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Commentary: Troubled SA diplomacy could doom climate talks

A United Nations climate change summit, which already promises only modest steps for cutting greenhouse gas pollution, could be in more trouble unless host South Africas harpens up its international image. The 190-nation gathering inDurbanat the end of this month follows years of fraught attempts to win agreement on strong emission curbs from big polluting nations. Expectations of success are already low for the talks, where parties are trying to find a way of saving the landmark Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which expires at the end of 2012.  Analysts expect all the same that the talks will produce a face-saving measure to prevent the Kyoto deal from dying in Durban. But the cloud has deepened after a series of diplomatic gaffes by the host country that have eroded confidence in its ability to take a grip on the debate and help shape the summit’s outcome. Furthermore, South Africa has strained relations with major Western powers which are normally major fund sources of global policies but are increasingly reluctant to allocate money due to debt worries in the eurozone and US. South Africa has found itself on the wrong side of the mainstream argument over Libya and Ivory Coast. Western powers also raised their eyebrows when Pretoria blocked a visit by the Dalai Lama to please China, its biggest trading partner. Analysts recall the Copenhagen climate talks of 2009 which were roundly regarded as a failure, in part because the host country could not do the heavy lifting to broker the deals required. The talks in 2010 in Cancun were regarded as a relative success, with many negotiators crediting Mexican envoys for pushing the process forward. South Africa’s environment minister is Edna Molewa, a highly regarded domestic political operative with almost no experience in global negotiations. Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has more international experience, serving as an ambassador, but has not been seen as a force in regional or global diplomacy. It was Mashabane’s diplomacy that came in for Western criticism when Pretoria supported entrenched and autocratic leaders in Libya, Syria and Ivory Coast. Its stance strained ties with the European Union and Washington. The refusal to allow the Dalai Lama, a Nobel peace prize laureate seen as a dangerous separatist by Beijing, to attend the 80th birthday of South Africa’s national hero Desmond Tutu, also provoked an outcry. Foreign Policy magazine dubbed South Africa a “cowardly lion”. Critics said the ANC has compromised ideals it embraced when it fought to end apartheid. “Principles have fallen to such an extent that nobody expects them to do the right thing,” said a diplomat in Pretoria.

 

http://m.timeslive.co.za/?i=3692/0/0&artId=4169350&showonly=1

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