File photo: Durban's climate change protection chief Debra Roberts. Picture: Terry Haywood
File photo: Durban's climate change protection chief Debra Roberts. Picture: Terry Haywood

Cities ‘must lead climate initiatives’

By Tony Carnie Time of article published Jun 6, 2013

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Johannesburg - Durban’s climate change protection chief Debra Roberts has paid back-handed tribute to the “creative writers” of the UN, who were becoming more inventive every year to disguise the lack of action on “the greatest threat” facing humanity.

Writing in the latest edition of the South African Journal of Science, Roberts said that attending the most recent climate talks in Qatar felt like an “Alice in Wonderland-like experience” – a bit like passing through a portal and falling towards an unknown destination with unpredictable consequences.

Commenting on a series of COPs (Conferences of the Parties) by the UN climate change treaty system over the past two decades, Roberts said a variety of increasingly “dilettantish” titles had been crafted to describe the outcomes of these meetings.

For example, the disappointing result of the COP 13 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, was titled “The Bali Roadmap”, whereas a better title might have been “A Road to Nowhere”.

The COP 15 meeting in Denmark gave birth to “The Copenhagen Consensus”, though a more apt title would have been “The Copenhagen Discord”.

More recently in South Africa, the COP 17 meeting resulted in the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”, though Roberts said “the train had unfortunately left the station”.

Last year, she attended the COP 18 meeting in Qatar which resulted in the new “Doha Climate Gateway”, though it seemed to her to be “more of a mirage in the desert than a gateway”.

This year another meeting will be held, in Poland, and the lack of any real progress at past meetings was likely to birth the “Warsaw Washout”.


“Unfortunately, these tributes to the creative writing of the UN system and the obligatory sea of acronyms, do nothing to disguise the fact that the international climate change negotiations are not delivering the urgent mitigation and adaptation action that is required to address the greatest threat facing our species: human-induced climate change.”

Nine years ago the debate was about avoiding a 2ºC rise in the average temperature of the world by the year 2100.

But, at the latest meeting in Doha, scientists warned that unless greenhouse gas levels were reduced drastically, average world temperatures could rise by 4ºC or even 6ºC by the turn of this century.

“Unfortunately, for those of us who live in Africa, the climate change pain will not be borne equitably… Even if we were able to achieve the increasingly unlikely target of 2ºC, what is safe for the world is certainly not safe for Africa. We already know that southern Africa is warming at twice the global rate. So 2ºC for the world means 4ºC for Africa, 4ºC for the world means 8ºC for Africa, and so on.”

And, although more than half the world now lived in cities, the leaders of cities and local governments remained relatively minor players in the UN climate change talks.

Major decisions were “held hostage” by national government politicians who seemed to lack ambition to tackle the crisis.


As a result, local government and city leaders realised there was little point sitting around waiting for national governments to negotiate a grand climate deal.

Roberts concludes that it is time for individual cities to lead the way in tackling climate change at a local level.

“Cities are on the climate change front line. They do not need to wait for permission or a mandate to act.” - The Star

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