Climate change breakthrough!

Durban Sea Front
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The world is on track for a comprehensive global treaty on climate change for the first time after agreement was reached at talks in Durban, South Africa in the early hours of Sunday morning. The Guardian reports |!/LearnFromNature

Negotiators agreed to start work on a new climate deal that would have legal force and, crucially, require both developed and developing countries to cut their carbon emissions. The terms now need to be agreed by 2015 and come into effect from 2020.

Why Durban is different ?

“I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose – a long-term solution to climate change,” said Christiana Figueres, theUnited Nations climate chief.

Chris Huhne, the UK’s energy and climate secretary, said the deal would ensure the European Union’s efforts to tackle global warming were matched by others. “We know that we are working very hard on this, but we need to be sure that other countries are working just as hard – that’s very important for our industry and our competitiveness,” he said.

But Huhne also acknowledged that the hard work was only beginning, because following the agreement struck in Durban, governments face four gruelling years of horse-trading over how far and how fast each country should cut its carbon, in order to flesh out the bones of the deal.

Two weeks of talks — the last 60 hours of which was a single marathon negotiating session, with officials holed up in a conference centre through three nights with scarcely a break — ended with a surprise decision struck during a tea break just before dawn on Sunday.

A small huddle of key ministers were ordered to meet for 20 minutes and thrash out their differences. With tempers rising and the talks minutes from being abandoned, the chair, South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, ordered China, India, the US, Britain, France, Sweden, Gambia, Brazil and Poland to meet in a small group or “huddle”. Surrounded by nearly 100 delegates on the floor of the hall, they talked quietly among themselves to try to reach a new form of words acceptable to all.

The agreement – dubbed the “Durban platform” – is different from the other partial deals that have been struck during the past two decades, with developing countries, including China, the world’s biggest emitter, agreeing to be legally bound to curb their greenhouse gases. Previously, poorer nations have insisted that they should not bear any legal obligations for tackling climate change, whereas rich nations – which over more than a century have produced most of the carbon currently in the atmosphere – should.

Another first is that the US, the second biggest emitter, also agreed that the new pact would have “legal force” – a step it flirted with in 1997 with the Kyoto protocol, but abandoned as Congress made clear it would never ratify that agreement.

All of the world’s biggest economies and emitters already have targets to cut emissions between now and 2020, when the new deal would come into force.

But those targets are voluntary, not legally binding. This is a crucial difference for the EU and many others, who fear that voluntary targets are too easy to wriggle out of.

However, the deal did little to address the scale of emissions cuts needed, and environmental groups said this was a huge failing.

Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said: “Governments have salvaged a path forward for negotiations, but we must be under no illusion — the outcome of Durban leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of 4C warming. This would be catastrophic for people and the natural world. Governments have spent crucial days focused on a handful of specific words in the negotiating text, but have paid little heed to repeated warnings from the scientific community that much stronger, urgent action is needed to cut emissions.”

Lord Stern, former World Bank chief economist and author of the landmark 2006 review of the economics of climate change, said: “The outcome of the summit is a modest but significant step forward. The decision to move towards a unified system, with all countries having some form of legal commitments, removes an important obstacle and could allow, for example, the US to play a more participative and constructive role in the future.”

The agreement reached also ensured that developing countries will soon begin to gain access to billions of pounds in finance from the rich world to help them move to a green economy and cope with the effects of climate change.

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Durban climate talks see US back EU proposal

Collectively, the EU is the largest contributo...
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The prospects of a last-minute deal on climate change have emerged at the UN talks in Durban, as the US threw its weight behind the European Union’s proposal for a roadmap towards a new global agreement.

All eyes are now on China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, which has yet to back the proposal, and according to some insiders has been giving conflicting signals.

Other big developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa have said they are willing to discuss the proposed programme, though India has rejected it.

With only a day and a half of negotiating time left to run, the words of support from the US on Thursday came as a surprise to the conference. Todd Stern, US special envoy for climate change, told a press conference: “The EU has called for a roadmap. We support that.”

According to the proposal, negotiations should begin soon on a potential new global agreement by which all the world’s major emitters – both developed and developing countries – would make commitments to cut emissions, starting from 2020. Although the EU wants to set a firm date of 2015 for signing up to such an agreement, the US is reluctant to agree to specific dates yet but wants negotiations to start “promptly”.

