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COP 17 - more "said" than "done"?

We're going to have to wait and see if SA government is serious

With the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th session of the Meeting to the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol starting on Monday, 28 November, South Africa needs to go all out to help ensure the continued existence of the Kyoto Protocol, but also do its utmost to ensure that its commitments (which have hitherto been completely voluntary) will be legally enforceable in future.

There exists international concern that the economic difficulties being experienced in Europe and elsewhere, as well as South Africa’s foreign debt, could pose a stumbling block in the way to a new COP treaty to curb global warming. However, UASA maintains the hope that effective mechanisms for a green fund will be secured, even if international commentators expect little progress, if any, in Durban.

In the past two years UASA made its voice heard on a regular basis regarding environmental matters. We have in particular articulated our concerns regarding AMD and other water pollution, as well as the water shortage South Africa will face in years to come.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), of which UASA is by far the largest member, also signed the New Growth Path (NGP) Green Economy Accord on 17 November 2011 at Parliament in Cape Town.

As a trade union we have a role to play in protecting the workers as well as the very poor against the threat of climate change. Although the poor are only minor contributors to climate change, they are the most vulnerable and, hence, will be the most impacted.

Global warming holds specific dangers for South Africa:

•           A large proportion of our population has low resilience to extreme climate events (poverty; high disease burden; inadequate housing infrastructure and location);

•           Large parts of South Africa already have low and variable rainfall;

•           A significant proportion of our surface water resources are already fully allocated;

•           Agriculture and fisheries are important for food security and local livelihoods.

Our concern is that our efforts to combat environmental threats in the past have resulted in government authorities dragging their feet and doors closing in our face.

UASA's much publicised water security campaign last year reached its final and decisive stage in September 2010 when the union lodged a Section 77 application in terms of the Labour Relations Act at NEDLAC through the offices of FEDUSA.

UASA's grave concerns about the threat of acid mine drainage (AMD), the lack of provision of potable water to everyone in South Africa, and the quality of waste water, was to be debated in terms of the law by the relevant government departments, organised business and organised labour.

More than a year later we have had nothing but excuses and non-attendance of meetings by important state officials.

If this is how the South African government has reacted to the challenges of climate change on local level in the past, our question is how government can be trusted to put our case forward and help enforce an international environmental treaty.

We trust that the president of this year’s climate conference, Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, appreciates the formidable task on her shoulders.