Gloom gathers over Durban

By Pascale Palmer
December 8, 2011

There’s a gloomy sky over Durban today on the penultimate day of talks. Richard Black of the BBC is saying that the talks “lack urgency” and from where I’m sitting he seems to have a point.

An NGO Tweeted this morning that they had heard delegates in the corridors saying that this is the most relaxed COP they had ever attended. “Relaxed” isn’t really the word I want to hear to describe talks that can decide whether our futures are safe or not.

But is this really a surprise when no major heads of state have turned up to negotiate? Yesterday Obama and Clinton joined an event via video link outside the conference centre. But they’re not at the table. There are only environment ministers in the UNFCCC room and that means the individual with the ultimate mandate to act is sitting back in home countries dealing with other issues.

At present, if we continue on the global emissions pathways we are now on, it is estimated that average global temperatures could reach four degrees Celsius or more. As Oxfam’s Tim Gore said in a press conference this week – that will leave us with a world we no longer recognise. It could be a world of mass climate migration, devastating floods and droughts that hit harder and more frequently and make significant parts of the world uninhabitable. We have already read in the new Met Office report how, by 2080 climate change will be affecting millions in the UK. In a report from Durban, The Guardian’s John Vidal wrote: “Nearly 18 million British people will experience more water shortages and 160,000 will be affected by coastal flooding by the end of the century if temperatures are left unchecked, according to new Met Office analysis.”

And what we will experience in the UK will be nothing in comparison to countries that historically sit in weather and climate extreme hotspots. We have already seen the severity of flooding in Pakistan, the cycle of droughts in East Africa – we can’t allow poorer countries to bear the brunt of climate change without us doing our utmost to reduce future impacts and support people who are and will be dealing with the impacts we now have no power to avert.

This morning the Africa Group – where many of those climate vulnerable countries sit - had a press conference. Here’s a round up of some of what they said:

We recognise the Kyoto Protocol is a framework which calls for the highest level of ambition. We are in a dynamic world where the Kyoto Protocol will represent fewer and fewer emitters. To keep Africans safe we need to capture a larger number of emitters but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to keep the rules and transparency of the Kyoto Protocol.

Are we going to get a legally binding agreement, a protocol, a treaty, a convention? I'm not going to pre-judge. We would like it to be a legally binding outcome and build on the good parts of the Kyoto Protocol and historical responsibility among the Parties. We need to avoid a lapse of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ripe for many years. Then we can move onto other issues.

Other countries pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol will be violating and not respecting the decisions they took. It's surprising those countries, like Japan with an ancient history of honour is getting ready to dishonour an agreement which carries the name of it's historical capital.

We actually just have one key condition - to keep 1 billion Africans safe from a phenomenon they did not create. There are two essential gaps – on mitigation and finance – that we would like to fulfill in Durban.

We want to leave here with a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol which is legally binding and not just political. Also, an operationalised Green Climate Fund: we don't want an empty shell but we don't even have a shell right now. The first step is to create it and then we can fill it.

In the Q&A session after the press conference one journalist asked: “Why do so many of the messages coming out of Parties seem to go against common sense and science?”

To which the Africa Group spokesperson replied: “For those students who are being disruptive - we need to send them to the corner of the classroom, and work with the good students so we can pass the upcoming exam.”


© Pascale Palmer is Senior Press Officer (Policy and Campaigns) for CAFOD.

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