Baby steps at Durban yield negotiating draft

The first week of the 17th UN Climate Conference closed in Durban, South Africa today with a 73-page draft negotiating text, which was issued to conference members for further discussion.

An “amalgamation” of drafts, the document includes suggestions for relevant issues such as finance, technology, cooperation and capacity building. Included in the recommendations are steps to create a $100-billion-per-year Green Fund by 2020 to help developing countries tackle the causes and impacts of global warming.

The text does not address the conference’s entrenching concern: a legally binding agreement regulating carbon emissions by developed and developing countries. Instead, a separate group has been assigned to address the issue, and will report directly to the Conference of Parties.

According to the text, India’s Economic Times observes that “the South African presidency would like the final outcome of the meeting to be a ‘party-driven’ process.

With a stated ambition to serve as a bonding agent for individual group work done at the conference the draft text “provides an overview aimed at enabling delegates to see where there are gaps or lack of balance and to find ways to address these accordingly,” reads the introduction.

A final document will be submitted to the Conference of Parties and the general assembly for review in the coming days.

Another leading concern is the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions which was not signed by the world’s leading emitters, China and the United States (US). While the European Union has voiced support for the agreement, Canada suggested withdrawal at the conference’s start and other countries dug in their heels over signing a second term.

Over the weekend, however, China indicated it would consider a “legally binding” deal to reduce emissions. The decision followed a public rally on December 3.

US National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Richard Harris, reporting from Durban, said Kyoto alternatives do exist.

“For example, it might be possible to reach an agreement to set a global limit for emissions from energy-intensive industries such as steelmaking. Or, if the world agreed to put a price on carbon (not likely at the moment), that would encourage a shift away from carbon dioxide emissions without requiring a treaty that spells out national emissions limits. A gloomier possibility is the world will not act until and unless there’s a catastrophic event that’s clearly triggered by climate change.”

His conclusion echoes the Maldivian delegation’s message, articulated by Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam: “Our survival will be our top priority.”

Upon his departure for the conference, Aslam said the Maldives would lobby for a new international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent a rise in sea level, and would not relent to any country.

“We can’t go on without finding a conclusion to this. The Maldives will lobby for and say whatever we have to say to any country it is that we will not be able to move forward without endorsing this agreement.”

Officials at the ministry had not received sufficient updates from the Durban delegation to comment. Minivan was unable to reach the delegation abroad at time of press.

Meanwhile, former UN climate chief Yvo de Boer told the Associated Press (AP) that although he believes world leaders want an agreement, a failed negotiation process for a climate agreement had been a factor in his decision to leave his post 18 months ago.

“I do not see the negotiating process being able to rise to that challenge, being capable of delivering on that,” he told AP. “I believe the sincerity on the part of world leaders is there, but it’s almost as though they do not have control of the process that’s suppose to take them there.”

Do Boer, who refers to annual 194-nation summit as “a bit of a mouse wheel”, termed the current talks and their predecessors “a log that’s drifted away.” However, he recognises a group fear of leadership.”There is understandably a reluctance to be the first one to jump,” he said.

Meanwhile, the public is urging a plunge. “Occupy Durban”, a movement inspired by the ongoing “Occupy Wallstreet” protest in New York City, has assembled South African and foreign citizens protesting the “conference of polluters” which many claim does not represent the people.

Responding to Canada’s souring relationship with the Kyoto Protocol, indigenous citizens of Canada’s northern territories arrived in Durban “to act as a witness and to bring back the message of what Canada is saying so that we all understand where the Canadian government is at,” one protestor told CBC News Canada.

“We know that as indigenous people we have a lot of knowledge that is relevant to ecosystem, and that knowledge needs to be used when working on climate change adaptation,” said Daniel T’selei, a member of the indigenous youth delegation.


Bureaucrats drag at Durban as Maldives lobbies for survival

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

UN Chief Climate Change official Christiana Figueres quoted former South African president Nelson Mandela in her opening speech to the 17th UN Climate Conference, which began Monday in Durban, South Africa. Figueres urged all parties to be flexible.

At the top of the agenda is renewing the Kyoto Protocol, an international and legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse emissions which is due to expire at the end of 2012.

Within hours of the opening discussions, however, Canada said it would not commit to a second term of the Kyoto Protocol and even moved to withdraw early, while China, a leading emitter, and the G77 group said their participation in a global deal depended on all developed nations signing a second Kyoto term.