Connie HedegaardEurope‘s climate commissioner, said: “It is very encouraging that the EU’s roadmap is the focus of the intense negotiations here in Durban.”

The EU also wants that new agreement to be legally binding at a global level – that is, a full international treaty – but the US has not agreed to that, though it left the door open. Stern said: “If we get the kind of roadmap that countries have called for – the EU has called for, that the US supports – for preparing for and negotiating a future regime, whether it ends up being legally binding or not, we don’t know yet, but we are strongly committed to a promptly starting process to move forward on that.”

US officials insisted that Stern’s position had not changed, as he has consistently said he would be open to discussions that could lead to a new accord that could be legally binding, or not. But until now he had not expressed clear support and had avoided the word “roadmap”, a term the US tends to dislike because it implies a fixed route and destination.

The US also insists that the agreement be equally legally binding on all major emitters – that is, if the US and the EU take on legal commitments, so must China. It is still far from certain that China will acquiesce, though its head of delegation told journalists in the week that China was willing to sign up to “a legal document”.

Chris Huhne, the climate change secretary, said: “The key point is that if China sees a way to making a big step forward in living up to its international responsibilities then I think we will see similar commitments right the way across key players, including the US.”

Other countries at the talks are also swinging behind the EU plan, with the Alliance of Small Island States broadly in favour but with important reservations, and many African countries behind it.

Among developed countries, Japan has said it also wants negotiations on a new legally binding treaty to begin, though it has not indicated a firm timeline. Australia said it would sign up if major emitters did, while Canada, however, may still hold out.

In return for support for a treaty to begin to “bite” in 2020, the EU is offering to extend the Kyoto protocol – the only existing global legally binding treaty stipulating emissions cuts – beyond the current commitment period which ends in 2012. It is the only major rich country bloc to do so.

The issue of whether an agreement is legally binding is a crucial one at the talks. Many countries are saying that any agreement take the form of a fully articulated international treaty because they fear that some will otherwisse renege on their commitments.

The EU has pegged 2020 as the “latest” start date for any new climate agreement, because most of the world’s countries – including all the biggest emitters, both developed and developing – already have national commitments running to 2020, under deals struck in Copenhagen in 2009 and last year in Cancún.

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Durban climate change talks – the final day

English: Presidents of South Africa Jacob Zuma...
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South African president Jacob Zuma officially opens the United Nations COP17 climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, Photograph: Elmond Jiyane /EPA

John Vidal

John Vidal has more on Tosi Mpanu Mpanu’s statement to the Guardian yesterday that “chequebook diplomacy” had started with African countries being offered bilateral deals:

When I saw Chris Huhne last night he denied that money pledged by rich countries for developing nations to adapt to climate change were bribes, and he was proud that Britain would be the first country in the world to meet its target of giving 0.7% of GDP for development aid.

But NGO the World Development Movement is not too sure. Policy officer Murray Worthy said, “It is outrageous that rich countries are now resorting to bribery to try to force Africa to accept a bad deal here in Durban. These are exactly the same strong-arm tactics the US and EU used to try to force developing countries to accept a bad deal in Copenhagen.”

More from Fiona:

UK energy and climate change minister Chris Huhne is in a cafe deep in conversation with his negotiators and advisors – and with Michael Jacobs, the former Downing Street special advisor who was Gordon Brown’s right hand man at the Copenhagen climate talks.

Subject of discussion – how to avoid a Copenhagen style meltdown, perhaps?

Word from Fiona Harvey on financing:

Fiona Harvey

Finding the money from rich countries and the private sector to be invested in helping poor countries cut their emissions, move to a green economy and cope with the effects of climate change – is a huge issue at these talks, but has been eclipsed by the prospect of a new phase of negotiations.

Lord Stern reminded delegates of its importance, in a report previewed by the Guardian earlier this week:

“Rich countries can and should fulfil their commitment, despite the current economic crisis, to provide US$100 billion a year by the end of the decade to support action against climate change in developing countries, according to a new report published on Friday by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.”

More from John Vidal on India’s position:

India is now clearly got its gander up. Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan is keeping up her assault on the EU, laying down the red-lines and demanding that Europe clarifies its position. On this may hang the whole deal.

