Climate Conference Commences With Divisions And Disappointment
November 28, 2011

Climate Conference Commences With Divisions And Disappointment

As the 2011 annual UN climate summit kicks off this week in Durban, South Africa, the EU and a coalition of smaller so-called 'climate-vulnerable´ island states are already up in arms over a number of political developments that they believe are unfavorable to global progress in fighting climate change.

For starters, burgeoning economic powers India and Brazil have both joined the ranks of the wealthier nations in calling for a postponement of negotiations on a legally-binding deal until at least 2015. This news came as a frustrating disappointment to the EU-led coalition which had hoped to have a deal on climate regulations already finalized by 2015.

Moreover, countries like Russia, Japan and Canada have hitherto refused to agree to the new emissions cuts required by the revised version of the Kyoto Protocol, which is scheduled to go into effect at the end of the 2012 just as the previous one expires.

In a speech before representatives from over 190 nations, South African president Jacob Zuma attempted to bring a measure of urgency to the proceedings, highlighting  what he believed to be empirical evidence of the looming climate crisis:

“We have experienced unusual and severe flooding in coastal areas in recent times, impacting on people directly as they lose their homes, jobs and livelihoods,” he stated.

“Given the urgency, governments need to strive to find solutions here in Durban. Change and solutions are always possible, and Durban must take us many steps forward towards a solution that saves tomorrow today.”

Chairing the summit is South Africa's minister of international relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. In the same tone as Zuma, he attempted to stress the unity of purpose that should bind the interests of all the nations together.

“We are in Durban with one purpose,” he claimed: “to find a common solution that will secure a future to generations to come.”

Despite the cautious optimism of the summit's hosts, there are real, politically and economically driven divisions between member nations, and the potential costs and benefits of international climate legislation are by no means equally distributed.

A fairly clear rift has arisen between those members who are pushing for an immediate, comprehensive global treaty and those who would like to see it postponed for several years and possibly have its requirements softened.

Moreover, battle lines had largely been drawn before the climate conference even started. Just weeks before meeting in Durban, the Major Economies Forum (MEF)--which includes 17 of the world´s most industrialized nations--met to discuss the agenda for the upcoming climate meeting. Backed by a bloc of climate-concerned states, British representatives proposed that the Durban conference be used to begin immediate negotiations for a comprehensive climate agreement. Nations like as the US, Russia, Japan, India and Brazil countered this proposal, insisting that a longer time-frame would be needed in light of various domestic concerns.

Despite these fundamental discrepancies, a number of observers are hopeful that progress may yet be made with the organization of the so-called “Green Climate Fund” (GCF). The goal of fund will be to raise and give away some $100 billion per year to developing nations that are unable to meet climate goals on account of their prohibitive cost.

Less clear, however, is where this cash will come from. Unsurprisingly, the poorer nations generally insist that the wealthier, developed nations ought to carry the bulk of this fiscal burden. Western governments, however, say that the funds will have to be taxed out of the private sector--a proposition that will inevitably prove a politically difficult sell to their domestic audiences, particularly as many western economies are still languishing under slow growth and high unemployment.

Hovering over all of these debates is the specter of the now infamous debacle that was the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen. And participants on both sides of the climate debates fear further diminishing the credibility of the UN summit if this year´s conference once again flops.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres insisted that the two-week parley of the world´s political authorities must be seen as a chance to reassure people everywhere of their commitment to protecting the most unfortunate victims of global environmental changes.

“This conference needs to reassure the vulnerable--all those who have already suffered and all those who will still suffer from climate change--that tangible action is being taken for a safer future,” she said.

Whether a concern for the summit´s public image will provide a strong enough impetus to overcome the hard economic and political considerations that currently stand in the way of solidarity is yet to be seen.


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