Global climate deal hope bleak

The prospect of striking a global deal and a legally-binding agreement on carbon emission controls had never looked as bleak as it does on the last day of the Conference of Parties (COP17) meet in Durban.
Published : 9 Dec 2011, 04:49 AM
Updated : 9 Dec 2011, 04:49 AM
Sayed Talat Kamal
from Durban, South Africa
Durban, Dec 9 (—The prospect of striking a global deal and a legally-binding agreement on carbon emission controls had never looked as bleak as it does on the last day of the Conference of Parties (COP17) meet in Durban.
The dim outlook had been further degraded with Russia, Japan and Canada announcing their refusal to sign on to the second commitment of a renewed, more encompassing Kyoto protocol agreement. Which means that the three major economies will no longer be bound to reducing its emissions beyond December next year, when the existing Kyoto protocol expires.
Already the US and several other richer industrial economies, including the stalwart of the second commitment initiative - the EU, have signalled their reluctance to make further emissions cuts unless China and other developing nations make similar binding commitments.
Climate change is a result of greenhouse gases trapping the sun's heat in the earth's atmosphere. These trapped heat raises global temperatures, which in turn trigger changes in weather conditions, leading to stronger and more frequent cyclones and floods, rising seas, drought, erosion and increased salinity.
Furthermore an air of cynicism and suspicion has begun to spread as reports start coming in about bilateral meetings, being held on the sidelines of the UN conference in Durban, between big industrial nations, with concern from developing countries rising that their interests could be marginalised in the final agreement.
Renewal of the emissions restriction agreement has centre-stage at conference and delegates of the 194 nations participating in the meet are in heated discussions to make an agreement stick.
Options are being discussed either to amend the protocol with new targets and agreements on how much emissions should be reduced to even agreeing to a diluted form of an obligation - such as a declaration or decision - at the end of the meet.
Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a developing country think tank based in Geneva, in a statement has said that the US's decision to sign on to the second commitment of the Kyoto protocol on condition that developing countries which are major economies also take on similar emission reduction commitments is essentially "unfair."
"This goes against the equity principle of common but differentiated responsibility," he says.
"There is no agreed definition of a 'major economy'. Among developing countries, those with large populations are being targeted. But in a per-capita basis, they are still developing countries - some are low-income."
The South Centre executive director has criticised developing countries for attempting to shift the burden of cutting global emissions on to developing countries, during the first week in Durban.
Khor points out that India was ranked a lowly 132 among 184 countries in per capita GDP; and that China is a rather ordinary developing country by that same measure. Both countries are considered a "major" economy and emitter, he suggests, because of their large populations (1.2 and 1.6 billion respectively), for which they can hardly be blamed.
"To ask India to take on the same obligations as developed countries with more than 30 times higher per capita income and more than 10 times higher per capita emissions is simply unfair," he asserted.
"It is unsurprising (therefore) that developing countries like India and China are not likely to bow to pressure to take on rich-country commitments as a condition for the really rich countries to maintain their present commitments," he adds.
The US has indicated that it does not what to negotiate for further emissions restrictions but Instead favours voluntary pledges by countries to do as much as they can to control emissions.
In that light there is growing pressure on developing countries to undertake new obligations for reporting on and monitoring their emissions and their actions, and being subject to international review, "far beyond what was agreed (in Bali) on what they would do," says Khor.
The Bali road map, which was settled in 2007 and is the basis for the current round of climate talks, stipulated that the developed countries in the Kyoto protocol would take on a second round of commitments to cut emissions by a further 25 to 40 percent by 2020. The agreement, however, unravelled in Copenhagen in 2009 when the US pushed for voluntary pledges and doing only what nations were prepared to do.
During COP17 the US has proposed a 10-year timeout be locked in with no new targets to lower emissions until 2020, as it felt that the issue needed more time.
What the final result of the meet will be is hard to tell, even as the conference enters its last day. It is evident that the stakes are high for developed and developing countries alike, however, the stakes are even higher for the future of many countries that have not been part of the problem but are its biggest victims.
In an open letter to the governments of the world meeting in Durban, published in the Durban-based Mercury newspaper, Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace in South Africa, and Jay Naidoo, chairman of the Alliance for Improved Nutrition, state "if the agreement you make is to embrace a dead decade of climate inaction then the name of our city will be remembered as the place where you condemned our continent."
Ditto for the world, if climate activists are right.