COP17 in Durban: no room at the inn?

The annual United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP17 this time around – starts today, and Durban is already bursting at the seams. Mainstream accommodation is long since claimed, and one small guest house has had over 200 enquiries for two days in this week alone. So, literally, there is no room at the inn.

You won’t get into the main negotiating space anymore either – I found out after jumping through several hoops in the anonymous online process for media accreditation that this, for me, is a dead end. Even though I have a commissioning letter from a South African journal to cover the conference, and provided documentation in support of the book on climate change impacts on Africa that I am writing. Beyond my obvious self-interest in this matter, I worry that the one-size-fits-all screening policy will serve to dilute independent voices and new forms of media engagement. Can we afford this, at this late stage in our response to the climate crisis?

There are even more fundamental questions: will there be room at the negotiating table for real movement forward on new adaptation funding, and concrete commitments on emissions cuts? Will outstanding issues on the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol be resolved, or will this be deferred once again? It will be game-over for the climate – the one we need so that we can live and thrive – if implementation of this is delayed until 2020, as new proposals from the EU reportedly suggest.

Life on the edges of this unwieldy conference, South Africa’s largest yet, may turn out to be the most vibrant part of the COP17 ecosystem. There is the People’s Space, the civil society part of the conference, to be held at UKZN, faith events at the Diakonia Centre, IIED’s Development and Climate days, the climate justice film festival, a Climate Refugees  Camp, and a host of cultural and arts events. All of which was initiated by the Multi-Faith Climate Justice Rally held in Kings Park Stadium yesterday. Faith leaders and inspirational speakers exhorted the small crowd not to give up hope that a real deal for action on climate change could still be delivered at the conference. Archbishop Tutu was an inspiring and endearing presence. We were reminded that nothing is impossible in Africa, and that we were in South Africa, land of the 1994 miracle. Good words, even wonderful words. The sub-text, though, was clear: No-one seemed to deny that a miracle is what is truly needed, here in Durban, over the next two weeks, so that we can avoid the worst-case scenarios for climate change.

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