Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rather leave the window bare!

In less than a month, leaders and policy makers from around the world will descend on Durban for COP 17 to debate  how much time humanity has left on earth before the dolphins declare, "Goodbye and thanks for all the fish". Any outcome is bound to be a success if measured against the Kyoto Protocol, because let's face it , there will be no meaningful change unless America and China agree to any emission targets. As a South African I should ashamedly be the last to throw stones because we are ranked amongst the highest polluting countries per capita. We talk the talk but when push came to load shedding, we opted for our old familiar friend, Mr Coal. But I am certain our leaders will take to the podium at the conference and talk about how conserving the environment is "enshrined in our constitution" and how we "intend" building a 100 MW concentrated solar plant to offset the two massive new coal fired power stations that we are building. Seems a bit like killing off an entire family, but offering to pay the funeral expenses!

One of the requirements for hosting this conference is that, the host city must ensure that the entire event is carbon neutral i.e the fossil fuels used in the hosting of the event should be offset by other green technologies or the planting of trees. Since most of our electricity is generated by coal, I suspect that a new 20 hectare forest may take root somewhere in our province soon.

This ( the carbon offset, not the location of the forest) is at the heart of the story that dominated the front page of the mercury on Monday morning. The article discussed the electricity department's plans to erect two 30m high wind turbines at the Bluff military base. The eThekwini Municipality was actually being done a disservice because they are aware of the carbon neutral requirements, yet the article made it seem that all they were doing was "window dressing" by erecting these two structures at a site strategically visible out of every window on Marine Parade, where I am sure most of the delegates would be staying. I am certain that the municipality has done all the required research and scientifically determined this to be the best location for these wind turbines.

You can never win with these environmental tree hugging hippie types! The municipality has assured us that this does not pose an environmental risk, and this will be confirmed once the appointed environmental consultant arrives in Durban this week to start the consultation process. The municipality also believes that due to the small scale of this project an environmental impact assessment report is not required. Although the 400 bats, now threatened with decapitation may argue about the small scale nature of this project. In any event all this fuss may be in vain, because the concrete bases which are yet to be poured, need 27 days to cure and the countdown clock on the official COP 17 website tells me that the conference is due to start in 24 days!

Leaving all the sarcasm and vague literary references (the dolphin quote is from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) I would like to urge the powers that be, to rather do nothing, if their intention is to window dress. The negative impact that a failed project of this nature would have on the adoption of renewable energy schemes in our country would be rather significant. Somebody appears to have dropped the ball, with regards to implementation of the COP 17 Greening Programme. The mandate for the renewable energy and carbon emission reductions programme for COP 17 is clear,

"The intention is that projects selected to supply such offsets will demonstrate best practice in supporting human well being, social upliftment, BIODIVERSITY PROTECTION, economic and financial sustainability, anti fraud and corruption and legal compliance."

In another ironic twist, something that was not mentioned in the article was that the United Nations has declared 2011 to 2012, The Year of the Bat, as a way to strengthen efforts to protect the world's only flying mammal. I am certain that the delegates at COP 17 would agree that it would be better in this instance to fall short of the carbon offset targets rather than continue with this project without a proper environmental assessment.

P.S Regardless of how ugly and creepy they may appear, bats are vitally important to both agriculture and the environment.

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