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29 November 2011

Rifts emerge at Cop 17


UN climate talks got underway here on Monday amid calls for action to head off worsening drought, floods and storms but also to fears of a bustup just two years after a near-fiasco in Copenhagen.

Topping the agenda in Durban is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the only worldwide pact with targets for curbing heat-trapping emissions, whose first round of pledges expires at the end of 2012.

The conference must also push ahead with a “Green Climate Fund” that would muster up to 100 billion dollars a year to shore up the defences of vulnerable countries.

In a speech to the 194-nation forum, South African President Jacob Zuma pointed to a series of disasters in his country as a sign of warning.

“We have experienced unusual and severe flooding in coastal areas in recent times, impacting on people directly as they lose their homes, jobs and livelihoods,” he said.

“Given the urgency, governments need to strive to find solutions here in Durban. Change and solutions are always possible, and Durban must take us many steps forward towards a solution that saves tomorrow today.”

But the mood has been soured by a continuing rift over how to share out the burden of emissions curbs, while the global economic crisis casts a long shadow over the climate fund.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said the 12-day talks must urgently shore up public confidence.

“This conference needs to reassure the vulnerable - all those who have already suffered and all those who will still suffer from climate change - that tangible action is being taken for a safer future,” she said.

Figueres pointed to record increases and levels in greenhouse-gas concentrations and jobs wrecked by extreme weather events.

Divisions within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are pitching rich against poor, rich against rich and poor against poor.

Wealthy countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol are baulking at developing-country demands to renew their emissions vows beyond 2012.

Such a move, they argue, would be folly so long as China, which as a developing economy has no specified targets under Kyoto, and the United States, which abandoned the treaty in 2001, are not bound by similar constraints.

The European Union (EU) is the last bloc in the developed world to champion Kyoto.

It is willing to take on a second round of pledges, but on one condition: all major emitters should endorse the completion of a legally-binding global climate pact, perhaps by 2015, into which Kyoto could be subsumed.

The last time a worldwide climate deal was attempted was in Copenhagen, in December 2009, at a summit that notoriously came within an inch of collapse.

In the end, a face-saving deal was brokered among a small group of countries and it has developed into the voluntary matrix which dominates the UNFCCC process today.

Countries register pledges for cutting greenhouse gases in the goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), although the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says current promises fall far short of what is needed.

But US chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing was cautious about the EU roadmap.

“We want to know more about the content of such an agreement before we commit to a legal form,” he said.

Referring to a meeting of major emitters near Washington last week, he said large emerging economies - “and, frankly, from what I can tell, Europe as well” - had no intention to ramp up their pre-2020 promises.

“It is in that context, of course, that we come to a post-2020

agreement.”

The 132-nation bloc of developing countries, in a press release, hit at “some” rich countries “which insisted in inflexible positions that would make real progress at this session quite difficult.”

But within this bloc are small-island and least-developed countries, who are dismayed by any delay in forging a new treaty.

“It is headed towards a real impasse in Durban, frankly, there is no way to gloss over it,” a veteran observer participating in the talks said on Sunday.

“There are very few options left open to wring much out of the meeting unless the position of these major countries softens considerably.” - Sapa-AFP-IOL