Will Durban 2011 Pass The World By?

COP17 Durban

If I had to guess I’d say that Joe Public probably doesn’t know about the important climate talks that kick off in Durban, South Africa this week. I’d also hazard a guess that even if they did know, many would simply not care.

I don’t say this to be condescending or to patronize the man on the street but with everything else that goes on in a typical day, sparing the time to follow what will probably be long drawn out debates over controversial plans to curb emissions is not top of many peoples’ agendas.

But should they be? Well, it is true that governments probably have the leading roles in this play but we the public make up the majority of the cast; 7 billion extras in what is looking more like a tragedy each and every day. We elect most of these governments and it is we who can voice our opinions but for those at the top to listen there has to be enough voices in the crowd.

The Occupy movement that has sprung up around the world hasn’t really effected any change yet and governments often ignore rallies and protests even when they are on a massive scale. I may occasionally have my doubts as to whether our actions as consumers and as members of society can really make a difference but I know that inaction is a far bigger crime; a crime being committed against future generations that most people are guilty of.

I’m going to briefly go over some of the news that has come from the build-up to Durban and I’ll try and get some regular posts written as and when important things come from this event.

Rumblings So Far…

First of all, if you are at all interested in what is taking place then I suggest you read the Telegraph’s Durban for Dummies guide which will give you a sound base from which you can learn more.

In the UK, before heading to the conference, energy secretary Chris Huhne called for a global deal to be reached by 2015 saying:

“At Durban, we need major economies to commit to a global legally binding framework – building on what Kyoto started…

“And we need negotiations on this new agreement to complete as soon as possible, and by 2015 at the latest.”

The Independent reports on a looming deadlock even before the talks have begun with countries including China, India, Japan and Russia unlikely to respond to Mr Huhne’s rallying call.

With growth in the Chinese economy helping to keep the world economy afloat in the face of other hardships, it is no surprise that they come to these talks with a major balancing act to perform. On the one hand, China is now the world’s biggest polluter in absolute terms but if you look at the figure per head of population, they still lag far behind developed Western economies.

It is a difficult proposition to put forward, telling the Chinese that they need to address emissions while continuing to grow and improve living standards in a country where hundreds of millions still live in relative poverty.

As Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said:

“When it comes to tackling climate change, countries should follow the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, fairness and individual capabilities”

While Hou Yanli, director of the Climate & Energy Programme of the WWF’s Beijing Office stressed that:

“Developing economies, though responsible for a large share of global emissions, still have the need for development. Both capital and technology are important for them to grow low-carbon development”

Talking about the ideal approach she added that:

“We hope that industrialized nations can take their historical responsibilities and come up with ambitious emission reduction targets at the Durban conference, while developing economies can make national action plans to drive growth through low-carbon development”

The United States is still the second largest polluter behind China and per capita they are one of the worst offenders but they never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and are very unlikely to budge this time around.

Press in the US are conceding that big movements by their country’s government are unlikely with USA Today running a story as pessimistic as many of the others being published around the globe. They say that ensuring negotiations continue may be the most the UN summit can hope for.

Where is the usual American cheerfulness and optimism I wonder?

And so it falls to Charities to speak out most passionately for action as is often the case. The WWF say that the talks, which go on until December 9th, are a “unique opportunity” for governments to come together and lay the foundations for genuine action on global climate change.

Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF’s global climate and energy initiative exclaimed that:

“Climate change is a global threat that makes borders and politics irrelevant – and it needs a united response from the world’s governments”

Continuing that:

“Durban leaders have a choice. They can build on the progress achieved at last year’s UN climate change negotiations in Cancun and act to prevent runaway climate change. Or they can allow short-term national interests to set us on a dangerous path”

So What Can We Hope For?

If I’m honest I guess we have to hope for the bare minimum and accept that anything more is a bonus.

I don’t see any major progress being made but at the very least we must not allow a backward step to take place. The Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012, is the only legally binding agreement on climate change and while it may not include the US or China, if no second commitment were signed then it would be a fairly major blow for confidence.

The problem is that some of the existing members of the treaty are against the idea of a second term without other major polluters being part of a wider deal. I can sympathise a little with this point of view, after all the countries under the Kyoto act make up an ever shrinking proportion of greenhouse gas emissions and without the biggest polluters agreeing to some sort of concrete action, Kyoto may seem futile.

But this is about sending out a message and the right message needs to be sent out. If countries pull out of the Kyoto treaty and put their own interests before that of the whole planet then will businesses really want to invest in green technologies without obvious rewards at the end of it? I doubt as many will.

I’ll leave you with a quote which I think sums up Durban 2011 and what we must hope the outcomes are:

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” – Henry Ford

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

One Response to “Will Durban 2011 Pass The World By?”

  1. Sam B
    November 28, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    Perhaps the reasons to invest in green technologies may stay the same regardless of whether the Kyoto agreement is still in existence. The earth’s natural resources are still running out while demand is increasing. They will run out quicker if anything, and then we will be forced to fully embrace greener alternatives.

    In the industrial revolution pollution levels were terrible but with technology things did improve. Air quality got better as the smog’s subsided through cleaner energy production. Do you think the same might happen here?

    It might be worth investigating more on climate change and the agreements for and against whether it is happening? And whether human activities do indeed accelerate this phenomenon? Many people hold the belief that climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon like The Ice Age rather than an impact of human behaviour.

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