, she said.

“But luckily the president understands that the country has a large legacy of poverty.”

It has been clear that the developed world has not been thrilled with the unity of the G77, she said. “We have been told it was difficult for rich countries to negotiate against G77’s common position. But yet it simplifies negotiations because there is only one position to concede to.” Under Mxakato-Diseko’s leadership at COP21, the G77 grouping has grown in stature. She attributed creating the necessary unity in the group to her South African heritage.


“South Africans focus ourselves on the bigger picture,” she said. “Back in 1994, we could have sunk the country in a bloodbath. But we understood what was needed, and that experience has given us the diplomatic skills to try to reach people and accommodate them, as opposed to making them feel threatened or vulnerable.” Mxakato-Diseko said she and her team made sure that countries in the group cohere to a common position. Differences are discussed openly and a strategy drawn up to manage those differences, she said.


The G77’s slogan has been to do no harm to each other in the talks. And the group has not argued against each other in public. “They bring it back to the closed doors of our group.” Going into the final stretch, financing remains a big thorn in the side of G77, and nothing has been resolved, said Mxakato-Diseko. “We are still at the negotiating stage,” she said. “Compared to Copenhagen, G77 has been very restrained. People could have been screaming and yelling and demonstrating, but they are willing to negotiate to the final minute.”


She said the G77 has made concessions, whereas rich countries have made none. She singled out the Umbrella group as a particularly “difficult group of countries". “We are creating an agreement around them,” she said. “We are literally squeezing ourselves to fit their needs.”


Her hard work at the talks was inspired by her desire to make a difference back home for those South Africans who will be most impacted by climate change, she said. “Maybe there is quality about us as South Africa that we don't always appreciate. You put a South African anywhere, they will come with passion. But they will also solve problems." She believes her understanding of the climate change challenges back in South Africa prepared her for the difficult job.


“I live in South Africa. I don’t live in Europe,” she said. “I come from a life of poverty in the townships, so I know poverty. And I have seen first hand that climate change is ravaging Africa. This drives me to find a solution.” One of her proudest moments in her time at the climate talks was finding the indaba process back in Durban at COP17. Before Durban the talks were falling apart, she said. Durban rescued them and pathed a new way forward for the deal that is now being negotiated in Paris today.


Mxakato-Diseko said indabas were able to fast track consensus and are still used at the talks today to attempt to solve outstanding issues.