Durban finds hurdles steep

Durban was supposed to be the last-ditch attempt for a global climate deal, but it seems stacked with its own share of problems, writes Sayed Talat Kamal from South Africa
Published : 30 Nov 2011, 09:59 AM
Updated : 30 Nov 2011, 09:59 AM
Sayed Talat Kamal
From Durban, South Africa
Durban, Nov 30 ( — The UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa is plagued with unrequited promises, pushing the world's only legally binding climate agreement to start unraveling further back.
And while star performers were still stalling on important decisions, with Canada, Russia and Japan threatening to pull out of the agreement altogether, it is not the least of the problems.
As EU chief negotiator Arthur Runge-Metzger laments, talks seem paralysed by technical arguments. At a climate change negotiating session, for example, delegates reportedly spent an entire night debating whether a single word - "future" - should be included in the negotiating text.
The Mercury, a Durban-based newspaper, reported that "as things stood, the protocol would soon control just 15 percent of global emissions - and possibly as little as 11 percent if the EU emerged as the sole survivor of the Kyoto Protocol after the Durban talks."
Should that happen, it would mean that almost 90 percent of global emissions would remain unchecked and outside the legal purview of the gas reduction systems; unless major emitters, like the US and China, agree to a new treaty.
According to the official UN reports, some of the poorest countries around world in the Sub-Saharan Africa, low lying island nations and other coastal plainlands would be most affected by climate change, which would be triggered by rising temperature as the greenhouse gases trap the suns heat in the atmosphere. Changing climate would then be manifest in more frequent and severe climate events. The seas would rise, floods would become more frequent and cyclones would become stronger.
In order to prevent that, the scientific community agrees that global emissions must be reduced by at least 40 percent from what it was in 1990 within 2020 and by 95 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Emissions will, furthermore, have to peak by 2015 and decrease thereafter in order to arrest temperature within 1.5 degrees Celsius or a carbon concentration of 350 ppm in the air.
They demand that in order to save the world from irreversible climate change, which would
The head of the US delegation, Jonathan Pershing, has already declared that his country would not sign any new deals unless they "included all significant global polluters" obviously indicating developing countries like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.
But then that is still not the least of the problems. Negotiators at the 17th conference of parties — as the UN climate summits are called — have to contend with not only big polluter representatives but also with the likes of Ringo, Bingo and Engo, besides of course the Tungo, Youngo to say nothing of Redd (and big brother Redd Plus), and Lulu See-eff.
While Ringo and Co. are not real people, they represent some of the terminologies buzzing around the Durban conference venue – hosting the COP17 of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC).
COP17 is plagued with acronyms.
For example, Ringo refers to "Research and Independent NGOs," Bingo describes "business non-governmental organisations," Tungo to "non-governmental NGOs from trade union groups," and so on.
Lulu See-eff (or LULUCF) is a term to describe "land use land use change and forestry," which is a Kyoto Protocol mechanism to mitigate and "offset" the effects of climate change, based on the assumption that greenhouse gases can be sucked out of the atmosphere by planting trees and through better forest management.
Redd, which originated at the Montreal COP in 2005, stands for "reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries." Redd Plus is a revised and more aggressive version.
Even as delegates wrestle a lexicon of abbreviations and interest groups, they are faced with the very real possibility that Canada may indeed pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. According to a leaked Canadian government reports it intends to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol altogether next month.
Climate activists allege that Canada is set to abandon its climate control pledges in order to develop its immense reserves of tar sands to produce fuel.
While the Canadian officials have refused to confirm or deny that Canada intends to pull out of the protocol, the Canadian Energy Minister has said in a press conference in Ottawa last Monday that the government believed that the signing of the protocol by the previous Liberal government "was one of the biggest blunders they made, particularly given they had no intention of fulfilling that commitment".
As COP17 closes on December 9, the Kyoto Protocol, which binds several rich industrial nations to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent in an attempt to slow climate change, maybe on its LDLs - last dying legs.
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher