By Andreas Spath

As the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change starts in the South African Indian Ocean port city of Durban today, more A-list celebrities seem to be expected to be present at these international climate change negotiations than high-ranking government officials.

At the opening ceremony, the only national leaders in attendance were South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, his deputy, Kalema Mothlante, the President of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, and the vice president of Angola, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos.

As the two week conference proceeds, countries’ prime ministers and presidents stand to be heavily outnumbered not only by international personalities like World Bank president Robert Zoellick, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, but also by celebrities.

Among the global elite expected to jet into Durban on Tuesday are:

• Angelina Jolie, attending in her capacity as UN goodwill ambassador;

• U2 front-man Bono, who is a long-standing and active member of Greenpeace;

• Leonardo diCaprio;

• former US Vice President Al Gore;

• British billionaire business tycoon Richard Branson;

• Monaco’s Prince Albert and his South African wife Charlene; and, of course

• the former Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Critics of the event suggest that world leaders betray their lack of commitment to finding an effective solution to the global challenge of climate change by their absence at COP 17. It is generally acknowledged that heads of the major nations are only likely to jet in to the conference if and when a substantial agreement has been hammered out by negotiators behind the scenes.

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