EU looks to 2020 for new pact on global warming
By Philip Ebels
The stakes are high but expectations are low in Durban, South Africa, where talks began on Monday (28 November) on how to save the planet from the effects of rising temperatures.
The meeting, the 17th of its kind since parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change first met in 1995 in Berlin, brings together an estimated 20,000 representatives from governments, environmental groups, media and business. Celebrities Angelina Jolie and Bono are expected to make appearances.
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Diplomats from some 200 countries - including the European Union, a signatory to the convention - will negotiate for nearly two weeks on how to keep temperatures below two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial times (considered vital by scientists).
The talks come after mounting reports that carbon levels have reached record highs and temperatures are rising fast. "Global greenhouse gas emissions are projected to double in the next 40 years. This would result in a three-six degree increase of the average global temperature by the end of the century unless governments take decisive action," said the Paris-based think-tank, the OECD in a statement last week. Recent UN reports said a warming climate is expected to lead to heavier rainfall, more floods, stronger cyclones and more intense droughts.
"For most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death," said Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa at the opening ceremony on Monday.
The programme is likely to be dominated by the Kyoto protocol, the only legally binding treaty obliging the rich world to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, which expires after 2012.
A new, global deal was meant to be concluded two years ago, at the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, but failed to materialise. Instead, China and the US, the world's two biggest polluters, issued a non-binding statement, full of loose rhetoric.
No binding deal is expected to come out of Durban either. Instead, discussions aim to agree to come to a new deal in the future and - in the meantime - to keeping the Kyoto protocol alive.
Big emitters like Russia, Japan and Canada have already said they will not sign up to a second Kyoto period. The US never has and is unlikely to now. It objects to the fact that in the protocol, developing countries are exempt from cutting emissions since it is the developed world which is responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today.
The European Union, for its part, has said it will gladly sign up to a second Kyoto period, but only if a road map is agreed upon that will lead to the implementation of another legally binding agreement by 2020.
"A second Kyoto period with only the EU, representing only 11 percent of global emissions, is clearly not enough," EU climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.
"We would only be politically able to move ahead into a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol if there is at least a road map forward with others saying when they are going to come into the climate fight," Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission’s lead negotiator, noted.
For his part, the Durban envoy of the Green group in the European Parliament delegation, said the EU strategy will frustrate talks and render the Union irrelevant.
"The EU should just say right away that it will sign up for a second Kyoto period," he said.
"That way, China will not be able to hide behind the argument that the rich world is not willing to cut emissions. Otherwise, the negotiations will end up becoming a trench war between rich and poor, between the US and China. And Europe will be on the sidelines, just like in Copenhagen."