As the climate talks crept to an end early Sunday morning, it was clear that leaders had once again displayed their expertise in procrastination.
As things stand, leaders now have up to 2015 to agree a new deal that would not come into effect until 2020. Durban could be dubbed the procrastinators’ paradise.
The world's polluters have blocked real action and have once again chosen to bail out investors and banks by expanding the now-crashing carbon markets – which, like all financial market activities these days, appear to mainly enrich a select few.
The originally scheduled end of the talks was Friday 9 December. As night called the negotiators seemed nowhere near a conclusion.
Frustration raged inside and outside the international conference centre where the talks were going on. Hundreds of climate activists staged a standoff in the corridors close to one of the plenary rooms, demanding 'Don’t kill Africa!'. They occupied COP17 for over three hours. In the end, security agents expelled some activists, including Bobby Peek of Friends of the Earth South Africa, Desmond D’Sa of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace. On the outside, people defied the rain to gather at the Occupy COP17 space – also dubbed the Speakers Corner. This had become the self-organizing space for voices of the people to be raised and messages to be freely sent without having to deal with the security maze at the talks. Friday night was the vigil for the Conference of Parties (COP). Very fitting because the official talks had turned more or less into funeral rites.
Citizens of KwaMashu displaced from their land for a Durban makeover took time here to tell the stories of their travail. They came under the auspices of a group called Abahlali BaseMjondolo, the shack dwellers' movement. Kids from the community staged a drama depicting how they were initially evicted when South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup, how they picked up pieces of their lives after the soccer fiesta and how they were again evicted to make the COP sit pretty. They demanded to know why they had no rights as South Africans to shelter, dignity and decent treatment.
Back inside, the talks went on the whole of the next day and eventually closed early Sunday morning. Policy analysts see the talks as an unmitigated disaster.
'Ordinary people have once again been let down by our governments,' says Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Climate Justice Co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth International. 'Led by the US, developed nations have reneged on their promises, weakened the rules on climate action and strengthened those that allow their corporations to profit from the climate crisis.'
Clifton explains that the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding framework for emissions reductions, survived in name only. 'The ambition for those emissions cuts remains terrifyingly low,' she added. 'The Green Climate Fund has no money and the plans to expand destructive carbon trading are going ahead.
'Meanwhile, millions across the developing world already face devastating climate impacts, and the world catapults headlong towards climate catastrophe. The noise of corporate polluters has drowned out the voices of ordinary people in the ears of our leaders.' For Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, the outcome of the talks is profoundly distressing. 'This is the worst I have ever seen from such a process. At a time when scientists are queuing up to warn about terrifying consequences if emissions keep rising, what we have here in Durban is a betrayal of people across the world.'
'The Durban outcome is a compromise which saves the climate talks but endangers people living in poverty,' Adow concludes. At the closing press conference, the UN was keen to put a positive spin on the result.
United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres described the talks as 'a landmark', saying that the decisions made there 'have really marked a completely new trajectory for the climate regime.' 'It has guaranteed a second commitment period,' she went on, 'but it has also laid the path for a broader regime applicable to all in a legal way, and provided mechanisms for developing countries to address their needs of mitigation and adaptation.'
Not everyone interprets the outcome in those terms. 'It is false to say that a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been adopted in Durban,' says Pablo Solón, former lead negotiator for Bolivia. 'The actual decision has merely been postponed to the next COP, with no commitments for emission reductions from rich countries. This means that the Kyoto Protocol will be on life support until it is replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker.'
Meanwhile, as more COPs roll by, millions of people will be swept away by climate impacts while corporations and their shoe-shine-boy politicians smile on their way to the bank or swing in cosy hammocks, as though they inhabited a different planet.
And yet, despite the failure of the talks, I leave Durban this Monday morning with much optimism. I saw the power of the coming together of ordinary people, sharing of stories and building of new linkages. Perhaps a People's COP may be the way forward. I remember the seeds of such a conference sown in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010.
Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International
COP17 UN climate talks ran from 28 November to 9 December.
This is the final blog of a four part series.