Will the World – Blog from COP17

The Foundation’s newest colleague Mary Faherty blogs from her first COP

“Save tomorrow today” is a phrase I’ve heard quite often over the last few days in Durban. It seems to be frequently used in speeches, conversations and newspaper articles. References also abound on the Kyoto Protocol not being buried on African soil. These are expressions that buoy the spirit, words to inspire. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced they truly resonate with all those in positions to do something about it.

As we spoke with various delegates during the day in the International Convention Centre (ICC), we started to gather information on what was going on behind the corridor walls. The good news – but only on a personal note – is that we were able to sit in the outdoor meeting spaces around the ICC and enjoy the balmy Durban weather. The bad news – on a grand scale – is that the feedback generally was one of low expectations for Durban.

While some people weren’t keen to show their cards, no poker face could hide the general mood gleaned from corridor and coffee conversations – despondency and low expectations. There was no sense of urgency, which was both shocking and worrying. Words used over and over again in conversations were trust, leadership and momentum. Or, more accurately, how a lack of these key ingredients could scupper COP17.

While we know that the issue of climate change doesn’t often feature highly on the agenda of the majority ‘joe blog’, everyone here is well educated on the issue of climate change. The facts are known. So, why are people not striding around with a sense of urgency and conviction about what needs to be achieved?

It is very dispiriting for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) for whom climate change is an issue NOW. Kiribati is the latest island to consider evacuation. Shouldn’t the global community be outraged and demanding action now, not later? The words ostrich, head and sand spring to mind. Talk of delayed action – to 2015 or 2020 – is not uncommon.

Still, it is early days. I was lucky to be able to attend the opening ceremony of the plenary session. For me, the highlight was the speech by Minister Maite Nkoana Mashabane, President of COP17/CMP7. It was great to hear her call for an outcome that is transparent, inclusive, fair and equitable. It was also heartening to hear her mention the key women in positions of leadership within the COP – Minister Patricia Espinosa, Christiana Figueres and herself:

“it is a very nice coincidence so we will not give up this opportunity to make use of it”.

The role of women was also highlighted by Minister Patricia Espinosa in her speech, calling for the need to empower women and boost their contributions.

Mary Robinson spoke briefly to Christiana Figueres directly after the VIPs left the stage of the opening ceremony. Christiana said that what was needed was “suitcases of political will”. This is a sentiment that was echoed by other delegates. If the outcome of Durban is not successful, it will be due to a lack of political will. If the will is there, much can be achieved.


Mary Robinson spoke to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland about the lack of urgency in Durban – 29th November 2011

Women Leading the Way at COP17 – 28th November 2011

COP 17 Curtain Raiser – 28th November 2011

Our Work at COP17: Women’s Leadership on Gender and Climate Change