Climate summit: Durban stalemate continues



Activists sing and dance outside the climate conference venue in an effort to push governments towards a global agreement to combat global warming

The quest for a global agreement to combat climate change remained stalemated on Thursday despite repeated trilateral meetings between the big players – the USA, the European Union and the BASIC countries China, India, Brazil and South Africa. With one day to go before the United Nations climate summit is scheduled to close at Durban, South Africa, India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she had “tempered her optimism” of the day before. She had also shifted her return ticket from Saturday to Sunday.

The problem at this year’s conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is that developing countries – led by the BASIC group – want rich nations to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the existing Kyoto Protocol after 2012, while developed countries are making this conditional on emerging economies making legally binding commitments to reduce their emissions. “They are talking of this convergence. I cannot yet see light at the end of this tunnel,” Ms Natarajan said. “The link is very much there. That’s what is worrying us.”

The tripartite meetings between the US, the EU and BASIC were held for five hours on Wednesday and two hours by Thursday afternoon, but without a resolution of this essential issue that has dogged climate summits over the years. Ms Natarajan said she had also met representatives of other developing countries in the Group 77, “and they are with us”, though she agreed that the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) wanted more immediate action that the big players were not willing to take.

The four ministers from the BASIC countries were now meeting three-four times a day, and on Thursday morning had gone together to meet the conference president, South Africa’s Foreign Minister Nkoane Mashabane. “We told her what our views are. She took them on board,” Ms Natarajan said.

India and other developing countries have been insisting that rich nations make commitments for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – the only legally binding treaty to reduce GHG emissions, whose first commitment period runs out in 2012. The US is outside the protocol, and other rich countries have been resisting this. Now, Ms Natarajan said “the EU is willing to commit itself under the second period, but is keen on a roadmap” that will bring emerging economies under legally binding commitments too. “We were very categorical. We need to know the contents of the roadmap, and the timing too. We wanted to wait till we saw the IPCC assessment report.” The next assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due in 2013, with its review scheduled between 2013 and 2015.

On Thursday, the head of the US delegation here, Todd Stern, reacted with fury to suggestions that his country was blocking progress towards a treaty that will combat global warming – which is already affecting farm output worldwide, making floods, storms and droughts more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level. But it had become clear at the tripartite meetings that the US and the EU had differences over the contours of a legally binding treaty, with the EU agreeing that developing countries could do less to reduce to reduce emissions because the rich countries have out into the atmosphere almost all the extra GHG now, but the US insisting on “complete symmetry”. Asked about this, Ms Natarajan said, “It does not concern us. We have reiterated our agenda.” 

But as long as rich countries were willing to put money into the Green Climate Fund that is being set up here to help poor nations cope with climate change effects, there was still a possibility of the Durban conference coming out with some partial success, observers felt. But, as Ms Natarajan said, it was “an uphill task”, which was why she had “tempered” her optimism.