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South Africa welcomes the adoption of the Paris Agreement

15 December 2015


The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, led the South African  delegation to the twenty first session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and eleventh  Meeting of the Parties serving as the Conference of the Parties  to the Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC COP 21/CMP11).

This global conference, which took place from 30 November - 12 December 2015 in Paris, France, led to the adoption by consensus of the Paris Agreement and a package of supporting decisions, addressing climate action in both the pre-and-post 2020 periods. This outcome recognises that climate change represents an urgent threat to human societies and the planet, requiring the widest possible cooperation by all countries and other stakeholders.

The Paris Conference commenced on 30 November 2015 with a high-level opening session chaired by the French President, which included participation by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and an unprecedented 150 Heads of States and Government. The leaders pledged their full support for an ambitious and robust agreement and provided the political direction that was needed to secure a successful outcome from this complex multilateral negotiation process.

H.E. President Jacob Zuma delivered the South African national statement, held bilateral meetings and was accorded the special honour by the French President of chairing a full session of the leaders’ event. This was in recognition of President Zuma’s special role as initiator of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, under which the Paris negotiations took place, as well as a key contributor to broader United Nations processes on environment and sustainable development.

The Leaders’ event was followed by two weeks of intense negotiations characterized by efforts to bridge positions and broker compromises. This work, facilitated by a team of Ministers in an INDABA styled process, similar to the process used in the Durban negotiations four years ago, was key to the successful adoption of the Paris Agreement.

South Africa participated in these negotiations as Chair of the Group of 77 and China, whose 136 members represent well over 80% of the world’s population, as well as in its role as a member of the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN), the Brazil, South Africa, India and China group (BASIC) and in its national capacity. Minister Molewa led the G77 and China at the ministerial-level meetings in Paris, while Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, Deputy Director-General: Global Governance and Continental Agenda at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), chaired the Group for all other meetings during 2015.

Remarks by the Minister of Environment Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa

“I warmly welcome the adoption of the legally binding Paris Agreement with supporting decisions, which marks the successful conclusion of an intense four year global negotiation process that was started at the 17th Conference of Parties in Durban in 2011, under President Zuma and South Africa’s leadership.

The Paris outcome is a signal to our children and grandchildren that leaders of the world, in government, business and civil society, can join hands and do what is right for our planet and for future generations. It represents an historic moment, in which 196  Parties to the UNFCCC have demonstrated their commitment to keeping the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Centigrade  and to prioritizing adaptation to climate change, response to associated loss and damage and the provision of support to developing countries to empower them to contribute their best effort and keep our people safe.  

While not as ambitious or legally robust as South Africa would have preferred, I am of the view that the Paris outcome is the best deal possible for developing countries under the current international circumstances. I am particularly encouraged by the requirement that all countries should deliver on their Nationally Determined Contributions and commit to more progressive measures every five years. This Agreement therefore provides a solid platform upon which to build and will enable all countries and non-state actors, working together, to combat climate change effectively and boost transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.  

I wish to thank and warmly congratulate France, under the leadership of President François Hollandeand conference President Foreign Minister Mr Laurent Fabius and his most capable team, for their outstanding leadership and diplomatic skill, which made this result possible. The international community owes a debt of gratitude to France.

I also wish to convey my appreciation to every member of Team South Africa, from national, provincial and local government, from business and from civil society. Not only did you spend days and nights working around the clock to conclude this agreement during the Paris negotiations, but you also spent weeks, months and years doing the necessary preparatory work to ensure that South Africa’s vital interests and those of fellow developing countries were advanced in Paris. In this regard, I am particularly pleased to report that the South African Government has received messages of appreciation and congratulation from many interlocutors, including from the UN Secretary-General, particularly for South Africa’s role in facilitating the unprecedented unity and solidarity of the Group of 77 and China and in bringing the voice of developing countries to the forefront of the negotiations.

Now we must all roll up our sleeves to turn the noble words of the Paris Agreement into action.The international community needs to focus on the signature and entry into force of the Paris Agreement and full implementation of all the provisions of the deal that underpins it, in particular the provision of the finance, technology transfer and capacity building support that developed countries have committed to provide to developing countries. For its part, South Africa is fully committed to implementing its undertakings under the Paris Agreement and to working with others to urgently address the climate change challenge”.