COP 17 in Durban : BASIC countries : Jayanthi Natarajan(From L to R) : Brazil’s climate negotiator Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, India Environment and Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan and China’s climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua Photograph: Jenny Bates for The Guardian

“We had a meeting today of BASIC countries [Brazil, South Africa, India and China], and we are together. I have repeatedly said that I have come with an open mind and we would want to know the content of the binding agreement and in exchange if they are ready to give us a ratifiable KP [Kyoto Protocol] and how other issues of equity, CBDR [Common but Differentiated Responsibilities], IPR [Intellectual Property Rights], trade figure.

Even today BASIC are on all the same stand. Our demand has been extremely reasonable and we want to wait for result of 5th review of IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. I have a feeling that earlier they wanted to bury Bali Action Plan but now I think they want to bury Cancún agreement also. We want answer to our questions before we agree to anything,” she says.

Pollution in India's greenhouse gas emissions: thermal power plant on the outskirts of Nagpur, IndiaA thermal power plant on the outskirts of Nagpur. Photograph: Arko Datta/Reuters

Many in the NGO community at the talks believe that the diplomatic pressure being put on large developing countries to accept a deal that would commit them to legally binding CO2 cuts is wrong. They argue that it is the countries that have created the problem with their historical emission that should shoulder most of the burden for sorting it out.

Sunita Narain argues in a blog for the Guardian that large developing nations are already doing more than their fair share:

…many countries, including India, see this EU move as a ploy to remove the differentiation between the contributors to the problem of climate change and the rest. (This distinction formed the basis of the climate convention and set the principle that countries responsible for the bulk of emissions had to take action first, make deep emission cuts to create space for the rest to grow.) They see surreptitious moves to rewrite this agreement. So, distrust has grown deeper, even as we know that the agreement to cut emissions cannot work without global cooperation.

This is not to say China, Brazil and South Africa, or even India, should not take action to combat climate change. When negotiations began over 20 years ago, it was well understood the industrialised world – contributor to 70-80% of the stock of emissions in the atmosphere – had to vacate space for the emerging world to grow. The deal was this enriched world would reduce emissions drastically, for they had thrown the climate system out of kilter. The deal also was that money and technology transfer would enable emerging countries to avoid future emissions growth. But none of this happened. Meagre targets were set; the US and other big polluters walked out of the agreement. The funds never came.

John Vidal

India is making allegations of dirty tactics. John Vidal reports:

The Indian environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan is clearly angry at how India is being treated by the EU, and has just put out a statement:
“I participated in the ministerial meetings [last night ]and suggested how to move ahead at Durban. Much after I had reached my hotel, to my surprise, I was informed that on the recommendations of certain parties like the EU, a meeting was again called by the chair. My senior negotiators participated on the country’s behalf along the brief I had given them earlier and raised specific issues in the late night discussions.”

India appears to be implying that it was deliberately not told in advance about the meeting and was therefore put at at a significant diplomatic disadvantage. This is a tactic that Bolivia and others accused Europe of using last year in Cancún, and in Copenhagen 2009.

News from the UK delegation from John Vidal:

We are told energy secretary Chris Huhne is too rushed to answer more than one question from the British press. Our meeting is switched from the British delegation’s underground car park bunker to another room, and then another. Here’s all that he would say to the obvious question, “Mr Huhne, what is happening?”:

Chris HuhneChris Huhne: Dominic Lipinski/PA

“I think we’re at the point when a number of developing countries must decide if they want a treaty with environmental integrity. It is clear that the EU is speaking for the vast majority of parties in the Cop, and we have some fundamental political changes. There is a very visible high ambition coalition that stretches across the developed world in Europe and developing countries, and the real issue is whether those who until now have been reluctant to join the high ambition coalition are actually prepared to do so.”

“There have been some hints of movement before the conference and here. The key thing now is to look in detail at what people are prepared to do on the page. We have just had a co-ordination meeting. The EU is united, and standing firm.”

Climate people : Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's Minister for Climate and EnergyConnie Hedegaard, EU environment commissioner Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP

Connie Hedegaard, the EU environment commissioner has tweeted:

LDCs, AOSIS and the EU united in the desire for an ambitious outcome in Durban.

