19 April 2007 - SA Security Council Watch
This week, South Africa took yet another indefensible stance at the UN Security Council when it joined China in opposing any discussion about the threat of global climate change. This is only the latest in a series of South African attempts to divert the Security Council from discussion of serious issues of human rights and international security, and suggests South Africa has become China’s lackey.
China has clear reasons to oppose action on global climate change. It has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and has raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the past quarter-century. China depends on inefficient, sulfur-rich coal for energy, and has an increasing demand for oil. Though its growth has come at huge cost to the environment, it wants to continue on its current economic path.
South Africa might have economic reasons for following China’s lead. It, too, is a developing country that needs to grow its economy; it also has highly inefficient fuel sources. However, South Africa also has invested in alternative energy sources, and wants to be the first country in the world to develop the pebble-bed nuclear reactor (PMBR). It actually stands to benefit from attempts to tackle global climate change.
There is an argument to be made that in spite of the scientific consensus on climate change, it is neither a human rights issue nor a global security issue. But that is not how South Africa is defending its stance. Consider the transcript below, taken from the meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, 17 April 2007, at which South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo tried to explain his country’s position (emphasis added):
Mr. Kumalo (South Africa): We, too, are very honoured and pleased that you, Madam, have come all this way to chair our meeting today. I would also like to associate myself with the statements to be made by the representative of Pakistan on behalf of the Group of 77 and China; by the representative of Cuba on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement; and by the representative of the Sudan on behalf of the African Group. While underscoring the fact that this debate does not fall within the mandate of the Security Council, South Africa would like to use this opportunity to outline the priorities for mitigating and adapting to within the United Nations system. In 1992, the historic Earth Summit held in Brazil adopted the Rio Principles. Among those was the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, which was accepted by the heads of State and Government as being fundamental to any debate on climate change. Ten years later in September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, reaffirmed that principle. Furthermore, the Johannesburg Summit assigned the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Sustainable Development, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol with the responsibility of following up on climate and sustainable development. Recently, the report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reconfirmed that Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate variability and change because of multiple stresses and low adaptive capacity. Some of the identified impacts for Africa resulting from climate change include the facts that, by 2020, between 75 million and 250 million people are projected to suffer exposure to an increase of water stress due to climate change; agricultural production, including access to food, is projected to be severely compromised by climate; local food supplies are projected to be negatively affected by decreasing fisheries; resource shortages in large lakes may be exacerbated by continued over-fishing; towards the end of the twenty first century, projected sea-level rise will affect low lying coastal areas with large populations; and the cost of adapting to those levels of climate change could amount to at least 5 to 10 per cent of gross domestic product. Clearly, an inequitable global response, in which the largest historical emitters in the developed world do not shoulder their respective responsibilities to mitigate climate change or assist vulnerable countries to adapt, may in future contribute to human insecurity and could thereby indirectly contribute to instability and exacerbate conflict potential. The developed countries should take the lead in providing new and additional funding for adaptation activities. It is also critical that all developed countries commit to legally binding emission reductions and meet their other obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. The developing world is relatively unprepared for disasters and is under-resourced to deal with the consequences of extreme weather events. The least developed countries, especially in Africa and Asia, as well as the small island developing States, cannot bear the brunt of these costs. The appropriate United Nations bodies should strengthen their capacity to deal with disaster and humanitarian crises resulting from climate change, including new efforts focused on predicting, preventing, and handling climate-change related disasters. The established multilateral processes in the climate debate in terms of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol are in place and we look forward to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to be held in Bali, Indonesia in December this year. What is of the utmost importance is that the obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol are honoured by all countries if we are to avoid a catastrophe brought about by climate change. The examples we have raised to describe the impact of climate change do not as yet directly threaten international peace and security. Moreover, the issues discussed here are first and foremost of a developmental nature. These issues can be best dealt with regionally in the General Assembly, a more representative body than the Security Council. Furthermore, the mandate of the Security Council does not authorize it to deal with such matters. We remain convinced that it is vital for all Member States to promote sustainable development, adhere to the Rio principles, especially the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, and to fully implement Agenda 21. We hope that these commitments will be reiterated at the fifteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which will meet in New York in a couple of weeks. It is for this reason that South Africa attaches great importance to the assurance by the delegation of the United Kingdom that this Security Council meeting will not result in any outcome or summary. We further hope that these discussions will not in any way elevate the issue of climate change or the environment to being a Security Council agenda item.
On the one hand, South Africa argues that global climate change “could . . . indirectly contribute to instability and exacerbate conflict potential.” On the other, it claims that global climate change doesn’t “yet directly threaten international peace and security.” As it has done on other issues, it tries to deflect the issue to the General Assembly, which is “a more representative body”—a meaningless claim.
South Africa is trying to have it both ways—to appear to be on the “right” side of the issue, to make all the expected noises about instability and conflict and inequality and humanitarian problems, and then to act in a manner directly contrary to its own logic by opposing any effort to deal with the problem. It is an intellectually and morally dishonest approach to international relations and it is not fooling anyone.