Climate change talks begin today

Updated: 2011-11-28 07:22

By Lan Lan and Li Jing (China Daily)

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BEIJING / Durban, South Africa - Delegations from more than 190 countries on Monday are gathering together in Durban, South Africa to start the new round of climate change talks, in an effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions and reduce risks to humanity.

Even as the world is vulnerable to increasingly frequent extreme weather events such as droughts and floods in recent years, climate change talks run into stalemate from time to time.

Although the global economic downturn has cast a shadow on the meeting, experts feel opportunities should not be missed again and concrete actions to avoid disasters need to be decided on in Durban.

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Beginning on Monday, the meeting will last two weeks. Xie Zhenhua, vice-director of the National Development and Reform Commission, and Su Wei, China's top climate change negotiator, led the Chinese delegation.

Going by previous experience, tension among negotiating parties will intensify in the second week, said Li Yan, Greenpeace East Asia's climate and energy campaign manager.

The most crucial decisions and negotiations on tough issues will happen at the ministerial level meeting in the second week when most environment ministers arrive.

Delegations will strive to reach a consensus in the last few days and hopefully hammer out legally binding agreements before the last minute.

"There's no time to waste," said Tim Gore, Oxfam Climate Change advisor.

The Durban climate talks must jump-start much bolder efforts and get new finance flowing to help poor countries reduce the risk of disasters and enable people to adapt to extreme weather before it hits, Gore said.

A recent United Nations report said there was still a huge gap between current actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and those needed to ensure that the global temperature rise stays under a safe line.

The report found that global emissions in 2020 needed to be reduced to 44 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent - well below current levels - so that warming was "likely" to remain below 2 C.

However, even if the governments' most ambitious pledges were implemented in full, emissions will be six gigatons above this. In practice the "gigaton gap" is much wider because of weak commitments and accounting loopholes in developed country targets.

This report should be a big reality check for negotiators heading into the Durban talks, said Samantha Smith, head of World Wildlife Fund's Global Climate and Energy Initiative.

"It very clearly shows the world is heading for very dangerous levels of climate change if we don't take decisive action right now. The good news is that we still can get on the right path, if we move quickly to stop deforestation and shift to renewable energy," she said.

The gap was not technical or economic, rather that of political will and leadership, Smith said.

The fate of a second commitment of the Kyoto protocol will be the "most crucial and critical issue" of the Durban meeting as nations hold various positions, said Xie. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is due to expire in 2012.

At the Cancun meeting in Mexico last December, Japan, Canada and Russia expressed their unwillingness to extend the Kyoto Protocol.

Developing countries stick to the extension of Kyoto Protocol and China holds the position to ensure its continuation. A gap between the two commitment phases is undesirable at this stage.

The EU said it was willing to sign up for a second commitment phase with a condition that the major emitters should also join.

China is the top greenhouse gas emitting country, mainly because of its huge population, says Martin Khor, executive director of the South Center China, an international policy thinktank for developing countries.

"China is still a middle-level developing country. If China is pressurized to take on the duties of a developed country and to forgo its status and benefits of a developing country, then many other developing countries that are ahead of China may soon be also asked to do the same."