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December 06, 2011

The Sierra Club in Durban: Day Nine

U.S.-Chinese Youth Delegation

While nothing can compare with yesterday's experiences of hearing peoples' struggles against coal in their communities around the world, or the look on the face of the World Coal Association's Chair when we showed up at his panel in "Beyond Coal" t-shirts, we still had another busy and insightful day at the COP.

The day opened with a panel including Justin Guay about whether or not the U.S. was actually reducing carbon emissions. The SSCers joined other U.S. youth delegation members in a great roundtable and planning meeting with Chinese youth delegation members to discuss future collaborations outside the COP, and how to maintain momentum and share strategies given the very different contexts of each country. Some meaningful strategies were identified, and stronger relationships established.

Once again, tabling yielded great conversations and discoveries. As one example, two women who work in the clinic for the COP 17 were taking a break and talked with us for a while the pollution from refineries and other petrochemical development at the Durban port, and pointed out the cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses coal causes. Two employees of the Secretariat were making the rounds and acknowledged they hadn't quite considered the urgency of climate change until they began work at the COP -- and hadn't appreciated what a big role coal plays in causing it. Our presence is helping to amplify that!

The evening closed with a launch of a new initiative focused on pilot projects that alleviate poverty and reduce carbon emissions, featuring several dignitaries including Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, the President of the COP 17 Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, and South African President Jacob Zuma. He discussed the urgency of climate change but the importance of eradicating poverty and addressing development at the same time, which has certainly been a most common and challenging theme in the negotiations. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referenced the COP 17 President's address on the impact of poverty and climate change on women and the small but powerful changes women like Wangari Maathai sought to bring. He commented on how much African women were doing, and then in a lighthearted but serious question, asked, "What are African men doing to seriously address climate change?"

People's March in Durban

But the action wasn't just inside the COP. We partnered with groundWork South Africa to visit coal sites near the Kusile power project, which received over $800 million in financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. At 4,800 MW, it will be one of the world's largest coal projects once completed (pdf). The plant received this public financing despite the fact that the project sits in an area with ten coal-fired power plants and already exceeds South African standards for sulfur emissions.

South Africa coal

Unfortunately, this above photo is of the Kendal plant, because zealous security for Eskom, the South African public utility not only stopped us from approaching the plant, they forced us to delete photos taken from a pubic road and attempted to confiscate notes from a reporter who joined the trip. Look for more information on a future blog.

-- Nicole Ghio and Cesia Kearns/top two photos by Josh Lopez, last photo courtesy Nicole Ghiop

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