South Africa skeptical about new coalition

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City Press, Paris

South Africa lead negotiator Alf Wills said on Thursday the so-called "high ambition coalition" has been negotiating through the press and not in the negotiations sessions at the critical UN climate talks in Paris. Speaking at a negotiatior press briefing session, Wills was openly sceptical about the coalition's conduct. 

While talk about the new coalition has been dominating talks on Wednesday and Thursday, Wills said that he only heard about the coalition through the press.

The new coalition now includes well over 100 countries from the rich and developing world, including the United States. Mexico, Colombia, all members of the European Union and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have also signed on.

The coalition came out swinging at a press conference on Wednesday in Paris, declaring they will block any attempt to impose a "minimalist" agreement.

The group wanted would demand that any final deal includes a mechanism for increasing ambition over time, a recognition of the proposed 1,5C temperature goal, a clear pathway to a low carbon future, a five-year review process, and a climate finance package. The group's position was backed by US climate envoy Todd Stern, who said the coalition was "exactly what we need right now".

The new force at the talks was founded in secret six months ago, to push for a more ambitious deal on climate change, including keeping global warming under 1,5C. But it has notable exceptions among its ranks including the major developing countries South Africa, China and India.

“As far as we understand it, it is an open-ended coalition. Anyone can join,” said Wills. “But they forgot to tell South Africa what coalition’s contact details were.”

But he said that even if South African wanted to join, it was unclear what the coalition’s objectives are.

“Are they planning to intervene in the negotiations,” he asked. “They are certainly not discussing how they want to bridge the critical points with anyone in the negotiations.”

He said that most of the coalitions’ negotiations had taken place in the media.

“And while that is a valid tactic, it doesn’t make it formal,” he said. “South Africa is certainly for high ambition, but we are quite unclear on what this coalition wants to achieve.”

China’s Special Representative for Climate Change Negotiations Gao Feng echoed Wills comments. Earlier India had indicated that they had issues with the five-year review of targets that coalition is supporting, as well as with plans to include a target of limiting future warming to 1.5C

The Marshall Islands’ foreign minister, Tony de Brum is the brain behind the coalition. He said earlier that it was first formed over informal drinks on the sidelines of a climate meeting in Paris in July.

South Africa will certainly not thrilled about the coalition. Analysts at the talks have said that the coalition is an indication that one of the most significant negotiating blocs at the Paris talks, the G77plus China, is showing signs of breaking. South Africa chairs the group and has been buoyed at the talks due to the high unity of the group so far this year. And going into the home stretch, the South Africans were hoping the G77 would stand as a united front against rich countries.