UN Climate Change Conference, South Africa

About the Author

Kathleen Fitzgerald has over 25 years of experience in integrated large landscape conservation in Africa and North America. Kathleen was a senior staff member of African Wildlife Foundation for 11 years, serving as Vice President for East and Southern Africa and later Senior Conservation Advisor… More

My flight from Nairobi, Kenya to South Africa is filled with Kenyan Delegates, heading to the UNFCCC COP 17. Quite a mouthful of an acronym: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of Parties 17.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of Parties 17

Delegates from around the world are gathering in the oceanfront town of Durban, South Africa with the hopes of reaching global consensus on climate change mitigation and adaptation policy measures. They are expecting approximately 30,000 people. Given South Africa hosted the World Cup successfully last year, they are ready for a crowd of this size.

We arrive in a violent storm in Durban. The rain pounds and the ocean roars. Coincidentally, we are here to talk about the ramifications of climate change, which include intensive weather patterns and extremes. Five people die in the storm.

AWF has a delegation here in Durban. We are hosting a number of side events and speaking about our Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mitigation and adaptation projects. We hope to create awareness around the severity of climate change to Africa, the impacts to communities and wildlife, and the potential ways to mitigate these problems and help communities and wildlife adapt to these changes. While there may be significant funding available, we are pushing to make sure this funding actually reaches the ground.

United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of Parties in Durban

Harry Van de Linde and Danny McGahey at the AWF Information Booth, at COP 17 UNFCCC. Photo courtesy of Kathleen H. Fitzgerald

While Africa contributes the least to climate change through C02 emissions, it is believed to be the most vulnerable to its consequences. The majority of Africans live in remote areas, with very little resources (education, money) that enable them to adapt to the changes the continent is already facing.

People in ties, saris, suits and sarongs gather. The crowd is extraordinarily diverse, from all walks of life, around the globe.

At lunch a man from Baffin Islands explains how his people are struggling because of the ice melt. A Maasai man stopped by our booth and explained how drought is ravaging his community. An indigenous group is here to cast light on the Amazon.

There is a lot at stake with discussions focusing on carbon caps, limits, and funding. What will happen when the Kyoto Protocol expires next year? Will the Green Climate Fund, which aims to create an annual reserve of $100 billion (U.S. dollars) by 2020, actually take off? South African President Jacob Zuma opened the Conference. Already countries have put their stake in the ground, some saying they will not sign any new agreement, if others do not. The week begins.

For more information on AWF at COP 17 and AWF’s Climate Change Program click here.