South Africa optimistic about Paris deal

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City Press, Paris

South Africa is adamant that the Paris climate change talks must deliver an agreement that has legal force, environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa said on Monday.

Molewa (above) was optimistic that the draft text negotiated so far had laid a foundation to deal with outstanding issues at the critical COP21 talks.

“There are difficult issues that we have to address, but at least we have a text now,” she said. “Any treaty has to have legal status. It must be applicable to all. “And there can be no stepping backward.”

The draft accord was produced in record time this year, despite clashes between countries over finance and when targets in the deal should be revised. The latest draft, released over the weekend, raised expectations that a full week of minister-led talks could clinch a deal despite significant disagreements between the parties.

A leading African negotiator labelled the text as a good foundation that could lead to a strong Paris agreement if the necessary buy-in was received. But a mountain still remained for both ministers and their negotiators to climb before securing the expected deal on Saturday.

No regrets

On Monday morning, when the ministers arrived, there were two options on the table. Delegates branded the first option the “no regrets deal”, saying this would allow the world to have a fighting chance to keep future global warming below 1,5 Celsius. Science dictates it needs to be kept below two degrees Celsius.

The second deal has been nicknamed “the minimalist deal”, but climate activists at the conference said a more accurate name would be the dreaded “three degrees option”.

This deal would see nations only reviewing their ambitions to curb greenhouse gases in 2024. It would mean accepting the different countries' pledges they submitted this year as the maximum they can commit to at this point, and would only pressure countries to start ramping up their efforts in 2030.

The South African delegation said on Sunday it was aiming to negotiate a Paris agreement that is ambitious, durable, fair and effective, and which keeps temperatures below two degrees Celsius.

“Paris presents a golden opportunity to build an agreement that is effective, durable and strengthens the global approach,” the delegation said in a statement.

The agreement that is on the South African wish list balances environmental and development imperatives, and ensures that global emission reduction efforts are adequate to keep global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius.

Financing to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change has been a key sticking point at the conference. South Africa has been vocal about financing, with President Jacob Zuma urging delegates last week to scale up climate mitigation finance beyond $100-billion for the post-2020 period.

As chair of the influential G77 plus China group, South Africa also took up a feisty attitude in closed negotiating sessions, particularly over developed nations’ failure to commit to a finance deal.

Molewa said on Monday she expected at the very least a financing roadmap that extended beyond 2020.

Adaptation

South Africa’s ideal agreement would have adaptation at its core, and an ambitious outcome on finance, technology and capacity building to support the adaptation and mitigation efforts of developing countries.

South Africa’s vision is aligned to that of the African group, the delegation said, which believes that adaption is the responsibility of every nation.

“Climate change impacts are being driven by global inaction on mitigation, and the adaptation burden on developing countries is growing heavier,” the South Africans said. “A Global Goal for Adaptation must be part of the Paris agreement.”

Loss and Damage

Loss and damage is a growing focus of the international negotiations, determining what developed nations should pay developing countries for the damage they will suffer as a result of climate change.

South Africa played a leading role in negotiations leading to the establishment of the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage two years ago, a fund established in addition to the funds needed for adaptation.

The South African delegation said it strongly supports funding for loss and damage caused by climate change, insisting that the Warsaw mechanism should “continue and flourish beyond 2017”.