 Key features of the Paris Agreement

TheParisAgreement represents aturningpointinglobalclimategovernanceand strengthens rules-based multilateralism, asitis thefirsttimethatacomprehensiveanduniversalagreementhasbeenadopted undertheUnitedNations FrameworkConventiononClimateChange(UNFCCC)..

The Paris Agreement :-

  • Marks a breakthrough in securing a more comprehensive and balanced approach to the problem of climate change, as long called for by developing countries, by abandoning the mitigation-centric approach of the past in favour of a more holistic approach that addresses with an equal degree of seriousness all the inter-related aspects of the problem – mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, response measures and the necessity to support developing countries.
  • Does not rewrite or reinterpret the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which remains one of the most successful, enduring and important multilateral agreements, premised on the concepts of equity and differentiation of action and support between developed and developing countries.
  • Serves as a model for consensus based multilateral decision making, premised on equality amongst sovereign nations and meaningful contributions and participation by non-state actors, such as civil society groups, religious groups, business, cities and many other key actors that have a vital role to play in addressing this complex global problem.
  • Reaffirms the goal of limiting global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. The recognition of the 1.5 degree target is of central importance to South Africa as an African and developing country that is highly vulnerable to climate change;
  • Establishes Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by all Parties to the global mitigation effort, and to pursue domestic measures aimed at achieving them;
  • Commits all countries to report regularly on their emissions and progress made in implementing and achieving their NDCs, and to participate in an international aggregate review;
  • Further commits all countries to submit new NDCs every five years, with the clear expectation that they will represent a progression beyond previous ones, given that current pledges are insufficient to keep the world under the two degree or less temperature goal;
  • Requires Parties engaging in international emissions trading to avoid double counting; and calls for a new mechanism, similar to the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, enabling emission reductions in one country to be counted toward another country’s NDC;
  • Establishes a capacity-building initiative for transparency to build technical capacity and improved reporting and accounting;
  • Establishes an adaptation global goal, which clearly links the amount of adaptation required and its cost to the level of mitigation ambition. This is a centrally important provision for African and other developing countries that are on the frontline of the climate change crisis;
  • Requires countries to submit adaptation communications periodically, which includes national priorities, implementation plans and support needed. Adatation action will be accounted for and internationally recognised.
  • Establishes a technical process on adaptation to identify concrete opportunities for strengthening resilience, reducing vulnerabilities and increasing the implementation of adaptation actions in the pre-2020 period.
  • Confirms that developed countries have an ongoing legal obligation to provide and mobilize finance to support developing countries, in fulfillment of the Convention in both the pre-and-post 2020 periods. The pre-2020 target of 100 billion US Dollars a year by 2020 will serve as the baseline for the post-2020 period, with a higher target to be adopted  after 2025. The Agreement also recognises that developing countries, in line with their capabilities,  already provide support and will continue to do so to fellow developing countries on a voluntary basis through South – South cooperation.
  • Establishes the long term vision and framework to guide the enhanced actions on technology development and transfer;
  • Confirms the continuation of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. This is a priority and important outcome for highly vulnerable countries, such as the Small Island Developing and Least Developed States, that are already experiencing irreversible loss and damage to their economies and societies from the impacts of climate change;  
  • Establishes the Paris Committee on Capacity Building to deal with gaps and needs for developing countries;
  • Calls for the continuation of a forum on the impact of response measures to address the effects of the implementation of response measures; and

Domestic action on Climate Change

South Africa is already acting on climate change. We have significant investment in renewable energy, public transport, energy efficiency, waste management and land restoration initiatives. We also invest heavily in programmes that enable communities, farmers and industry to adapt to the impacts of climate change, for example through our working for water, wetlands and fire programmes. We both provide assistance to fellow African countries and receive invaluable support from international partners.

The successful finalization of the Paris Agreement is extremely significant for South Africa, as we strive to enhance our efforts to transition to a lower carbon economy and society, as well as to adapt in the short, medium and long term to the impacts of increasing temperatures, and reduced rainfall in many parts of the country.

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Albi Modise
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