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Exploring South Africa's role in climate negotiations

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Written by Marion Davis

Friday, 10 June 2011 17:15

JacobZuma
President Jacob Zuma has pursued ambitious climate diplomacy despite limited support for it at home. FLICKR/WorldEconomicForum

As the COP17 host and a member, with Brazil, China and India, of the influential BASIC group, South Africa has the potential to play an important role in climate negotiations. Aaron Atteridge explores how well that fits with the country’s priorities.


South Africa has built a reputation both domestically and internationally as a constructive participant in the UNFCCC process and an active ‘bridge builder’ between different parties. At COP15 in Copenhagen, President Jacob Zuma offered a voluntary emissions reduction pledge, and with its BASIC partners, it has carved out a position in negotiations that is distinct from both developed and developing countries.

With COP17 slated to take place in Durban from Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, South Africa is in an even stronger position to show leadership. But as SEI research fellow Aaron Atteridge notes in a blog post on the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, unlike the other BASIC countries – particularly China and India – South Africa is not under pressure to take on mitigation commitments, and at home, climate change is not a hot issue, so there are few political points to be scored by pursuing ambitious climate diplomacy.

Atteridge explains South Africa’s ambitious climate diplomacy thus:

The identity projected from South Africa reveals elements of both a developing country and industrialised economy, and this dichotomy influences its approach to climate diplomacy. A post-apartheid desire to present moral leadership, a neo-liberal view on both its own and regional economic development, a desire to transform the power structures in international institutions and a grounding in African reality are among the key driving norms.

But South Africa’s international allegiances often involve conflicting interests, and domestic economic issues could also become an obstacle, Atteridge notes, especially as climate policy moves from rhetoric towards implementation.

Atteridge is a co-author of the SEI report Together alone: Brazil, South Africa, India, China (BASIC) and the climate change conundrum (forthcoming in August). He has also written a policy brief about South Africa, part of an SEI package about emerging economies and climate change.

Read Atteridge’s full blog post.

In Bonn for the UN climate talks? Attend our side-event on BASIC on Monday, 13 June at 20:00.
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