Far too often, African leaders have been unable to present a united front on the world stage. Not this time around. At the Copenhagen climate talks, the continent fielded a single negotiating team, and it paid off. But for many delegates, the reliability of funds promised at the summit remains in doubt.
Months before the Copenhagen conference on climate change, the African Union decided that the continent should participate in a more united, coherent manner than it often does at such international gatherings. Africa often finds itself on the margins of international negotiations and usually is excluded from backroom bargaining. But in Copenhagen, by fielding a single negotiating team African leaders did work together in order to ensure that the continent’s voice was prominently heard.
On December 14, amidst signs some countries were considering a bid to abandon the Kyoto Protocol – which was signed in 1997 and obligates participating industrialized countries to significantly reduce their emissions of polluting greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming – the African delegates brought the conference to a brief standstill by walking out. Talks soon resumed and the Kyoto Protocol remained intact.
South Africa, as Africa’s most industrialized economy and a notable source of greenhouse emissions, was able to play an especially pivotal role. Acknowledging that responsibility, South African President Jacob Zuma pledged that his country could cut emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and by 42 percent by 2025, with some international financial and technical support.
As the talks headed towards stalemate, President Zuma consulted with other African leaders about the possibility of walking out, South African negotiator Joanne Yawtich later told reporters. But they decided it would be better to stay and continue influencing the process from the inside. President Zuma and several other African officials, including Mr. Meles and representatives from Lesotho and Algeria, participated in a series of informal meetings of about 30 countries that negotiated the final text of the Copenhagen Accord. Had they not taken part, Ms. Yawitch commented, maybe what we have now would have been worse.”