Here’s the statement:

The least developed countries, the Alliance of Small Island States and the European Union are united in their desire for an ambitious outcome in Durban.

We believe that the world has had a lot of time to think. What we need is not more thinking. What we need is more action.

The gap between our ambitions and the current pledges is simply too wide. And we need not to remind anyone of the scale of climatic threats facing the most vulnerable countries in the world as a result of climate change. The facts are clear and we are still too far from where we need to be to secure the most vulnerable countries’ right to sustainable development.

The chance to reach our objective is getting smaller as time passes and we need to start this process today. For many countries, this is a matter of survival and this process should be able to deliver an answer to meet their worries.

We need to deliver in Durban. We are ready to operationalize the Green Fund and the other Cancun institutions; to deliver what we have already agreed in Cancun. But higher ambitions on mitigation action are crucial. What we need is to effectively stop climate change. And that can only happen if all parties to the UNFCCC process will be committed to concrete efforts.

Hence, we need firm and clear decisions mapping out next steps that deliver the ambition we need. This includes agreeing an amendment of the Kyoto Protocol for the second commitment period together with a robust mandate and roadmap for a legally binding instrument. Under this instrument, all parties to the UNFCCC need to commit, respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities.

The price of buying time is rising. Durban must deliver. The EU, LDCs and AOSIS are ready to undertake concrete obligations to manage the climate change challenge. We urge others to join.

Overnight, the US state department in Washington issued a statement clarifying its position on the EU’s “roadmap” proposals. Emily Cain, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State:

Todd Stern said in his press conference [thursday] that the United States could support a process to negotiate a new climate accord. He did not say that the United States supports a legally binding agreement as the result of that process. The EU has supported both a process and the result being a legally binding agreement.

Here’s what Todd Stern said in his press conference yesterday.

Fiona Harvey

From our correspondent Fiona Harvey:

Nick Stern, the former World Bank chief economist and author of the landmark 2006 review of the economics of climate change for the UK treasury, just told me his advice to the EU negotiators hoping to sway India behind a deal: “Talk sensibly and quietly to India – they are a very important country.” Lord Stern has spent many years working in and with India.

Earth's climate system : View of Earth's weather from MODISView of earth’s weather on July 11, 2005. Photograph: MODIS/Terra/NASA

Our interactive graphic pulls together a huge amount of data on current and historical carbon emissions. China is the world’s biggest emitter at 6.83bn tonnes per year, followed by the US at 5.2bn tonnes.

In per capita terms China is still some way behind the US (with 5.14 tonnes per person compared with the US’s 16.9 tonnes). However, China is fast approaching the European average. The UK’s carbon emissions per person are 7.54 tonnes for example.

Historically, the position is very different. Per person, China has emitted 80.4 tonnes CO2 compared with 1127.2 tonnes per person for the UK and 1125.7 for the US.

Here’s a quick catch up on where the negotiations stand.

120 countries, including Brazil, Japan, Canada and many African nations, have lined up behind the EU’s proposal for a roadmap towards a new global agreement. The plan would involve the major emitters from both the developing and developed world to sign a deal in 2015 which would come into effect in 2020.

There was some confusion on Thursday when the US lead negotiator Todd Stern appeared to endorse the EU’s position (he used the term “roadmap” approvingly twice in a press conference). He later rowed backfrom that though and seems to favour a more flexible time-table.

Meanwhile, India has been strongly opposed to any plan that would mean it and other large developing economies should take on legally-binding cuts to carbon emissions. China’s position is ambiguous. It has made some warm noises about the EU plan but appears also to be some way from accepting legally binding cuts.

Negotiations went on late into the night yesterday at the UN climate talks in Durban. The countries are still a long way from any kind of deal (they don’t even have a specific text to wrangle over yet) but last night there was hope that an agreement could be reached. A tentative coalition was forming behind the EU’s proposal of a “roadmap” to a global, legally binding deal to be signed in 2015 and come into force in by 2020.

Much is at stake. After the excitement, expectation and ultimatedisappointment and farce of the Copenhagen summit in December 2009, the credibility of the entire UN process has been under great scrutiny. The 2010 conference in Cancún restored some faith, but as things stand there is still no legally binding international framework for cuts in carbon emissions beyond 2012. That is the point at which the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end. The future of the Kyoto Protocol has been a major sticking point for years – and at these talks.

