Alarmed that the urgency of the climate change crisis has not yet dawned on South African editors, this August I partnered with the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, Project 90 by 2030 and the Goedgedacht Forum for Social Reflection, as well as leading South African science writer Leonie Joubert and the environmental writer Monica Graaff, to hold an Editors’ Briefing on Climate Change.
We particularly wished to emphasise the importance of the imminent COP15 talks in Copenhagen in December. There, of course, we very much hope that South Africa will contribute to the world negotiating a visionary extension to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, one that will turn us away from runaway climate change.
We ran the event at the Hyatt, in Rosebank, Johannesburg, on August 6. I had raised money from the Danish government to fund it. Our contributors included:
- Ed Milliband, UK secretary for energy and climate change (in person)
- James Smith, chairman, Shell UK and member of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (via video link)
- Dr Bob Scholes (CSIR) and Dr Guy Midgley (SANBI), co-authors of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 4th Report of 2007
- Tasneem Essop and Richard Worthington, climate specialists with WWF South Africa
- Mandy Rambharos, Eskom
- Pancho Ndebele, Emvelo Investments
- Stefan Raubenheimer, SouthSouthNorth and CPSL
- Fred Goede, Eskom
- Karin Ireton, Standard Bank
- Jorn Hammer, Vestas Windpower
The immediate response of most editors to our invitation was to attempt to pass it on to their environment writers; and we had to work very hard indeed to persuade some of them to take it up personally. Our programme laid a strong emphasis on the business implications – and opportunities – presented by the crisis.
Milliband offered a succinct summary of the importance of Copenhagen: “I think it’s quite simple in the end, this Copenhagen thing. It comes down to, are developed countries going to take on ambitious commitments including for the mid-term 2025, are developing countries going to show deviation from business as usual, get off the high-carbon path, not yet cuts in emissions but at least slower growth in emissions; and are we going to find a financial architecture or settlement that can help developing countries adapt to climate change and to move onto that low-carbon path.”
The response to this event was extremely positive, and we are developing follow-up plans. But clearly, for most SA editors, climate change remains a niche science/environment story, siloed well away from business and economic news. I have yet to realise my dream of seeing a climate change story make front page headlines in this country; but hopefully we may yet get there this year.
Below, some of the news stories that flowed from the event, though generating news was not in itself a priority.