Treescape photo

+ The city of Durban has made great efforts to make COP17 a success, but will the attending countries do the same?

Following Debra Lam’s engaging post on the important role cities have to play in COP17, here’s my view of what’s happening on the ground in Durban.

With Arup carrying out the carbon footprinting for COP17, I’ve seen first-hand how my home city has embraced its role as a gracious conference host. Reflecting South Africa’s inclusiveness, Durban has made great efforts to bring COP17 to the public. Accessible activities are taking place immediately adjacent to the UNFCCC Precinct in locations such as the beautiful Durban beachfront, the university and the botanical gardens.

In terms of the conference negotiations, it seems to be a case of adaptation versus mitigation - with two clear camps emerging. Developing nations want to enjoy the same progress that developed nations have enjoyed, and their focus is on adapting to the effects of climate change. They’ve raised the idea of a fund for climate adaptation in Africa to support this with South Africa playing a leading role.

In this scenario, it would be down to developed nations to support developing nations’ with adaptation, whilst focusing their own efforts on mitigation. But, of course, everyone wants to protect their own interests and they must try to thrash out a deal that satisfies both camps.

Negotiation means making compromises, and that’s where I think more extreme views don’t help. For example, you might hear campaigners on the Durban beachfront argue that we should all be vegetarian. Of course, they have a point about the impact of meat production on climate change, but you’ll never turn the whole world vegetarian overnight.

Similarly, change is a gradual process and solutions can never be about all or nothing. If everything happens in moderation the world will be a better place. If developing nations and developed nations here at COP17 can find a middle ground where they each commit to doing their bit, it will produce a bigger change than we have at the moment.

Can they reach an agreement? That’s the big question. If they can shake off the inertia that has dogged previous negotiations, it will create real opportunities for firms with the kind of depth and breadth of expertise that Arup has - firms who can align themselves with governments’ priorities and goals. Developing nations will need power, water and energy infrastructure projects that help them adapt to a changing climate. And developed nations will need their infrastructure and businesses to become increasingly efficient in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Do you hold out hope for COP17? I’ll be posting some more updates from Durban in the comments below and I’d be interested to know your thoughts too.