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Bond, Patrick (2011) Greenwashing doesn’t disguise the dirt. The Mercury Eye on Society column) : -.

Environment minister Edna Molewa announced yesterday at the International Convention Centre provincial climate meeting, that the Durban climate summit starting in just two months will be “a conference of hope,” generating an “outcome all of us will be happy about.”

Neither is true. By all objective accounts, the COP17 won’t provide a meaningful deal to cut emissions, and climate finance is mired in promotion of for-profit schemes by the World Bank via the upcoming G20 meeting. The promise of “$100 billion grants annually by 2020” made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late 2009 looks sure to be broken.

The likelihood is not only that the Kyoto Protocol’s binding (not voluntary “pledge and review”) commitments for rich countries to cut emissions will be dropped. Just as dangerous, Kyoto’s promotion of fraud-ridden carbon trading instead of genuine emissions reductions will be extended.

Nor did Durban Mayor James Nxumalo’s listing of the city’s heartwarming microprojects – Buffelsdraai community treeplanting, the Green Hub building at the Blue Lagoon, and the solar geyser scheme – disguise high-carbon, climate-dumb Durban’s own rapidly-growing emissions plans, especially the R250 billion “Back of Port” expansion of shipping, trucking and petro-chemicals.

Neither leader gives confidence that they are doing anything much beyond greenwashing, in the wake of two meetings I attended last week at Austerville community hall in Wentworth. On Wednesday, 400 residents came out in the rain with their electricity bills, furious about Eskom’s price increases, passed along by a brutal municipality, resulting in a wave of household fiscal misery.

Eskom needs to squeeze poor Durban residents to build the world’s third and fourth largest coal-fired power plants. It’s not hard to make the links between dirty energy (paraffin, coal and even wood) at home due to electricity price hikes or outright disconnections, and climate change, not to mention health threats.

Do national, provincial and municipal officials want angry community demonstrators in central Durban during the big December 3 march past the US Consulate, City Hall and ICC to the beach, highlighting these complaints?

Intensified service delivery protests are inevitable given Eskom’s apparent desire to continue providing the largest mining and metals houses (BHP Billiton and Anglo American) with the world’s cheapest electricity, around a tenth of what the Wentworth residents pay.

A meeting in the same hall on Thursday featured a classic battle: big business imposing toxics on a vulnerable neighbourhood, Clairwood. But this long-oppressed site has amazing civil society fighters, amongst Africa’s most passionate environmental justice activists.

The huge transport firm Bidvest hired an environmental impact assessment (EIA) specialist, Peter Buckland of Coex, to avoid doing a full EIA and instead submit merely a “Basic Assessment.” Bidvest proposes to increase daily truck traffic in pollution-saturated South Durban by 40 trucks, carrying flammable liquids (like pentene), combustible solids (celluose), oxidisers (ammonium nitrate), poisons (dimethyl sulphate) and corrosives (acids).

Bidvest’s hazmat storage site, Rennie’s Distribution, is across from the Jacobs Hostel, just north of the city’s famous racecourse, and situated between the working-class neighbourhoods of Woodlands and Austerville. They are all at risk if the proposal succeeds.

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance’s Des D’Sa started the debate observing the several thousand deaths in KZN caused by truck-related accidents since 2006, and public health threats caused by South Durban Basin trucking. Bidvest was also responsible for a massive September 2007 fire in the Island View refinery area of the port, fatal to a worker and terrifying for residents of the Bluff. The South Durban emergency evacuation plan that D’Sa demanded from municipal officials was never provided.

A variety of criticisms of Bidvest and Coex followed, including Clairwood resident association leader Mervyn Reddy’s analysis of congestion on the South Coast road. Under constant truck owner pressure to speed up, the drivers move south from the port using various residential roads during the area’s constant traffic jams, in search of short-cuts away from back-of-port chaos.

The pressured drivers are often the most wicked on the road, and Reddy showed numerous slides of appalling truck crashes that have killed nine South Durban residents in recent years. And he showed a portrait of an assassinated local community leader, Ahmed Osman, who fought the truckers. Alan Murphy, the Ecopeace party’s former city councilor, pointed out the vast contradictions in Coex’s Risk Analysis, especially its failure to consider explosions during transport.

As for climate implications, it was revealing that Buckland had not read the book, “Towards a Low Carbon City”, commissioned by the city and launched last month by authors from the Academy of Science of SA. According to the report, “The transport sector is pivotal to the transition to a low carbon city.”

The report suggests that proposals like Bidvest’s should be viewed with extreme skepticism: “The top priority was identified as the need to reduce the vehicle kilometers travelled in the road freight sector as this provided the greatest opportunity to simultaneously reduce emissions of GreenHouse Gases and traditional air pollutants.”

Butland’s Basic Assessment ignored climate change and when I asked, he had nothing to say. The overwhelming critique of the proposal by the entire community audience – all raised their hands when asked if they are opposed – is a clear refutation of the KZN provincial government’s decision to allow a Basic Assessment instead of a full EIA. If the municipal and provincial officials who have authority over this matter decide in favour of increased hazmat trucking for South Durban, all hell will break loose.

It’s just one battle in a long-term war: the corporate/municipal agenda to expand high-carbon activities, versus residential health and safety. There will be many more, given how fired up this community is against the devastation caused by the hazmat trucks and against the coming back-of-port project.

The smug tone of politicians at the ICC yesterday and today will surely change when this sort of inadequate environmental regulation, excessive electricity price increases, and fury at climate change policy procrastination combine to ensure Durban and national officials suffer a very hot summer.

Patrick Bond is author of the forthcoming book Politics of Climate Justice, from UKZN Press, and he directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society.

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