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December 01, 2011

First impressions of COP17

The winning Cape Town Climate Smart Pavilion at COP17. Photo courtesy of Cape Town Climate Smart

Delegates of COP17 were met with a warm Kwa-Zulu Natal welcome, from the traditional Zulu dancers at King Shaka Airport to the Climate Change Response Expo (CCR) exhibition area and food court, and beyond, in Durban.

At the colourful event, the entertainment and food for delegates provide the best counter-argument to the misconception that a climate-smart life is somehow devoid of flavour and diversity. Park and ride facilities that include bike-and-ride centres, friendly volunteers to direct delegates, and ample recycling facilities, are evidence of the sustainabilty the event promotes.

The main designated areas for COP17 are the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC), which is limited to accredited delegates, and the Climate Change Response Expo open to the public from 29 November 2011, which contained destination pavilions, exhibition space and a local government pavilion.

A few other things that surprised or delighted me:

  • The presence of big businesses like Coca Cola, Nedbank, Woolworths and Siemens in the exhibition space, telling consumers about their commitment to sustainable operations and carbon-efficient operations. Solar solutions company Tasol sported a solar heater installation counter with the objective of installing 8,000 solar heaters by the end of COP17; they are currently on 1595.
  • The strength of partnerships across sectors, eg the biodiversity stand and ‘The Good News’ stand created by a partnership between the Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks, SANBI and the Natural Resource Management Programme that includes Working for Water. Their positive message focuses on our natural resources sustaining us, and that biodiversity is "good for jobs, good for growth".
  • The degree of public participation. This was evident in the steady stream of visitors to the exhibition area, and how the organisers catered for engagement outside the Durban ICC. This included a lengthy calendar of side events ranging from conferences, get-togethers on Durban beaches, and flashmobs to Freshly Ground performing their climate change song in Durban, and exhibitors taking their message to public spaces like the Living Beehive in Durban Botanic Gardens.
  • Kids are incredibly smart, curious and climate savvy, but the United Nations Children’s Fund this week reported on the special vulnerabilities of children to climate change, and the shortcomings of policy and programmes in addressing their needs and capacity.

A special mention has to go to the schools, teachers and volunteer groups who have already brought hundreds of primary school learners to COP17 to learn more about the proceedings and climate change, empowering them with knowledge, and shifting the ball firmly into our courts to ensure that our messages hereafter reach children and that we give them the space to make their voices heard.


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