2 December 2011

Africa: On the Spoor of the Hogs

Public interest in the COP17 process is growing as fast as climate change disaster.

The need for information coming out of the world political leaders and their envoys bunkered in the basement of the Durban International Convention Centre has never been greater.

One fascinating solution is tracking.

In Africa we have an obsession with distinguishing between the different paw prints or "spoor" left in the sand by, for example, a jackal, hyena or mongoose (all are pretty similar and fall into the "dog-like" category).

But in Durban a group of seasoned young international activists have dedicated themselves to tracking wheeler-dealer politicians, who tend to leave a rather more expensive heel mark in the carpet (and the question of whether they have any real bite is yet to be answered).

The official term here (terms and acronyms billow out of the UN's climate change process like smoke from a veld fire) for a political head who is not quite a HOG (head of government), is a "negotiatior".

Enter Joshua Wiese and his Negotiator Tracker group.

Joshua is a warm, generous and very sharp activist. At an age of 30, he has already racked up a tally of the wonderfully named "COP" climate change conferences, and can quote book and verse from this or that numbered COP.

Over time he's been bringing teams of young trackers who spend their days keeping an envoy or embassador in their sights. Recording every utterance, thought or movement of their assigned negotiator is a tracker's obsession.

"Sometimes we get other people here to serve as our tracker," he says. This could be a party delegate or a journalist. Sometimes they become quite friendly with the negotiator and this helps."

Joshua's crew are billeted in a cubical next to the Climate Action Network among the 400 NGOs and special interest groups who have set up home in the vast ICC exhibition hangers on the edge of the centerpiece centre.

A few metres down the avenue of organisations is the Bloggers' Loft and the Digital Media Lounge where scores of writers and social media commentators are in the zone, laptop lids up and keyboards clacking away, digesting, egesting, spouting, thinking for the whole world to read, hear or see.

It's an incredible network, but one he says is entirely commensurate with the huge world demand for information from this event; the world is in a state of anxiety over climate change and now wants to know what the leaders and the rest here have to say.

Information from the trackers is collated daily, on the hour and is distributed to all who want it. Negotiator Trackers feeds a lot of information into the Climate Network Action Network (CAN), a group of over 700 organisations across almost 200 countries. Significantly, organisations like Greenpeace, Oxfam and Earthlife are members.

CAN holds a daily media briefing in the centre and it is well attended. Today the media will be interested in tomorrow's Greenpeace Global Action Day march to the ICC.

Already, there has been criticism of delays in the eThekwini Municipality granting permission for the march and one Cape Town magazine says it's march poster "President Zuma calls for a million climate jobs" was censored by city officials at the printer.

A chat with Joshua can go anywhere; he is a fabulous communicator, prepared to explain a basic acronym and just as happy to talk about the big issues.

We chat about the amount of emissions in the atmosphere and what "level" is required to stabilize our climate.

"We thought at Copenhagen (COP15, 2009) we would be able to come under the "Oh S**t!" moment," he says holding his hand parallel to the ground and driving his other under it, like an object moving under a bridge, "but then we went here" (his emissions hand rising like a boeing on take-off)."

But we can never give up on trying to get that trajectory down he says, lowering his jet hand though it is still high above the "Oh S**t!" hand.

He says there is no greater issue than climate change in the informed world's consciousness today, and that conferences like this can only expect to grow in significance for people living in the world beyond the COP17 walls.

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