Dark clouds gather over the COP17 horizon

2011-11-29 07:30

Early signs of a troubled Durban climate conference loomed on the horizon on the first day of COP17 talks.

And once again the thorny issue of the Kyoto Protocol was ever present in the strife.

The European Union, while not outright rejecting a second round of the controversial protocol, was lacklustre about its future in its comments yesterday even though it still firmly supported the protocol.

The US, in a press conference, once again made it clear that it did not see it as a solution for solving climate change.

At the same time, the G77 and China supported a second commitment period and talked about a “fight”, while NGOs were on the warpath over rich countries’ cavalier attitude towards the protocol.

Canada wanted to abandon the protocol entirely.

“The challenges and difficulties of these negotiations cannot be faced with dismay and must not lead us to give up without a fight,” said ambassador Jorge Argüell, chairperson of the G77 and China at the opening of the UN climate conference.

Lead Chinese negotiator Su Wei was also reported as saying that “the prospects” for Durban were “not very optimistic”.

But the EU was working hard at the talks to win support for a proposed Durban roadmap. Artur Runge-Metzger, the EU’s leading negotiator, believed that a Durban roadmap could save the talks, even if the Kyoto Protocol was abandoned.

He warned that both developing and developed countries had to make firm commitments to capping their emissions at Durban.

If not, the public could “lose confidence in this travelling circus”, he warned.He also reminded the world that the Kyoto Protocol currently covered only about 16% of emissions and that another solution was needed if a lasting solution was to be found for climate change.

The US deputy envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing agreed, saying the US itself added only about another 15%, meaning economies such as China and India had to come aboard to make a difference.

China is now the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

It surpassed the US in 2008.Pershing said the Senate and Congress back in the US would never approve the US signing on to an international treaty that did not include major emitters such as China and India.

That is why the Kyoto Protocol was dead for the Americans.“The structure of a legal agreement in which we are bound and those economies are not is untenable,” he said.

“It will not solve the problem.” He added that the US would want to be well aware of what is in any package of a legally binding agreement before it signed on to such a deal, even in the future.

Climate change activists felt the tension around arguments over Kyoto Protocol.

Alden Meyer, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, feared that the protocol would be “murdered on African soil”.

But at the same time WWF delegate Tasneem Essop warned that the “unpredictability” of COP17 made anything a possibility.

She said that if the Kyoto Protocol died at this conference, it could do irreparable damage to the trust needed to negotiate the necessary inclusive treaty. Essop called on nations to put their national interests aside and work towards a global goal.

The conference got off to a slow start when it was delayed by 40 minutes, apparently by a late arrival of the president of Chad.

President Jacob Zuma in his opening address said “with sound leadership, nothing is impossible here in Durban over the next two weeks”, while outlining what South Africa had done to move towards a green economy.

He called for a balanced, fair and credible outcome at the end of the COP.But Greenpeace International called the president’s speech a cop-out.

“Greenpeace decries the lack of leadership for Africa that President Zuma displayed in his opening remarks at the UN Climate Talks in Durban this morning,” the organisation said.

“Durban must not be the burial ground for the Kyoto Protocol and Zuma must not be the pallbearer.”

Greenpeace said the president had an opportunity to speak to the urgency of the situation, with the world’s attention focused on South Africa.

“Once again the South African government is presenting policies that only exist on paper as actual action,” it said, adding that South Africa remains the highest emitter on the continent, while its current energy plans block out any real hope of delivering large scale renewable energy.

“Rhetoric will not shelter the world from catastrophic climate change. South Africa needs to herd the developed world towards a meaningful outcome in Durban.”

» Follow our COP17 coverage here.

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