Kicking off an African COP

Posted by Paul Lloyd Robson
Microsoft Environmental Sustainability Field Engagement

The beating of African drums was the sound at the 17th Annual UN Global Climate Conference (COP17) as it opened yesterday in Durban, South Africa. The world's Governments, NGOs, and other delegates all filed in through the speedy and efficient accreditation process for the conference.

For me, as an ex-Durbanite and now working for Microsoft Corp, the experience was one of good memories, experiencing the balmy Durban weather and the smells of the sweet sea breeze. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a member of the official South African delegation in the plenary hall, and I sensed that South Africa is optimistic about the negotiations, and proud to be able to showcase Durban, “The warmest place to be”, to the world.

South Africa has taken something of a leadership role for a group of countries known as the Group of 24 (G24). The G24 was established in 1971 to coordinate the positions of developing countries on international monetary and development finance issues and to ensure that their interests were adequately represented. Developing countries generally work through the G24 to establish common negotiating positions at the COP. According to the South African delegate who I spoke with, they were positive about the opportunity to produce an outcome which was comprehensive, balanced and ambitious, but also focused on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, opened the conference and set expectations. Given that the current climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire, the extension of this will be the main hope of the South African government and most participants. The overarching goal of the COP is to create a binding, comprehensive agreement which will cap carbon emissions globally and limit global warming.

Microsoft is in Durban, as it has been present at the previous two COP meetings in Cancun, Mexico and Copenhagen, Denmark. At COP17 we are hosting an area in the conference center for the first time, where we have equipped 10 computers with Skype. These PCs allow delegates to make Skype calls as well as let them call any phone on the planet, free of charge. Speaking to the delegates at the conference today, there has been a lot of interest in “virtual participation”, a new catchphrase at the COP meetings. This entails reducing the amount of travel needed, and thereby environmental impact, from global conferences such as the COP meetings through greater utilization of technologies like Skype and teleconferencing.

This is just one of the few examples of the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change which we will demonstrate in South Africa. In the next two weeks as the conference progresses, myself and the other members of the Microsoft and partner delegation at COP17 will bring a few more blog posts here.

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