Environmental eyes of the world on SA

Bolivians led a climate change protest which was cut short by Mexican police in Cancun over the weekend.

Bolivians led a climate change protest which was cut short by Mexican police in Cancun over the weekend.

Published Aug 29, 2011


Brace yourself Durban. Top politicians and scientists will be arguing about the future and well-being of the planet, there will be massive street protests, 30 000 visitors, including rock stars and Hollywood royalty, will flood the city and surrounding areas, special climate trains and eco buses – we will be seeing it all.

If you haven’t cottoned on to it yet, Durban and COP17 are the latest buzzwords in the environmental world. If you haven’t read about the mega-event taking place from November 28 to December 9 in local papers, then just switch to major international news networks such as CNN which are awash with news and updates from Durban on the climate talk preparations.

CNN is running a series entitled The Road to Durban, showing footage from the UK, Germany, Turkey and Kenya, on the planning, environmental and sustainability issues facing the world’s cities, as well as the green initiatives being developed to tackle them.

The world’s air is polluted, water scarcity is becoming a major problem and renewable forms of energy need to be heavily invested in. Developed countries such as the US need to commit to reducing their carbon emissions.

And city officials and activists are concerned that Durbanites should be leading the green campaign and be ready to show off how environmentally friendly the city and its citizens are as eThekwini prepares itself for what everyone who is anyone is describing as “the biggest conference the country has hosted”.

Don’t be mistaken, the climate talks are not just the domain of sombre-suited types zipping around the exclusive ICC zone dragging along trolley suitcases packed with lengthy documents of how many bad things they think can be let into the atmosphere.

We’re talking the Richard Bransons, Bonos and Al Gores of this world as well as chief executive officers from the world’s largest multi-national companies. They drive the latest fanciest “green” cars, they’re the jet-set with a whole lot of American Express cards to throw around in our coastal city.

What’s green

But, when they fly into Durban this year, they won’t be wanting the fanciest of caviars; in fact, they may not care for the Norwegian salmon served up on designer platters.

And let’s not even start with bottled water.

Celebrities, activist and officials will be trailing around Durban on the lookout for what’s green and what’s not.

Green is the new way of living, and if you haven’t watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, well the message to Durbanites is you had better step up.

As city manager Michael Sutcliffe says, the environmentally aware delegates will be choosing carefully which hotels to stay at, and where to eat.

“People are conscious of where the green places are, and what the local food is,” said Sutcliffe.

In fact, officials might just want to use their towels for two days in a row, and then ask room service for them to be cleaned.

It saves water and costs less.

Sutcliffe said people will look for locally grown food that arrives fresh at the restaurant, giving the international set a taste of Durban.

That should be good business for the organic sustainable gardens dotted around eThekwini.

“There are important decisions to be dealt with in our city,” said Sutcliffe, and, more important, it was a chance for Durban to show why it was one of the leading cities in Africa.

Sue Bannister, from the city’s strategic projects unit, said the city would benefit from the huge international exposure. In addition, accommodation, food, entertainment, curios and craft sectors would also do well. Service industries such as printing would also benefit.

By her calculations, 405 000 meals will be eaten, 50 000 curios will be sold, a million cups of tea and coffee will be consumed, and there will be 50 000 metered-taxi trips taken.

Sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies from South Africa will also be on display.

There will be a climate law conference, investment dinners, a day of prayer, educational activities, and even a climate train that will journey across South Africa showing artwork and holding events about the COP17 negotiations – the city has been inundated with requests for activities.

If organic fundi actress Gwyneth Paltrow were to come here, she may decide to shop at the Shongweni Farmers’ Market looking for the best in organic coffees, carrots, and cheese-spreads.

You could possibly spot environmentalist and humanitarian Bono lounging around Durban’s beaches, Blue Flag or not.

Celebs and officials aside, Durbanites will find thousands of activists and conservationists in the city. You could hop on to a taxi and amble up to the Curries Fountain area and adjacent Durban University of Technology and encounter all sorts of academics, activists, and conservationists.

But don’t think they will be hemp-wearing, banjo-strumming, organic-meals-by-the fireside-types.

This group wants you, the ordinary member of the public, to be involved in the campaign for environmentally friendlier practices.

The thousands of activists, academics and NGO leaders are expected to engage in discussions and lobby for governments to reach common ground on mitigating the effects of climate change.

Bryan Ashe, of environmental organisation GeaSphere, who is in part co-ordinating the international NGO efforts in Durban for COP17, said discussions, workshops and even a Global Day of Action will be co-ordinated by the team.

“The Global Day of Action would not be just to toyi-toyi, but give a red card if civil society is not convinced that governments will reach an agreement on negotiations,” he said at a briefing.

The activists are expected to be housed in a “climate refugee camp” which would consist of tents erected near the Curries Fountain area. Craft markets, message walls, childcare facilities, food markets and marquee spaces would also be created to showcase the efforts of civil society in climate-friendly work.


He said they aimed to hold discussions that would be open to the public, as leading activists, academics and representatives from governments and business would be speaking at their side-events.

No doubt Durban would come under close scrutiny but, as Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala said, there was a lot in Durban to showcase such as Blue Lagoon’s Green Hub and the Mariannhill landfill site gas-to-electricity project, the first in Africa.

Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Andrew Layman said: “The business community needs to show we’re making progress in using green technologies.”

Hotels and restaurants would be booming during this period, and the Federated Hospitality Industry of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) here in KZN said they would be going all out to “wow” the delegates.

“There is no question that the hotels will be full, and not only in Durban, but on the south and north coasts and even into Pietermaritzburg,” said Gerhard Patzer, KwaZulu-Natal regional chairman of Fedhasa.

And if a binding agreement was reached in Durban, Patzer said the city’s name would be put on the map, and the marketing impact of that should not be underestimated.

“People will also be looking for restaurants and leisure activities, the city must be spotless, and we must be smart and put out the best service for them to come back,” said Patzer.

So what can ordinary citizens do to get with the green programme and rub shoulders with the who’s who that will be in the city?

Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo, formerly of Chatsworth, said he wanted all Durban residents to be involved in the COP17 event.

“There will be a range of informative events, exhibitions and peaceful protests and I strongly encourage everyone to come and educate themselves if they don’t know what the talks are all about,” said Naidoo.

He also urged Durban to showcase not only the culture and history to the international visitors, but also the efforts being made in renewable energy projects.

“In Cancun last year there was an explosion in these types of projects in the three months before the talks began, and such big projects just ahead of the talks don’t do any harm,” said Naidoo. - The Independent on Saturday

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