August 30, 2011

UN climate change conference in Durban: Minister highlights role of trade unions

South Africa is this year’s host to the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the country hopes to follow on the relative progress made at last year’s negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. It is expected that approximately 20.000 people will attend the COP 17 event in November. As preparations enter high gear the country’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says the role of labour movements in helping government to mitigate the effects of climate change will be crucial.

Nkoana-Mashabane met with various labour representatives, headed by the country’s two major unions – the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa). According to the department, the meeting was called to brief labour on government’s position ahead of the Durban climate conference.

Experts have argued that previous climate talks have been weakened by the lack of a formal role for businesses and labour. Authorities say there is a growing appreciation of the emerging role that labour and business can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change. “We want to work with you because together, we believe we can address common concerns … without labour, we cannot achieve adaptation and mitigation goals,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.

The meeting with labour follows similar gatherings between government, the business sector and civil society in the past few of weeks. The 17th conference also provides South Africa’s labour movements with an opportunity to address the concerns of workers on issues of climate change that have led to massive job cuts in the agricultural sector. Cosatu’s David Macati accepted that the involvement of labour organisations in climate negotiations was crucial to address both mitigation and adaptation. “Climate change talks start and end with the unions. Any decision that is taken after the talks directly affects the workers and we say you don’t do anything for us without us,” he said.

The conference in Durban takes place at a time when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which bound nearly 40 countries to specific emission reductions targets, is set to expire in 2012. Both labour and the department agreed that the Durban summit should, among others, result in countries signing up for a second commitment period to cut emissions beyond 2012. (buanews/sadocc)

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