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January 03, 2012
Climate Change and COP17 from an African Perspective
    by Robert Kropp talks with Graham Sinclair, President of AfricaSIF, about his impressions of the recently concluded climate change conference held in South Africa.

Negotiators at the COP17 international climate change conference, held last month in Durban, South Africa, again failed to come up with a binding treaty that would limit temperature increases to no more than 2C. However, there were some positive developments.

Developed nations agreed to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 for climate adaptation and mitigation through the Green Climate Fund, which "will promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways by providing support to developing countries to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change."

Also, in a development that occurred during a 36-hour overtime, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was formed to develop a binding agreement that will "come into effect and be implemented from 2020."

During the conference's final hours, China agreed to caps on its emissions identical to those of developed economies. As a developing nation, China had been exempt from limits on emissions under previous agreements.

Given that South Africa played host to the conference, and considering the fact that the African continent will be among the hardest-hit by climate change, it seems important to view the conference and the issues through the lens of an African perspective. spoke with Graham Sinclair, who attended COP17. Sinclair is Principal at SinCo, a sustainable investment consultancy, and President of AfricaSIF, the African sustainable investment forum.

"You can say it wasn't a total disaster," Sinclair said. "But the framework and shape of the legal document is still floating in the wind, and that will only come into force in 2020. A lot of smaller developing nations were really upset over kicking the can down the road. All the positive developments come at the inconvenient cost of the 2015 vs. 2020 issues."

"At least the Green Fund started to get some shape," he continued. "But frankly, I wanted to see more private sector involvement with that. There were a few paragraphs woven in there, but it's disconnected from what professional asset managers could do."

Sinclair observed that having the media prominently feature stories about climate change during the conference was beneficial; however, "I did my research beforehand by asking the taxi driver, the clerk in the lobby and so on, what they thought about COP17," he said. "Disappointingly, I'd say less than 10% could recognize the phrase or tie it to what its purpose was."

"It's a reality check. You're trying to get the average citizen into the game, because you are the taxpayer and you are the voter. A few people got arrested. There were marches, and there were representatives of civil society, but I don't think it got as much frustration and anger. I wanted to see more of the protestor, which would have mapped some of the urgent need for policies and rules that are fair."

"But it's a long flight to Durban, and people were kind of flat about what the expectations were." Sinclair said. "The fact that China stayed in the game was positive, and the EU had a positive impact with their position. But Canada backing out leaves a big question mark. It was frustrating to see that."

Because of its development of the high-emitting tar sands, Canada failed to meet its emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, and has pulled out of the Protocol before the end of its first commitment period. In 2007, Canada's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 26% higher than 1990 levels and 34% higher than the target it agreed to in the Protocol.

As for the impact on Africa, Sinclair said, "A lot of Africa is still focused on mitigation, but the conversations I'm having say that we're going to blow past two degrees Celsius. Africa and other water-stressed areas have to start thinking about adaptation. Adaptation says that the climate will change, so start leading people to higher ground. For Africa, what adaptation package can help us leapfrog?"

A 2010 report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the African continent rose by 4.9% over the previous decade, and consumer spending reached $860 billion in 2008. As its economy develops, the continent faces many of the same challenges faced in other emerging economies where the effects of climate change are likely to be severe.

"In emerging markets you have this challenge between economic development and job creation, against the increasing impact of the environment and a stratified society where the few get more and more get less," Sinclair said. "You have countries that need to develop, but they still have lots of coal-fired base loads at least. They want to defer counting until they finish growing. That doesn't make sense."

"By 2020, four hundred million people will be joining the middle class," he continued. "If more people enter the middle class, there's a good chance they're going to follow the same consumption patterns as what they see on TV and elsewhere around the world. The challenge is, how do we get people to think differently about their lives? How do we disconnect economic development from the negative externalities?"

What is the role of sustainable investors in funding adaptation to climate change? Using car sharing as an example, Sinclair said, "I want to see more people trying to redesign the way we live our lives. Also, I'd like to see more aggressive investment in innovative ideas. It would be such a waste if a great idea had to be abandoned because an entrepreneur couldn't get funding for it."


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