The United States said China’s participation was a basic requirement for its own involvement, but provided no guarantee.

The European Union voted in favor of a second term, but stipulated that the largest emitters, US and China, should agree to legally-binding emission cuts by 2015.

The UN conference is attended by approximately 15,000 delegates from 194 nations.

Departing for Durban today, Environmental Minister Mohamed Aslam said the Maldives would not relent to any country during the talks. During the 12-day conference, Aslam said the Maldives would lobby for a new international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent a rise in sea levels.

“We can’t go on without finding a conclusion to this. The Maldives will lobby for and say whatever we have to say to any country it is that we will not be able to move forward without endorsing this agreement. Our survival will be our top priority,” he told Haveeru.

The last climate talks were held in Copenhagen in 2010 amidst great international excitement and pressure. However, the vague outcome–an accord with no binding articles – disappointed the public to the point of protests in Copenhagen.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem tried to correct public skepticism at the Climate Vulnerable Forum in Dhaka earlier this month.

“Today, conventional wisdom suggests that Copenhagen was a failure,” Naseem said. “I beg to differ. In my opinion, the Copenhagen Accord was not an admission of defeat, but the first step on the road towards a solution – a solution based on the vision laid down in the Male’ Declaration. That vision was simple: that global warming will only be halted when States realize the futility of arguing over whom should cut emissions, and begin competing to become the leaders of the new industrial revolution – a revolution based not on the finite power of coal and oil, but on the infinite power of the sun, sea and wind.”

Naseem called on conference attendees to push towards a climate-friendly resolution based on positive action.

Yet so far, Copenhagen’s results appear to haunt Durban.

“The main problem we face is that some countries don’t want to discuss a binding international pact,” Aslam said, echoing a key obstacle at the conference two years ago.

Aslam and other officials at the Environmental Ministry were not responding to phone calls for further commentary at time of press.

Presenting its annual report on climate trend at the conference yesterday, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said 2011 caps a decade that ties the record as the hottest ever measured. In the past 15 years, 13 have broken records for high temperatures.

South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and the conference chair Maite Nkoana-Mashabane echoed the Maldives’ plea when she said that the world’s poorest countries – many of them in Africa – were dependent on swift action to stave off the catastrophic effects of global warming which affect them most.

South Africa stands to suffer high disease and mortality rates, longer droughts, intense flooding and decreasing biodiversity as temperatures rise. Agriculture would also suffer in a country where nearly half of the population lives below the poverty level.

BluePeace founder Ali Rilwan told Minivan News doubted politics would carry the day at Durban, but hoped that the public would begin to carry the issue at hand.

“I don’t think anything striking will come out of [the conference]. It’s been a ritual thing for what, 20 years? And Durban is not like Copenhagen, the excitement isn’t there, and the level of participation is also low,” he said.

Calling climate conferences “talk shows,” he said the Maldives “should pay more attention to what we can do at home. For a micro-state like the Maldives, by acting locally we could have a global impact.” But not much has been done to resolve issues threatening the country’s reefs, aquatic vegetation and mangroves, he observed.

When asked if the Maldives was focusing too much on international support, Rilwan said, “we need expertise and funding. And some international parties have given that. But we don’t see anything happening.”

Rilwan’s hopes lie with the people. “The people are getting stronger. We saw it at Copenhagen and we will see it at Durban as well. They are slowly losing faith in their leaders and instead are starting to network world-wide. I think they can push their leaders to be more active on climate change,” he said.

Indeed, “Occupy Durban” has gathered momentum. US-based The Huffington Post reports that the movement stems from frustration with world leaders, and that activists doubt the people are being accurately represented.

“We had faith 16 times before but no more…most of us are saying it’s a conference of polluters,” said Patrick Bond, a professor in the in the University of Kwazulu-Natal, who is part of the occupy movement. “If anything good starts to happen then Washington will sabotage it does it again and again.”

Activists have formed a People’s General Assembly in contrast with the UN’s General Assembly. One member pointed to the decision to hold the conference in an area known for South Africa’s petrochemical industry as a sign that public and political views were at odds.

While the official conference appears to side-step stated goals, the people’s conference is still articulating its purpose. “What we’re trying to do is reengage with politics on a people based level,” one activist told Huffington Post. “What we’d like to see is a much more non-hierarchical localized politics.”

The Occupy movement currently claims a few hundred participants, but those interviewed said they were hoping for thousands to turn out a rally scheduled for December 3.