SEI policy brief: What drives South Africa’s approach to climate diplomacy?

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has published a policy brief by Aaron Atteridge analysing the domestic and international drivers that influence the way South Africa approaches climate change negotiations. It’s entitled “Multiple Identities: Behind South Africa’s Approach to Climate Diplomacy”.
Its key findings are that:

• In international climate negotiations, South Africa is widely seen as playing a “bridge-building” role between industrialised and developing countries. This is driven partly by a desire among the country’s post-apartheid leaders to promote South Africa as a responsible actor, a stable economy and a platform for foreign investment in Africa.

• President Jacob Zuma’s voluntary greenhouse gas emissions reduction pledge at COP15 in Copenhagen was seen domestically as the country “punching above its weight” in its contribution to global mitigation action. This reaction can be understood by looking at the domestic challenges the country faces.

• Economic and political constraints make coherent domestic climate policy difficult to implement. Expanding energy access has become an urgent political priority, while the dominant minerals-energy complex sets powerful corporate interests and potentially the labour movement against ambitious efforts to tackle GHG emissions.

• Relations with both Africa and major emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil are important influences on climate diplomacy and on foreign policy generally. Balancing such divergent interests is therefore challenging.

• These balancing acts help explain South Africa’s preference for using multilateral channels to resolve international issues, including climate change. Multilateralism helps soften any perceptions of working against its key foreign policy partners. It also helps build legitimacy for South Africa within the rest of Africa, where international political norms have been strongly influenced by a history of colonial intervention

The brief is available here for download:

This is part of SEI’s work on “Emerging economies and climate change: The new geopolitics after Copenhagen”, featuring research and analysis of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, as well as their cooperation as the BASIC group. More information on the project and previous publications for download are available here:

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