Durban deal plugs 10-year emissions gap

South African Foreign Affairs Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (R) receives a standing ovation from Congress of Parties Executive Director Christiana Figueres and hundreds of delegates at the Climate Change Conference in Durban on December 11, 2011 (AFP Photo / RAJESH JANTILAL)
A UN emissions control marathon has finally brought hope of averting worldwide climate chaos. The conference in the South African city of Durban has approved a deal to plug a decade-long gap between the Kyoto Protocol and a new climate accord.

­Weeks of wrangling among the 194 nations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change resulted in a green light to start shaping the single pact to unite all major greenhouse gas emitters.

Approval of the new accord, seen as the main tool to fight climate change, is due by 2015. The conference expects participants to ratify the pact by 2020 at the latest. After that, the signatories will be legally bound to carry out any pledges they make.

This would leave a huge gap between the new pact and the Kyoto Protocol on controlling the emission of greenhouse gases which was signed back in 1997 and expires in 2012. The Durban gathering has extended the binding Kyoto agreements for at least five more years.

The extension of the Kyoto Protocol came as a big relief to many ecologists and developing nations which suffer most from climate change.

If the Kyoto Protocol were not extended and died in Durban, we would be doomed to live next 10 years without legally binding [international] agreement limiting atmosphere emissions worldwide. The second stage of the Kyoto Protocol should be considered a big win of ecologists,” Vladimir Slivyak, of Ecodefence international ecology group, told RT at the meeting.

The Durban Climate Conference has also resulted in the creation of a Green Fund to be sponsored by developed countries to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change, Slivyak told RT. He revealed that the Green Fund’s bourse will hold as much as $30 billion within the next several years.

By 2020 the Green Fund will have $100 billion at its disposal and this is a great forward, though for Russia this move does not mean much, because Russia will neither take, nor give its money to the fund,” the ecologist affirmed.

­Major carbon emitters still reluctant to join Kyoto initiative

­The USA was none too thrilled by the Durban package, according to US climate envoy Todd Stern. Washington, though a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, refused to ratify it in 2001. Joining the international climate system might not garner much support in Congress, but the package still contained some major advances not to be overlooked, added Stern.

The USA, coming in as global carbon emitter No 2, was included on the Kyoto protocol’s list of countries bound  to curb its greenhouse gases emissions. Developing countries are voluntary in their emission controls – a two-tiers system the EU proposed getting rid of.

But China and India, which have become carbon emitters No 1 and No 3 respectively in the past decade, heatedly opposed the EU’s plan. India’s Environment Minister said this would undermine the Kyoto principle of shared responsibility for atmosphere pollution. As the industrialized countries had a head start of 150 years, their obligations should not be re-evaluated, he said.

Chinese negotiator Xie Zhenhua added the industrial nations have not lived up to their promises while China and other developing countries had launched ambitious green programs.

We are doing whatever we should do. We are doing things you are not doing. What qualifies you to say things like this?” he asked emotionally, reports the Associated Press.

In the end, the EU managed to override the lobby. A separate document obliges BASIC emerging economies (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) to accept legally binding emissions quotas – in the future.

­So, what about emission control targets?

While some developing nations and ecologists sighed with relief over the extension of the Kyoto protocol, the others were frustrated the meeting in Durban failed to move faster and deeper in cutting carbon emissions. The conference has not provided new emission control targets.

They haven’t reached a real deal,” said Samantha Smith, of WWF International. “They watered things down so everyone could get on board."

Current measures to tackle carbon emissions are falling far short of the goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) set by 2009 climate gathering in Copenhagen, ecologists said in the run-up to the conference.

A couple more years of power generation and industry belching out carbon dioxide and the Earth will be set on a possibly irreversible path of rising temperatures leading to ever-greater climate catastrophes – more severe droughts, floods and storms, the scientists said, as reported by Agence France Presse.

­The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, is an international treaty under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The treaty aims to fight global warming. This primarily means reduction – obligatory for industrial countries and voluntary for developing countries – of greenhouse gas emissions. Reductions for industrialized countries amount to an average of 5 per cent against 1990 levels in 2008-2012. The gases include carbon dioxide, methane, the hydrofluorocarbon group and some others. As of September 2011, 191 countries have signed and ratified the protocol. The USA, though a signatory to the protocol, does not intend to ratify it.