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“God Wants Us to Live in a Garden, Not a Desert”

DURBAN, South Africa, Nov 28 2011 (IPS) - The European Union plan to save the Kyoto Protocol may meet its greatest obstacle in the developing world.

Durban represents a crucial decision-making point for the world's fight against climate change.  Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Durban represents a crucial decision-making point for the world’s fight against climate change. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Abias Huongo, one of Angola’s negotiators, says developing country blocs of which it is part – including the Africa and Least Developed Countries groups – are not able yet to express support for a global legally binding deal.

“Our partners need to fulfill their responsibilities, and they are running away from their commitments,” he told IPS on the first day of the United Nations 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) – the annual international gathering convened to try to make progress on dealing with climate change in Durban, South Africa.

In a curtain-raiser press conference, the EU delegation – viewed as the most enthusiastic about a second commitment period – emphasised it was unwilling to commit unless the rest of the world agreed to a global climate deal.

“The problem is that Kyoto alone cannot tackle the climate challenges we all face,” the delegation’s Tomasz Chruszczow said, “We need 100 percent of global emissions covered by the framework, and 100 percent of those who are emitting.”

The EU wants to see an agreement finalised by 2015, and operational at the latest by 2020.

Durban represents a crucial decision-making point for the world’s fight against climate change – one which many civil society organisations and developing nations regard as a matter of life or death.

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” The words of Nelson Mandela were echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres at the opening plenary of COP 17.

In previous years, COPs have been plagued by frustration, mistrust and despair. But last year’s talks in Cancun managed to relieve some of the burden of post-Copenhagen disappointment.

This year, the more than 15,000 delegates have arrived on South Africa’s coast somewhat more hopeful about possibilities. But along with hope comes responsibility.

The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in December 2012, and in the absence of new commitments from developed countries, the globe will be left bereft of any legally-binding emissions framework.

Developing countries want Kyoto to succeed, Huongo said.

“We’re in Africa, and we don’t want it to die on our continent,” he added.

He said there would be discussions around a new legally-binding agreement, but outcomes remain opaque.

Huongo told IPS that the developed world must also be more flexible with its funding requirements to improve access to climate financing for the countries that need it the most. He said Angola also needs assistance with capacity building to combat its vulnerabilities.

Already, several countries – including Japan, Russia and Canada – have expressed their reticence at signing on a second time. National media reports that Canada is preparing to announce its retirement from the agreement after the COP 17 talks have been met with consternation.

Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists says this would be “the third slap in the face Canada’s given the international community”, after reneging on attempts to meet its commitments, and putting forward weak emissions targets at Copenhagen.

Meyer says Canada is attempting to avoid the scrutiny and criticism it would face if it left the Kyoto Protocol at COP 17, and is acting in bad faith by continuing to participate in the negotiations.

The developed-developing country divide is very much alive and kicking.

South African President Jacob Zuma referred to the plight of developing countries in his address at the opening ceremony, urging negotiators to strive to find solutions. But civil society groups including Greenpeace and Oxfam International said they were unhappy about the lack of ambition he expressed.

Faith groups of different religions gathered on the eve of the talks at a nearby stadium, to pray for concrete, fair and balanced outcomes from the negotiations. They were joined by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who called for the world to prepare itself for the battle against global warming.

Tutu criticised those countries refusing to sign the Kyoto. “God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert,” he told the crowd.

Figueres joined Tutu in addressing the rally, promising progress. “No matter what happens in Durban, it is going to be a step forward,” she said, “But let’s remember, it’s only a step… There will be another COP, and another one. This is a long process.”

The U.N. climate chief has emphasised the importance of looking beyond the Kyoto Protocol at the talks, highlighting the need to operationalise parts of the Cancun Agreements.

Amongst the concrete outcomes possible from Durban is the finalisation of the structure of a Green Climate Fund – a mechanism that will manage and account for climate funds, including the 100 billion dollars annually by 2020, promised by developed countries for adaptation and mitigation measures in developing nations.

Also achievable, Figueres believes, is making progress with the Adaptation Framework, also agreed in Cancun, and the improvement of technology transfer mechanisms, which will allow poorer countries to become more resilient with the onslaught of unpredictable and extreme weather events.

On the eve of the negotiations, unseasonably heavy rain left parts of Durban flooded, and resulted in the deaths of at least six people – a tragic, but possibly apt prelude to two weeks of discussions about climate change.

It is a message that developing countries want to make sure their richer counterparts hear: “We’re the ones who suffer.”

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