Chen Weihua

A slow and disappointing fortnight

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-10 11:19
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CANCUN, Mexico - Things in this Mexican beach resort go slow, just like the way world leaders are tackling climate change.

In the last day of the two-week United Nations climate change conference, ministers are still haggling over details of some non-legally binding deals that fall far short of the world's expectations.

Whatever deals are reached at the end of the day or night, they will be as disappointing as many had expected. The agreements will be barely enough to curb the global climate change under the 2 C range.

It also makes any major legally binding agreement next year to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol all the more difficult and less likely.

Although Christiana Figueres, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change executive director, hopes world leaders will go beyond national interests, it seems unlikely many nations want to make major concessions.

On the contrary, much of the talks so far have balked because countries want to extract the most gain for their own interest at maximum losses to other countries. The less exciting deals are likely to be made at the last minute after negotiators exhaust their skills in protecting national interests.

The gap between developed and developing countries in how to fight climate change is as wide as ever. And the gap between the European Union and the United States is small, either.

Former US president George W. Bush refused to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Congress for ratification when the US economy was still in good shape. Now with the hard-hit economies of the US and many countries, it becomes even harder to persuade nations to inflict more pains on their economies for the sake of the greater good of the world.

The industrialized world is still not ready to shoulder responsibility of the historical emissions they produced over the past 200 years. Instead, some want poor developing countries to share that burden equally.

This sounds outrageous for many developing countries, many of which are still fighting desperately to help a large percentage of their population out of poverty.

About 1.4 billion people living in Sub-Sahara and South Asia still don't have access to electricity while the per capita energy consumption in industrialized world is many times higher than the world's average.

This is not fair. So unless developed and developing countries agree on the issue, any legally binding agreements are unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Industrialized countries have promised more detailed help in financing and technology transfer in fighting climate change. However, they should be much more generous.

They should disseminate more technologies out of a concern to combat climate change, rather than turning them into economic opportunities to profit from poor developing countries. They should not slow down the process in the name of protecting intellectual property rights.

While major powers are trading leverages at the talks, low-lying areas and small island nations will soon become casualties of global warming as sea levels rise.

Floods, droughts and wildfires will devastate more people and places as countries and world leaders refuse to go beyond national interests for humanity's common good.

Every day, men and women at South Africa's booth at Cancun Messe, a side event and exhibit venue, greet visitors with a big smile. "Welcome to Durban," the man in a colorful shirt said to me the other day.

I am eager to visit the beautiful city of Durban. Yet the small actions by nations and world leaders do not bode well for the next meeting to be held there next year.

During a high school international contest years ago, my daughter and her classmates were asked to design a mathematical modeling for a scenario when the Florida coast becomes submerged after Greenland's ice caps melt.

The beautiful beach of Cancun, only several hundred kilometers from Florida, might also be inundated then, serving as a monument for human selfishness and failure in tackling global warming.

Without world leaders acting ambitiously and decisively, we might just have to teach more high school students how to design mathematical modeling to manage the catastrophe caused by their selfish parents' and grandparents' generations.

China Daily