Durban talks to keep Kyoto alive
Pretoria - The ministers responsible for hosting UN climate talks at the end of the year said on Tuesday the meeting must focus on keeping alive the Kyoto Protocol, the only binding global deal to cut greenhouse gases.
Environmentalists have criticised the country for dragging its feet ahead of the high-level meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), widely seen as a last-ditch chance to renew the emissions reduction targets agreed to in Kyoto, Japan in 1997.
But environment minister Edna Molewa said organisers are committed to extending the Kyoto agreement at the November 28 to December 9 talks in the eastern port city of Durban.
"We don't want South Africa to be the death of the Kyoto Protocol," she told journalists in Pretoria.
"We would like to have some mechanism agreed upon which will ensure that we retain the architecture."
Kyoto is the only international agreement with binding targets for curbing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
But its future is uncertain because China and the United States, the world's top two polluters, are not subject to its constraints.
A first five-year commitment period covering 37 industrialised countries expires at the end of 2012.
Japan, Canada and Russia have said they will not sign up for a new round of carbon-cutting vows.
Durban on schedule
The European Union (EU) says it will only do so if other nations - including emerging giants like China and India, which do not have binding targets and have so far rejected them - beef up efforts in a parallel negotiating arena.
The international head of environmental group Greenpeace, South African activist Kumi Naidoo, criticised organisers on Tuesday for getting off to a slow start.
"We are worried that there's less than six months left before we get to Durban. There has to be much stronger leadership and guidance being offered in terms of setting up the ambition levels for the negotiations," he told AFP.
But South African foreign minister (Minister of International Relations and Co-operation) Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is charged with organising the complex talks, said her country's preparations were on track.
"South Africa is very much on schedule, if not ahead of schedule," she said, calling Durban "the last stop" to extend the Kyoto commitments.
South Africa has scaled down its expectations for the meeting, and now acknowledges that a global deal to beat back the threat of climate change may not be in the cards for this year.
"While we might not get a legally-binding agreement in Durban, voices are saying, 'Let's start a discussion on the legal framework of the future, of how we should together sign on some long-term commitment to make sure that we don't fold our arms and do nothing about the reality that has become climate change," Nkoana-Mashabane said.
But she also said it is too early to predict what will come out of the talks.
"We can't sit here on the second day of August and prophesy what will be the outcome on December 9. What we can commit to is that we will continue to listen to all voices," she said.