Waning Interest, Ambiguous Future: “Another” UN Climate Change Conference at Durban

Posted on December 9, 2011 in Environment

By Siddhartha Roy:

Photo courtesy: Nic Bothma/EPA

Two years ago, when the world leaders assembled in Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) meet, the media was in a tizzy. Every inch of celluloid and newsprint zoomed in on the ‘battle’ between the Developing Countries (primarily the BASIC countries, led by India) v/s the Developed ones (with Big Bad United States at the helm). The Copenhagen Meet had a simple agenda: Charter and adopt an effective treaty to carry forward Kyoto Protocol’s legacy when its legal obligations ended in 2012.

Copenhagen was a failure. A huge one. The negotiations were disarrayed and the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ drafted by BASIC was “taken note of” but not “passed”. The document recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present day and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2°C. One part of the agreement pledges US$ 30 billion to the developing world over the next three years, rising to US$100 billion per year by 2020, to help poor countries adapt to climate change. Accord also favors developed countries’ paying developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, known as “REDD”. Though more than 130 countries have signed it later; in the absence of any legal bindings, it is just a piece of paper.

I wrote a piece for YKA on the Copenhagen Summit prior to the Cancun Meet scheduled in Nov-Dec 2010. I ended it with “The media, the NGOs and the youth should gear up. November isn’t far away”. Well, analysis by experts worldwide put the blame on various factors: the Recession, Domestic pressure within countries like US and China, Developing Countries for trying to protect their growth by not accepting emission cut commitments; and Developed countries — primarily US – too for the same reason! What a paradox!

The one thing Copenhagen did garner was widespread dialogue and awareness. Citizens came out on the streets in large numbers. People religiously followed ‘Earth Hour’. But the 2010 Meet at Cancun was a blip on the radar. And except one or two snippets, I definitely don’t see much on the Durban Meet which started on 28th November and will go on till 9th December — at least not in India. Most of my acquaintances (even the intellectual ones) aren’t even aware of Durban. People have bigger worries obviously — The rising dollar, the Lokpal tussle, the FDI War and, now, Kapil Sibal vs Facebook.

So, what is the Durban Meet aiming for? To secure a global climate agreement as the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period (2008—2012) is about to end. But isn’t this what we aimed for in Copenhagen as well? Just a year before Kyoto expires, it is essential that this year we get a Kyoto-II or something close.

Now, for some facts: Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by half in the last 20 years according to new data. Last year, emissions from burning fossil fuels rose by 5.9%, bringing the total rise since 1990, the baseline year for calculating emissions under the Kyoto protocol, to 49%, an average rate of increase of about 3.1% a year.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, and an author of the research, said the data showed that little had been achieved in the past two decades in reducing the risks from climate change.

“There have been efforts to use more renewable energy and improve energy efficiency but what this shows is that so far, the effects have been marginal,” she said. “We need to do something about the 80% of energy that still comes from burning fossil fuels.” She said the problem was urgent, as the chances of holding global temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels (which scientists regard as the limit of safety) beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible, were dependent on emissions peaking by 2020 at the latest.

Even the recession hasn’t produced a dent in the greenhouse gas emissions as they are projected to continue rising at around 3% per year. The situation is precarious: carbon emissions rocketing to unprecedented levels, alongside increases in joblessness, energy costs and income disparities. Julia Steinberger of the University of Leeds says, “Surely the transition to a green economy has never seemed more appealing.”

IPCC warned in November 2011 that extreme weather will strike as climate change takes hold. Heavier rainfall, storms and droughts can cost billions and destroy lives. Estimates suggest that every dollar invested in adaptation to climate change could save $60 in damages.

The prime focus in Durban also includes focusing on “finalizing at least some of the Cancun Agreements”, reached at the 2010 Conference, such as “co-operation on clean technology”, as well as “forest protection, adaptation to climate impacts, and finance – the promised transfer of funds from rich countries to poor in order to help them protect forests, adapt to climate impacts, and “green” their economies”.

I did not write this post to discuss the intricacies of the Meet or the legal/strategic misalignments between the foreign policies of developed or developing countries. I could write a separate article for that.

I wrote this so that people would know. And people would read. Think. Maybe even participate in a dialogue. Walk a protest. Light a candle. Something. Something?

Excerpts and sources:
COP17 Official Website: www.cop17-cmp7durban.com
Harvey, Fiona: Carbon dioxide emissions show record jump. The Guardian’s online edition at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/05/carbon-dioxide-emissions-biggest-jump
Roy, Siddhartha: Post-Copenhagen: The Battle is now in Mexico. Youth Ki Awaaz’s online edition at http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2010/09/post-copenhagen-the-battle-is-now-in-mexico/
Wikipedia page: 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference