The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Summit (16th Session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is currently being held in Cáncun, Mexico. Such climate change negotiations are held annually to map out a way forward for addressing the issue of climate change. As one of the so-called Basic Countries (the others being China, India and Brazil), South Africa has an important role to play in the talks and has a delegation present, headed up by our Minister of Environmental Affairs.

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, climate change is one of the most serious threats to sustainable development in South Africa as it impacts on the environment, human health, food security, economic activity and investment, natural resources and physical infrastructure. Says the Department, poorer, developing countries are the least equipped to deal with the effects of climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. Its aim is to promote the ‘stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.’ Under the protocol, 37 countries commit themselves to a reduction in, amongst others, four greenhouse gases implicated in climate change – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous dioxide and sulphur hexafluoride. The treaty came into force in 2005, and it will expire in 2012. At present, there is much discord amongst countries about the terms of the Protocol and many countries are unhappy about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The United States, for example, refused to sign it. The 2009 Copenhagen Accord follows on from the Kyoto Protocol, but is non-binding. At this year’s summit in Cáncun, negotiations have been tough but, once again, a binding consensus has yet to be reached and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed doubt that member states will reach an agreement. Previous meetings have been marked by a clash between the US and China over carbon emissions. In addition, Robert Orr, UN Under-Secretary for Planning, has expressed concern that the next UN report on climate change will show that climate change is accelerating.

How can I help prevent climate change?

The time to act is now – there’s no need to wait for politicians and governments. As global citizens, we can all play a part in lessening human impact on climate and reversing the effects of climate change:

  • Replace your regular light bulbs with energy-saving incandescent bulbs
  • Unplug all electronic equipment when not in use
  • Ensure your car is properly maintained and, when buying a new car, check out those with ‘green technology’, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic
  • Wash your laundry in cold or warm, instead of hot, water
  • Air-dry clothes, rather than use a dryer
  • Recycle plastic, glass and paper products
  • Buy locally grown, organic foods
  • Install a solar water geyser.

For further information, visit:

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Greenpeace International

The Stop Global Warming Virtual March

Prevent Climate Change

The WorldWatch Institute

The Summit ends on 10 December. The 2011 United Nations Summit on Climate Change (17th Session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) will be held in Durban in December 2011.

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