COP17 - Durban ready but is the world? - 21 Nov 2011

As the countdown to the official opening of COP17/CMP7 in Durban begins, various players have announced their intentions to ensure that the conference is a successful on in terms of events, however there seems less confidence on the part of the world that any substantial long-term commitments will emerge before the Kyoto Protocol expires in April 2012.The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced on Friday 18 November 2011, that there would be a curtain raiser for the conference on 27 November. Walk the Future will be a 3-kilometre walk along The Blue Line on the Durban coast to end at the Durban Tourism Information Centre.

The social mobilisation project, led by Mkhize, will see thousands of people join him and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa and eThekwini Mayor Cllr Mayor James Nxumalo, as they walk along an artistically rendered Blue Line.

One of South Africa's internationally renowned public artists, Strijdom van der Merwe, is creating the Blue Line on Durban's Oliver Tambo Parade. It is designed to symbolise the rising sea level's potential impact on our coastline

He says the event provides a positive way for people to get involved in understanding the impact of climate change on our lives and helping find innovative solutions for it.

The Premier will be adding a local touch to the public event by walking along the Blue Line in his izimbadada, traditional Zulu sandals made from old rubber car tyres, one of South Africa's most iconic symbols of recycling.

"Its central message is to promote positive action and a call to everyone to get involved in helping us, and all the delegates we are honoured to be hosting in Durban this month, to help find practical solutions to climate change," he says.

Durban ready

"The planning is over and we are in the final stages of implementation," said eThekwini Mayor, Councillor James Nxumalo, at the media briefing held in Durban on Friday, with days to go to the opening of the biggest conference ever held on the African continent. "We are in the process of meeting all the responsibilities expected of us as the host city and are now getting ready to stand back, open our arms and welcome the world to Durban, Africa's leader in the response to climate change."

Ensuring the success of a conference of this nature and magnitude takes place at many levels. With lessons learnt from the 2010 FIFA World Cup from a mega eventing perspective, the city's approach to the organisation has included city development, city efficiency and legacy outcomes.

As the host city, Durban took up the challenge of hosting the event so that delegates and visitors would leave the event updated and informed about Durban's Greening Projects and touched by its social and cultural wealth, natural beauty and its sustainable approach to city development. In order to maximise the benefits (both economic and environmental) of hosting such an event, the full strength and capacity of the municipality has been brought together to run the event as efficiently as possible.

From a practical perspective delegates had to have access to sufficient accommodation at reasonable rates and be able to get from their hotels to the various conference venues and city attractions, safely and efficiently.

Finally, an underlying premise in the design of the COP17 Greening Programme is that projects must have life beyond the event and that their initiation will help to advance the environmental and climate change agenda of the city.

High numbers events, delegates

According to Lani Botha, sustainability account director at Fleishman-Hillard, the company's experience from previous COP meetings has proved that major announcements from a global perspective tend to take over local news cycles. The company globally has been involved in two such projects, namely the Brazilian SECOM project at Copenhagen COP15 and COP16 in Cancun.

The stage in Durban is going to be even more competitive, with a touted 40 000 expected attendees and space for 2 000 accredited media.

Other than the main meeting, the conference venue will host a series of side events organised by civil society, business associations, countries and academia, all clamouring to draw the spotlight on various aspects of the battle against climate change. These events will target delegates and VIPs, as well as journalists and public participants. The city of Durban will host a myriad of parallel events such as seminars, conferences and fairs organised by grassroots, business, cities and NGOs alike. Target groups will include international media and key opinion leaders, as well as delegates from the summit.

At present, the company has logged in excess of 350 side events - divided into those taking place within the ICC Durban itself (attendance restricted to registered delegates), and those taking place outside of the ICC Durban, which include both open and closed events.

More talk than action

Further to the events, the general feeling being expressed by local and global stakeholders is that COP17 will be a further talk shop to COP16 and that the looming Kyoto deadline, lack of roll-out of climate-friendly policies from the US and ongoing disconnect between developed and developing nations are all mitigating circumstances to be considered when foreseeing the outcomes.

Media attendance

For local media, the objectives are two-fold:education and deeper understanding around the key issues at COP17opportunity to interface and interact with global business leaders and governments
The role that South African companies and government play, will also be covered - but the view from past conferences from our global colleagues is that local coverage is focussed on in the build-up to and post-event coverage on how the outcomes impact local plans.

For global media, South Africa is not a large player in the emissions market. However, due to its developing status, South Africa is one of the fastest growing carbon emitters. Key issues to be discussed at COP17, to mention the most salient:Kyoto and beyond - where to from here?Developed nations' approach to climate change actions, in particular the USEmerging markets driving their climate change mitigation financial support agendas. (China is viewed as being the lead in this space and is bringing the largest delegation to COP17)The cost of sustainability based on global market movements (CDM, trade, developed vs developing nations)
Protest action

The key protester in the build-up to COP17 in South Africa has been Greenpeace and it will continue to stage protests in the build-up to and during the conference meeting. Other groups, which have engaged in pre-COP activity, but will be very local at the conference during side-events, are the 'We Have Faith' coalition led by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Black Sash and other global community-led drives around (to name a few) deforestation, disruption of oceanic lifecycles and economic reform to support sustainability. Once again, experience at these events has shown that activists play an immense role in the meeting and media exposure for the duration of the event.

Key pre-COP events from Greenpeace have been the 'attacks' on Eskom and Sasol, the launching of the Rainbow Warrior II (currently docked in Cape Town harbour) and the case against Nuclear company EDF. At COP17, however, Greenpeace's focus will be global.