Durbans Green Man, Skhumbuzo Gcwabaza, opens his arms to welcome delegates to COP City. Gcwabazas beaded suit was made by craftswomen of the Wozamoya centre in Hillcrest, and will be on display at the Footprints Exhibition next to the Durban climate change conference centre next week. It was sponsored by Pinetown company greenOffice, owned by former Springbok and Sharks player Wayne Fyvie. Picture: Mathew Willman

Suren Naidoo, Leanne Jansen and Sinegugu Ndlovu

THE WEATHER gods seem to be making a statement on the issue of climate change, with the east coast gripped by rainy and unusually cold weather for much of this week.

This comes as Durban puts the finishing touches to preparations for the 17th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17) starting next week.

More than 20 000 delegates – government, business and UN leaders, and environment activists, celebrities and media – are expected to descend on the city.

The sun is expected to make a brief appearance on Wednesday, followed by the onset of another cold front.

“The weather gods might be sending us a message here,” joked Salwa Dallalah, the UN’s head organiser for the conference.

“Delegates may find themselves having to carry umbrellas, but we can’t do anything about the weather. I am not a scientist, but Durban people have told me that it’s unusually cold. It will be a pity if the rainy weather continues, especially because many Europeans and Americans will come for COP17 expecting lovely summer weather,” she said.

Gill Martini, project manager of the Environmental Affairs Department’s Climate Change Response Expo, set up next to the Workshop, said preparations were on track despite the rain.

A colourful parade through Durban this morning starts the rolling out of the red carpet for visitors to the city.

The welcome parade starts at 9am at the top end of Pixley ka Seme (West) Street, at the intersection of Julius Nyerere (Warwick) Avenue, and will be led by local and provincial government figures, including mayor James Nxumalo and Co-operative Governance MEC Nomusa Dube.

Organisers are encouraging locals and visitors to join the parade, which finishes at the city hall.

“We want this ceremony to send a message that the COP 17 summit is indeed a people’s COP, and although our people won’t be part of the discussions, we are ready to do our bit to save the planet,” said Dube.

The SA Weather Service said summer rainfall regions of SA were in for wet weather, as the La Nina weather phenomenon settled in.

The service said Durban had already received 182mm of rainfall in November – against the month’s average of 108mm and more than 10 percent of the average annual rainfall of 1 009mm.

Weather prediction research manager Nico Kroese said La Nina was behind KZN’s unusually wet and cold conditions. “La Nina is usually the cause of above-normal rainfall,” he said.

La Nina also brought increased cloud cover, leading to slightly lower temperatures, which could explain why Durban had experienced cold weather in summer.

Partly cloudy conditions are expected on Sunday, when music stars and faith and political leaders will join Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at a mass rally and concert at Kings Park Stadium. Tutu will lead a call to world leaders to reach a fair and legally binding agreement to curb climate change.

Rain is forecast for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

King Shaka International Airport confirmed a spike in flights before the conference, which would be exacerbated by the arrival of heads of states and other VIPs on private planes. However, the airport’s management believes it has addressed concerns about parking, which proved problematic during last year’s World Cup semi-final.

Travellers were warned that only accredited vehicles transporting delegates would be granted access to the airport pick-up and drop-off zones until December 14. However, 30 minutes of free parking in the multi-storey parkade or shaded parking area is provided for vehicles waiting for passengers.

The city has advised that the area immediately around the International Convention Centre (ICC) will be completely closed to traffic until December 12. However, shuttles will transport visitors to the ICC and Climate Change Response Expo.

The public will have to leave vehicles at parking garages in the city or at the beachfront, while accredited delegates may park at the drive-in site.

Accredited media will be accommodated at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Walnut Road will be closed between Bram Fischer (Ordnance) and AB Xuma (Commercial) roads. Stalwart Simelane (Stanger) Street and Bram Fischer and AB Xuma roads will have one lane each cordoned off.

Volunteers in green and white will help people navigate the ICC precinct and areas including the beachfront and shuttle pick-up points.

The metro police would work with the SAPS to manage traffic and the expected crowds, Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi said. The metro forces’ 550 officers would work overtime patrolling on foot and motorcycles. Their duties would include escorting VIPs and ensuring that people parked legally.

SAPS Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said environmental considerations meant that officers would patrol on foot and horseback.

“We’ve been planning for the last nine or 10 months, and we’ve been successful in hosting 150 other events, including the World Cup.”

Naidoo said officers would not be sent from suburbs into the city, leaving residents unprotected.

“They needn’t worry. We have adequate members,” he said.

With more than 161 000 “bed nights” sold at KZN hotels for the conference, the hospitality industry was in for a pre-festive season bonus.

Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa regional chairman Gerhard Patzer said: “This is going to bigger than the World Cup because the COP17 delegates will be in one city for an extended period.”