So what can we expect today? If previous “Conferences of the Parties” are anything to go by, we are in for several hours of increasingly intense behind the scenes negotiations. John Vidal and Fiona Harvey, are in Durban and will be attempting to find out what is really going on. If there is to be a deal, the talks may well spill over into Saturday – and there are even rumours that delegates are preparing for the talking to continue into Sunday.

We will have live updates here throughout the day. You can send me a message on twitter at @james_randerson.

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Durban Conference: The forgotten planet


As the economic crisis bites, the world’s politicians are less concerned about the summit aiming to halt climate change. The Independent on Sunday reports 

The world’s ministers and their mandarins gather in their thousands this weekend to hammer out a plan for the small matter of saving the planet. Yet few of us appear to have noticed.

Despite apocalyptic warnings about temperatures reaching record levels and carbon emissions rising faster than ever, the delegates at the vast UN climate conference in South Africa this weekend could not be further from reaching a deal – or further from the thoughts of a global population gripped by economic fears.

More than 10,000 ministers, officials, campaigners and scientists from 194 countries are meeting in Durban in an attempt to counter the devastating effects of global warming. With little hope of a major agreement, many are happy to be out of the spotlight.

Not long ago, politicians were proclaiming that climate change was the greatest threat facing the world. David Cameron drove a pack of huskies across a glacier, proclaiming that the Conservatives had to lead a “new green revolution and recapture climate change from the pessimists”. Today, amid the preoccupations of a global recession, the future of the world itself seems a secondary concern for the political classes.

The key villain remains the United States, which a year before presidential elections will not sign up to a new green target. China will not play ball either. Japan, Russia and Canada have pulled out of the current negotiations.

Britain has witnessed the dramatic slide of environmentalism down the political agenda. Last night, the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, accused Mr Cameron of being “desperately out of touch with anyone who cares about our environment”. Liberal Democrats claimed their coalition partners no longer saw electoral advantage in their “vote blue, go green” message. Even the Prime Minister’s own “green guru”, Steve Hilton, confesses he has doubts about the climate-change argument.

However, the issue will be placed centre stage this week when Sir David Attenborough’s highly acclaimed BBC series Frozen Planet concludes with a personal testimony from the much-loved natural history broadcaster about how polar bears and other species still remain on the front-line of the environmental threat.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, signalled a major shift in Tory positioning last week when he suggested cutting carbon emissions would threaten jobs: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers.” His anti-green rhetoric sparked a rift in a coalition that had pledged to be “the greenest government ever”.

The Liberal Democrat president, Tim Farron, accused Mr Osborne of adopting climate-sceptic language “to placate 50 or 60 climate deniers on the [Tory] back benches, people who read the Daily Mail and people called Jeremy Clarkson”.

Mr Farron suggested Mr Osborne’s “disconcerting” anti-green rhetoric was tailored to appeal to restless right-wing Tories. He also warned that, if climate change is not tackled, it could lead to mass-migration, loss of farmland, a run on the food markets and mass starvation. He said: “What’s coming even sooner is the increasing price of fossil fuels, increasing cost to the economy, to business, and every other citizen, and an increasing reliance for those fossil fuels on countries that we probably can’t rely on.”

Meanwhile, Labour accused Mr Cameron of abandoning his environmental credentials. Mr Miliband, who was climate change secretary in the Labour government, dismissed the Prime Minister’s environmental policy as “nothing more than a temporary rebranding exercise” – but warned that the international community’s approach to the issue was a greater concern. The Labour leader told The Independent on Sunday last night: “The progress we made at [the 2009 UN conference in] Copenhagen towards tackling climate change together is now in danger of stalling because too many governments are retreating behind short-term and short-sighted excuses. I fear the consequence of this will be a worse future for the generations that come after us.”

Durban, the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) to be held since the United Nations’ first co-ordinated attempt to grasp the nettle and bring down global temperatures, represents the best hope for rescue.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol bound developed countries to overall cuts of about 5 per cent in global emissions by 2012, compared with 1990 levels. President George W Bush rejected Kyoto in 2001, saying it did not impose emissions limits on emerging industrialised nations – chiefly China and India.

