As the climate negotiations brace themselves for the arrivals of Heads of State on Wednesday and Thursday, there was high drama as negotiators sought to conclude text to present to Presidents and Prime Ministers.   Negotiations in the Convention track went through the night from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Negotiators had given up hope of producing ‘clean’ text, i.e. agreement, already. What seemed possible was ‘bracketed’ text, meaning documents that clearly frame the options – and where the differences lie. The key one that this night were mitigation commitments by developed countries.  The only bit of text by which the US might take on a commitment had not been discussed. It went in and out of the text, with many procedural issues discussed in between. After a long night, the plenary meeting eventually opened at 5 a.m. and, after another round of insertions of other text, concluded just before 7  a.m. –  just an hour before many negotiators were to go to regional group consultations.

While this left many tempers frayed and the text looking messy, at least a document has emerged from the process driven by Parties.  These can now be considered by the many Ministers and growing numbers of leaders present.  What will be needed in the last three days will be leadership. If that is provided, anything is still possible.

As the banner on a Greenpeace boat in Copenhagen harbour says: “Politicians talk, leaders act”.


Statement by South African Environment Minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, at an event at COP-15 on Tue 15 December 2009. She was speaking at an event organised jointly by Brazil, South Africa, India and China. She spoke to the numbers announced earlier by President Zuma on ‘deviation below baseline’.

“South Africa recognises that as a responsible global citizen, we want to take more action, not only because we have a responsibility for future generations, but also because the science tells us that we are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. While we insist on the right to development, we will do everything within our capability to achieve our development and poverty eradication objectives in the most sustainable manner possible. Given  our unique circumstances, we consider that sustainable development policies and measures, which are development-oriented actions that have the co-benefit of avoiding emissions, are particularly appropriate nationally appropriate mitigation actions  (NAMAs). The eradication of poverty and dealing with the legacy of Apartheid are fundamental national priorities which require that we have the space, time and resources to develop. The country is already undertaking significant mitigation actions in relation to: energy efficiency in commerce and industry; mechanisms  to support the roll-out of renewables and alternative energies; working towards integrated rapid transit systems; and the role out of solar water heaters, including for poor households. In this regard we recognise the recent grant from the World Bank in support of these activities. However, without financial and technology support, it will not be possible to do more than what we are already doing.
On 6 December, President Jacob Zuma announced that South Africa would undertake a range of nationally appropriate mitigation actions. The extent of these actions depends on support by developed countries. With financial and technological support from the international community, these actions will enable the country’s emissions deviate below the what we project business as usual emissions would have been in 2020, projecting forward from a starting year of 2003 – deviation by 34% below BAU by 2020 and by 42% by 2025. This level of effort would enable emissions to peak between 2020 and 2025, plateau for approximately a decade and decline in absolute terms thereafter. We have demonstrated, through our study of mitigation potential in the long-term mitigation scenarios and through our assessment of our nation’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, our willingness and readiness to mitigate our emissions and to take action to adapt to the impacts of climate change. “

Having only arrived on Sunday the 13th in Copenhagen, halfway through the negotiations, Meagan and I (Thapelo) were really privileged to find that a meeting (briefing session) had been arranged with the South African delegation team, including the Minister herself, for all interested parties from South Africa. Although the Minister herself could not be in the meeting for long due to an emergency ministerial meeting of the Africa Group to address the “killing Kyoto” saga of that morning, she managed to give us an overview of the really pressing issues, including the issue of the meeting she was rushing to.


In the absence of the Minister, Joanne, who is part of the delegation, then took us through all the details of the morning saga, the position of the South African negotiating team and their expectations. It was a very informative meeting indeed. I truly believe the Minister and her team deserve a big thumbs-up for keeping South Africans who are in Copenhagen in the loop!!

On arrival in this city I was no doubt surprised by the icy cold weather, which for someone who has never experienced a winter in the Northern Hemisphere, has taken a while to adapt to. That said, once here I found myself immediately immersed in COP15 activities. Once I had done my two and a half hours in the registration queue I finally entered the Bella Centre.

While a number of events were attended it was obvious from this first eventful day that its easy to get absorbed into the various research endeavours as well as the stance of different countries under the negotiations. Most apparent is that developing countries are not willing to the Kyoto Protocol be omitted from the debate. Most developed countries are of the opinion that such a deal, which is not ratified by big emitters like the US and China, would get us nowhere in reaching the low carbon path that such an international deal is meant to. Further, there were attempts by Annex I parties to do away with the Kyoto Protocol. This attempt was responded to by a brief walk-out by some developing countries led by the African Group. Soon after these concerns were voiced activists had their say in their own unique way…

It’s virtually impossible to escape the talks – one can leave the Bella Center after a long day and still be traveling home amongst the many ‘Hopenhagen’ signs. The message being that now is the time for change, now is the time at which real action can be taken. Amongst the flurry of crowds here at the Bella on a daily basis one never forgets that to have faith. Even if some of us can’t be taking the difficult decisions at least voices can be raised and hopefully heard…

As an observer at this conference there is an exciting selection of side-events to attend. Some of those I’ve engaged in thus far include a meet and greet with the part of the SA delegation, analysis of the potential for sectoral crediting in developing countries by PointCarbon, the experiences of emissions-trading schemes in the US and EU and the potential therefore in Australia and just this morning I sat in on a talk about Climate Justice and Sustainable Development. It’s definitely been an enriching experience for us as researchers and in fact, it’s been hard to choose amongst the many side-events!

Some of the working group sessions have been closed to NGOs. In addition, the participation of NGOs and IGOs is being curtailed substantially especially on the last day (this coming friday) when only 90 representatives from NGOs will be allowed into the Bella Center. So here’s hoping that the process continues to remain transparent.

Watch this space for more updates!


On arrival in this city I was no doubt surprised by the icy cold weather, which for someone who has never experienced a winter in the Northern Hemisphere, has taken a while to adapt to. That said, once here I found myself immediately immersed in COP15 activities. Once I had done my two and a half hours in the registration queue I finally entered the ‘Bella Centre’.


Meeting the SA delegation – off the record discussion but made time for us

ICAP side-event

It’s hard to miss the ‘Hopenhagen’ term which the city of Copenhagen has now been dubbed for its efforts to make a deal. While I will live in the Bella Center for the next two days I am quite aware of the fact that the debate is not in isolation of this building. The local newspapers are

On Monday, Ministers started engaging in the negotiations under the guidance of the COP President, Danish Climate Minister Connie Hedegaard.  This is unusual – at a typical COP, Ministers come only for the last three days and spend most time making national statements and holding bi-lateral meetings.  Copenhagen is different.  A whole list of ‘crunch issues’ has been kicked from the negotiator level to that of Ministers. (For a sense of the issues, see earlier posting on Week 2).

This created some confusion, as the process sought to figure out what is done at political and technical levels.   There was also quite a bit of time spent on ensure that the issues under the Kyoto Protocol were not left out – pushed by Africa and with Latin American countries – the Bolivarian alliance – insisting strongly and keeping the plenary going for a long time.

Eventually negotiators started working around 7 pm, with most groups working well into the night – some into early morning and their faciliators right through. There is little movement yet – but the iterations between Ministers and officials needs to settle in. All is still possible, but so far there is not much substance in the deal.  Seasoned negotiators are still calling this ‘early days’.  The NGOs following the process are not as sanguine – it is already very late from the point of view of the climate.