Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Indaba

Over the last two days, the COP17 President convened an Indaba – an isiZulu word that refers to a gathering of people, infused with wisdom and Ubuntu. I have heard the term Ubuntu several times while in South Africa and vaguely understand it as a philosophy that focuses on community rather than the individual. Desmond Tutu has said that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. Others, perhaps most notably Tim Jackson, former Economics Commissioner on the Sustainable Development Commission of the U.K. and author of Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet have used this concept as a means that will enable economic and environmental sustainability.

Apparently, Indabas are an important part of South African participatory democracy. It reminds me of the mingas that were held in Ecuador when I was there – community gatherings to make collective decisions based on discussion and consensus and aimed at problem solving or how to move forward in new directions. Given the complex challenges faced by negotiators at COP17, this is an interesting concept to try. A description of the Indaba process and goals here in Durban can be found at .

The questions asked of the participants included:

  1. In working towards the strengthening of the multi-lateral rules-based response to climate change that builds on the existing regime and with the view to keeping the average rise in global temperature below 2° C, what immediate actions should Parties agree to in Durban under the AWG-KP track and the AWG-LCA track?
  2. What are Parties prepared to commit to now on the elements of future climate action? In particular, are Parties prepared to consider:
  • Objectives of a future multilateral rules-based regime; and
  • A process and timelines?

I did not attend the event yesterday, but today heard responses from Switzerland, Indonesia, Kenya, Columbia, Bangladesh, the Bahamas, Cape Verde (an African island country), Botswana, Ecuador, Norway, New Zealand, Jamaica, Tuvalu, Pakistan, India, the U.S., and Zambia. Aside from the U.S. (which was late to the venue and not ready when called upon), there was strong support expressed for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and retaining the legally-binding framework of this agreement. The U.S. indicated that it would not speak to the Kyoto Protocol. In the spirit of caring for others of our global community (namely, the countries experiencing the impact of climate change now), much was said about the need to align goals of agreements in terms of GHG emission reductions with the science, not the politics. The need for solidarity, the need for having a successful outcome from Durban that finishes the work from the Bali Roadmap and from Cancun (previous COP meetings), and appreciation for this format and space for open and honest dialog were expressed by many of the delegates. In contrast, the U.S. statement seemed to be vague and full of conditions that must be met before this country would “play”. Nelson Mandela has stated that “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” If there is a scale for how much an individual (or country) abides by this philosophy, the U.S. would be on the very low end. 

My favorite testimony was from the delegate of Cape Verde. As typical in many cultures, elders or chiefs gather to tell stories so that the younger generations learn. He told of a story that is used in Cape Verde to explain what is happening with climate change and the politics to younger generations. He told of the trip of the Titanic sailing from Europe to the United States that came upon a small boat with many people calling for help. The captain of the Titanic said that the engines were working too hard to stop. Of course, the small boat and its passengers disappeared. But alas, not much later, we all know that the Titanic struck and iceberg; the boat sank and most passengers perished. I will leave you to think about this parable.


  1. Wow, what a great parable. We have a lot to learn from others -- Indaba and caring for community above self. Great values. Too bad the U.S. does not play by these rules.


  2. You are right in that we can stand to learn so much by paying attention to other cultures Dan.