The targets expire at the end of next year; COP17 is the last chance for the world to renew commitments it agreed 14 years ago.

The failure to get a binding international agreement in Durban is underlined by continuing steep rises in annual global CO2 emissions – up 6 per cent, to 33.51bn tons, in 2010. Levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago. Securing a commitment from major polluters such as China and India to sign up to a Kyoto II in the future – a move spearheaded by the Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, and his EU colleagues – may be the best chance of salvaging any progress from Durban.

UK ministers will seek to demonstrate their commitment to the green cause with a series of announcements this week. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, will today pledge £10m to reduce deforestation in Brazil by helping farmers restore vegetation on illegally cleared land, and preventing forest fires.

Mr Huhne will pledge “very significant” funding, likely to run to hundreds of millions of pounds, to help African communities adapt to climate change and use renewable energy.

But as he prepares to travel to South Africa today the green credentials of Mr Huhne’s own government are being questioned at home. The IoS revealed last month that the Prime Minister’s decision to cut funding for household solar energy had sparked a revolt of business leaders, councils, environment campaigners and unions. His aide Steve Hilton, who suggested the husky trip, has told officials he is “not sure” he believes the climate-change theory. Mr Hilton has become a big fan of the former chancellor Nigel Lawson, one of the most persuasive and vocal critics of the global warming lobby. The two have discussed the issue.

Environmentalists fear there is now a lack of political momentum behind the green agenda, with the economic crisis being used to railroad through a reduction in habitat protection. Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, asked: “Does this government want to go down in history as the one that kick-started nature’s recovery or as the government that tore down the long fought for protection for England’s richest wildlife sites?”

View from Britain: ‘Sea-level rises could threaten central London. The stakes are very high’

Sir David Attenborough

Broadcaster and naturalist (The last episode of Frozen Planet, On Thin Ice, will be shown on BBC 1 on Wednesday at 9pm)

“It’s not beyond possibility that warming will actually cause sea-level rises which could threaten the centre of London. The stakes are very high. We know these changes are happening – the evidence is incontrovertible – and if they go on, they will have catastrophic effects on the human race.”

Jenny Jones

London Mayoral Green Party candidate

“The Government has no understanding of the green agenda – even Thatcher recognised climate change. Tories should be ashamed.”

Tim Yeo

MP and chair of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee

“We must focus on the long-term economic advantages of moving to a low-carbon economy.”

Sir John Houghton

Former head of the Met Office and former co-chair of the IPPC

“Attacking climate change is one way of helping to get us out of a recession.”

Caroline Spelman

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

“We won’t tackle climate change without dealing with deforestation. The £10m funding I’m announcing will help.”

Tony Juniper

Environmental campaigner and writer

“It’s appalling that politicians have sidelined environmental goals as they think they are less important in the midst of an economic crisis.”

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Climate change : Africa urges nations to combat climate change ravages in unison

COP15 UNFCCC Climate Change
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CAPE TOWN/SOUTH AFRICA, 10JUN2009 - Jacob Zuma...
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African political leaders have urged more than 190 nations attending the Climate Change Conference to put their national interests aside and act to prevent further crisis in Africa, which contributes least greenhouse gas emissions yet was suffering the most from hostile weather patterns.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Chad President Idriss Deby and Angolan Vice-President Fernando de Piedade said the climate change negotiations were complex, but millions of poor and vulnerable people depended on decisions to be made at the conference.

The leaders were speaking at Monday’s opening ceremony of a two-week climate conference at which the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the only global pact that sets targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions but expected to expire at the end of 2012, will be known.

President Zuma said climate change was threatening agriculture in Africa, with agricultural output in many African countries expected to decrease by at least 50 per cent by 2050, yet poverty limited most African nations to deal with the impact of climate change. “Africa’s vulnerability does not only stem from climate change impacts such as the rise in the sea level, severe droughts and floods,” said the South Africa leader.

He said severe droughts were fuelling further conflict in Somalia, leading to the flood of refugees in Kenya and grazing communities in Sudan were fighting over scarce grazing fields. “In our country, 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,” said President Zuma.

