Durban ends with a whimper as expected

Updated: 2011-12-14 14:42

By OP Rana (China Daily)

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They agreed to disagree. That in essence is what diplomats from 194 countries finally came up with at the Durban climate change conference after two weeks of hard negotiations.

After the failure of the Copenhagen and Cancun climate conferences, it was probably only an optimistic few who expected Durban to achieve a real climate deal, so the outcome was not that surprising.

What was surprising, though, is that many countries walked out of the conference claiming victory.

And that is the problem. There's a lot for many countries to cheer about, but little to actually mitigate the effects of global warming.

True, countries agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol - the only existing legally binding, climate-centered agreement - from 2012 to 2017, but let's not forget that the protocol came into force in 1997 and average fossil fuel emissions have increased by 3.1 percent between 2000 and 2010.

In fact, according to the Global Carbon Project of the University of East Anglia and others, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have soared by 49 percent since 1990, the reference year for the Kyoto Protocol, and half of the emissions may have been absorbed by carbon sinks, but the other half remain in the air, where CO2 concentrations have reached 389.6 parts per million. And since forests are dwindling by the hour, the absorption of CO2 emissions is rapidly declining. So how has the protocol helped?

I it hasn't until now, what is the guarantee that it will do so during the extension period of the protocol?

Developed countries, especially the United States and the European Union member states, are happy that developing nations have at last been forced to be part of any agreement on future binding emission cuts. But that does not absolve the developed world from its historic responsibility.

Negotiators in Durban agreed to start work on a new arrangement that will cover all countries, both developed and developing, to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which will end by 2015 and come into force in 2020.

The blame for the failure to produce any real progress at the climate talks lies with the US. For one, US President Barack Obama has not helped revive the talks that have stalled for years, because the world's largest historical source of GHGs has refused to accept any mandatory cuts. And the US refuses to change, or even modify, the American way of life, even though it never shies away from forcing developing countries, which historically have contributed a fraction of the emissions, to do so.

Is there really anything to suggest that Washington will agree to an agreement on binding emission cuts?

Moreover, the EU, which played a leading role in thrashing out the Kyoto Protocol, is now battling the debt crisis and has little time or money to spare to fight climate change. The EU has been the driving force behind the negotiations at many climate talks. But this year all European leaders were in Brussels to save the eurozone from collapsing and not in Durban to prevent the planet from spinning out of control. This indicates the importance the EU now attaches to the fight against climate change.

The developed world wants the developing nations, especially China and India, to contribute in equal measure to fight climate change. But the developed world has not fulfilled its promise to transfer the first year's payment of $30 billion to the Green Climate Fund for developing countries, which was agreed upon at in Cancun last year. Perhaps the financial crises in the EU and the US can be blamed for that. But that is hardly any consolation for either the developing countries or the planet.

Despite the hullabaloo at Durban, more urgent action is needed to save the planet. The negotiators in Durban did not agree to any new pledges. And in spite of all their backslapping and self-congratulations, they have failed to produce anything that will prevent world temperatures from rising by more than 2 C, which scientists say will be catastrophic for the planet.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily.