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The Kyoto protocol is in grave danger

South Africa

The UN climate talks here in Durban are very different  from the previous ones I attended, in Copenhagen and in Cancún.

In the earlier summits negotiators spent the first week speaking in a way that suggested that real action was about to be taken to tackle global warming. Then came the second week, the ministers and presidents arrived, and narrow national interests took over.

In Durban this week we are seeing and hearing something different. The opening statements sound more like conclusions. But, of course, there are a few blank spaces to be filled as the days drag by.

Negotiators will be grappling with two key issues this week and next. The first is whether to have a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol or whether to bury it and raise a Durban Mandate in its place.

The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding agreement that requires industrialised nations to cut their emissions at certain percentages relative to 1990 levels. As the first commitment period expires next year, a second commitment period ought to kick in. The rails for that train were buckled in Copenhagen in 2009. Powerful developed countries have been trying to erase the Protocol ever since.

If we are to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, developed nations must agree to a second commitment period with strong targets and no carbon trading, offsettings or other loopholes. This is highly unlikely to happen in Durban.

The developed nations are simply trying to get rid of their historical responsibility for creating the climate crisis. Developing nations see this as a clear negation of a historical debt. While the emissions of industrializing countries like China, India, South Africa and Brazil are rapidly increasing, they have still made a much smaller contribution to the climate problem overall than the rich developed countries who are responsible for three quarters of all emissions historically while hosting only 15 per cent of the world’s population.

A whole lot of the foot dragging here is about money. Avoiding responsibility means holding tight to one’s money bag. And the rich countries, reeling from the financial crisis, do not want to take any step in the direction of doing the right thing.

This brings us to the second key issue in Durban: the Green Climate Fund, which was created to support people in developing countries – people who are the most affected by the climate crisis but are the least responsible for it.

Developed countries led by the USA, the United Kingdom and Japan are seeking ways of establishing a private sector facility within the fund, which would give corporations and financiers direct access.

More than 160 civil society organisations wrote a protest letter on Thursday  1 December to oppose this move. It would allow companies to bypass developing country governments and their national climate strategies to get their hands on public money.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied just outside the conference centre to voice their opposition at this attempt to turn the Green Climate Fund into a Greedy Corporate Fund.

I am truly worried because developed countries are suggesting a model favoured by the private sector arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IFC channelled almost two-thirds of its investments to multinational corporations from rich countries between 2008 and 2010, leaving local outfits vastly under-funded.

There are indications that South Africa is one of the countries working behind closed doors to keep vital negotiations on the Green Climate Fund off the radar. ‘Such moves will greatly undermine the legitimacy, and ultimately the effectiveness, of the fund.’ warned Bobby Peek from Friends of the Earth South Africa. ‘Whatever happens in Durban must be fully transparent.’

As we approach the end of the first week of negotiations I am alarmed to hear that some African delegates have been told not to waste their time and energy trying to negotiate emissions reductions from developed nations, which should be the main objective of the UN talks here.

Instead, they were urged to devise means of making their beggars bowls attractive for crumbs from what may indeed turn out to be the Greedy Corporate Fund.

Maybe they will take their cue from the helpless brothers soliciting for help at so many of the Durban crossroads. 

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

Nnimmo will be blogging for the New Internationalist throughout COP17, which runs from 28 November to 9 December.

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