Catherine Fedorsky is monitoring energy consumption at the World Summit on Sustainable Development as part of the WSSD Green Energy Project. She is a managing member of Global Environmental Objectives, an environmental consulting firm.

Monday, 26 Aug 2002

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

The radio wakes me up at 7 a.m. to news of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The top story: The South African government is seeking an action plan and stresses that the developing world will be expected to implement it. Next: The people planning to protest the WSSD will have to obey the National Riots Security Act, which requires people to register prior to taking to the streets. Hmm. How is a foreign nongovernmental organization supposed to know about this act, much less know how to register? I anticipate some police action; let’s hope no one gets hurt.

Greenpeace banner on the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station.
Photo: Daniel Beltra, Greenpeace.

Daniel Beltra, Greenpeace.

The third radio story reports that 12 Greenpeace activists in Cape Town will be appearing in court today due to their unlawful entry to a “National Key Point” — in this case, Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, located just north of Cape Town. On Saturday, the activists snuck onto the power station property, climbed up the cooling towers, and erected a banner protesting nuclear power. It took the police three hours to catch the protestors — which raises the question of how secure the nuclear plant would be in the event of more insidious trespassing.

After I turn off the radio, I prepare myself for another day in the City of Gold. Johannesburg (also known as Joburg) has Summit Fever. You cannot get away from it. Posters, billboards, advertisements, newspaper headlines, delegates with dog tags around their necks, traffic, transfer buses, street sweepers, police, police, and more police — the summit and its trappings are everywhere you go.

Or perhaps I should say the summits, plural. There are in fact a number of mini-summits, or multiple levels of the same summit, depending on how you choose to look at it. There are four official venues for the WSSD. First, there is the one attended by government representatives, who will be holed up in the Sandton Convention Center talking over issues that the average person on the street will probably never know about. Second, there are those of us hanging out at Ubuntu Village, where there are exhibits about every imaginable issue related to sustainable development. Third, there are the civil society reps and the NGOs, hosted outside the city near Soweto. Fourth, the business agenda is unfolding at the Hilton Hotel, which is hosting corporate interests and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. In addition, other venues around the city are hosting side events — over 500 of them, and that’s just the official ones.

Sandton Square, outside the convention center.

IISD.

All told, it adds up to an unimaginable number of conferences, lectures, stage performances, posters, flyers, videos, music, handouts, documents, CDs … not to mention national, regional, and provincial governments, companies, NGOs, funding bodies, consulting firms, manufacturers — you name it, and it’s here. Sensory overload, in short. It’s far too much information to actually absorb, so you just have to make the most of it and resign yourself to being overwhelmed.

Luckily, my days are given a little structure because, as part of the WSSD Green Energy Project, I am responsible for reading the energy meter at Ubuntu Village every day. Daily energy consumption figures are also recorded from the other three official venues. The Green Energy Project is coordinated through the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism with funding from USAID; the energy resources come from wind, solar, bagasse (sugar cane), and mini-hydro projects in South Africa, as well as wind projects in Costa Rica and geothermal energy in Italy. (The last two are obtained through tradable renewable energy certificates.) The sources are enough to meet the energy demand of both Ubuntu Village and NASREC. Energy use is just one of a number of indicators reported to the public every day, including water consumption, waste produced, carbon dioxide emissions and CO2 offsets, to name just a few.

After reading the meter and wandering around the exhibit center for a while, I head back into the traffic, the police, and the road blocks to grab some lunch with my Green Energy Project colleague at Hare Krishna Cuisine — a safe bet for finding vegetarian food and such mottos as “Give Peas a Chance.” The restaurant is full of people from all over the world in search of decent food that won’t cause too many upset stomachs after the heat, the smog, the travel, and the stress of working 12- to 15-hour days.

I’ll get another break this evening, when I head out to the main tent to listen to a bit of local music and drink some South African wine, courtesy of the City of Cape Town. Should be nice to chill with a few fellow Cape Townians and share stories. The day is likely to end around midnight, after I watch the news, wind down (or try to), and prepare for yet another day. The days are very long — but, on the upside, I’m so busy that there’s barely time to think about being tired!