As Zuma called upon rich countries to provide funding needed to address impacts of climate change through the Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to channel USD100bn a year by 2020 to help developing countries fight climate change, skepticism was ripe among delegates weather rich nations would provide the funding due to the souring economic conditions.

But the executive secretary of UNFCCC Christiana Figueres said in her opening ceremony address that future commitments by industrial countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions is “the defining issue of this conference.”

However, she said that is linked to pledges that developing countries must make to join the fight against climate change.

“The process needs to take two decisive steps here in Durban, finishing the tasks from COP16 and answering the key political questions that remained unanswered in Cancun,” Figueres told the delegates.

One of the developing countries which made commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was South Africa at the climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

President Zuma said the country had promised to carbon emissions by 34 percent in 2020 but said their efforts depended on support from developed countries in terms of finance, technology and capacity-building.

“There are also significant opportunities for the development of a green economy in Southern Africa and which could also be extended to other parts of the continent. South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo recently an agreement with respect to the Grand Inga Hydro Electricity Project for the construction of a dam that will provide electricity to more than half of Africa’s population.

The Plant is estimated to generate about 40,000 megawatts, which is over one third of the total electricity produced in Africa today,” said President Zuma.

In relation to President Zuma’s assertion, the South African ministry of environmental affairs issued a press statement, saying 550 million people in Africa did not have access to electricity and mentioned hydropower as being underutilized energy source, with less than 10 percent of the hydropower potential in Africa being utilised currently.

The newly elected President of the Durban Climate Change Conference Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said the Cancun agreements must be “operationalized”.

Nkoana-Mashabane, who is also South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, also said adaptation to climate change is an essential element of the outcome of COP17.

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Durban Climate Change Conference 2011 opens in disarray

Progress towards the meeting of the Kyoto targ...
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From The Telegraph | Follow me at!/LearnFromNature

As delegates arrived in the coastal South African city of Durban on Sunday, dark skies gave way to thunder and lightning storms and torrential rain which waterlogged parts of the city’s conference venue and swept away tin shacks in townships on the outskirts of the city, killing eight people.

On Monday, many of the estimated 15,000 delegates packed into the main hall for the opening session, only to be kept waiting for 40 minutes by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma.

Aides to the president blamed the president of Chad, saying Mr Zuma arrived on time but was forced to wait for him.

The 17th Conference of the Parties summit represents the last chance for developed nations to sign up to a second term of the Kyoto Protocol, which specifies legal limits for their carbon dioxide emissions, before it expires at the end of next year.

Speaking at the opening session of the talks, Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate change official urged all parties to be flexible, and quoted South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela in telling them: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, who is chairing the 12-day, 194-nation meeting, said the world’s poorest countries – many of them in Africa – were dependent on swift action to stave off the catastrophic effects of global warming which affect them most.

“We are in Durban with one purpose: to find a common solution that will secure a future to generations to come,” she said.

But within hours of the summit’s start, most of the major players made clear their unwillingness to negotiate their positions.

The European Union led a positive charge to revive Kyoto, saying it would sign up for a second term. But it stipulated that the world’s two biggest polluters, the United States – the sole developed country to shun Kyoto – and China – still classed as a developing country – should also agree to legally-binding emissions cuts before 2015.

Artur Runge-Metzger, the EU’s negotiator at the summit, said both developing and developed countries had to make firm commitments to emissions caps this year or risk the public “losing confidence in this travelling circus”.

The US said that China signing up to a such a deal was a “basic requirement” for its own participation but even then, it offered no guarantees.

Meanwhile China and the G77 group of developing nations said that they would insist on developed nations signing a second Kyoto term before agreeing to any global deals themselves.

Canada has already said it will not commit to a second term and yesterday it emerged that it could withdraw before the original deal expires. The country’s national broadcaster said it would be announced next month that Canada will withdraw from the protocol – a move its Green Party warned would make it a “global pariah” at Durban.

Within the European Union grouping, which speaks at the summit with one voice, cracks were already beginning to emerge after the publication of a report suggesting the UK was backing a controversial plan by Canada to extract oil from swampland – something the EU has made clear it is against because of the levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Those watching the talks begin said it was an inauspicious start. “It is headed towards a real impasse in Durban, frankly, there is no way to gloss over it,” one veteran participant said.

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