Let's Do It in Durban!

As the United Nations Climate summit COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, has come to a close, Greenpeace urges South Africans and the world, to 'do it in Durban', the host city of next year's climate talks. Activists display a banner in front of the cooling towers of a coal power plant. Greenpeace is calling for the South African government to be a true climate leader: not only pushing for a deal in the international negotiations in 2011, but also reducing the country's dependence on coal and choosing a sustainable pathway to a clean energy future domestically. © Juda Ngwenya / Greenpeace

The UNFCCC talks in Panama ended on Friday 07 October 2011. The talks did not deliver any major surprises as was expected for this very-low-expectations-technical-meeting. An outcome of Panama is that we now have a draft text that would guide the negotiations in Durban.

However, many of the ‘sticky’ issues such as Kyoto Protocol, emissions reductions and long-term finance have been left to be discussed in Durban.

The future of the Kyoto Protocol and perspectives for a new legally binding agreement will be an important talking point in Durban. The Kyoto Protocol´s first commitment period runs out by the end of 2012.

For South Africa – this is the biggest political issue right now. The government does not want the Kyoto Protocol to die in South Africa.

So what we find is developing countries pushing the EU to "not let the Kyoto Protocol die", the EU and allies are pushing for the USA, China and India to agree to negotiate a new legally binding agreement within a few years. But then of course we have the usual political games - the USA claims it can accept a legally binding agreement, as long as China accepts the USA´s (completely unrealistic) demands. And India claims it will follow US and China! Confusing right?

Well, simply put: while the island states and Africa are calling for all major emitters to be tied down by legally binding agreements, the major emitters (EU, USA) are trying to hide behind each other in order to avoid becoming the big bad guy at the COP17.

Proposals on having different sorts of "political declarations" instead of real legally binding agreements made its way through the corridors – this has the potential to end up with a watered down Durban outcome – and not in our or the planet’s best interest.

The event of the week was definitely when the vulnerable countries demanded that developed countries “show them the money”. Developed countries had previously promised to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 as international climate financing for forest protection, adaptation and low carbon development in the developing countries.

At the end of Cancun, one of the criticisms was that we have a climate fund but no money. This is still a contentious issue – but could see some movement in Durban. Obviously, the 100 billion dollar question is: "Where will this money come from?"

An issue that I don’t think will be solved in Durban is related to the reductions of emissions. For some reason there was not much happening around emission reduction targets in Panama. It is probably not going to be one of the main talking points in Durban either, which really begs the question whether the negotiations are tackling the key issues of climate change.

There are some moments in negotiations when I really think everybody is losing their mind. In Panama there were two key moments. The first was related to Japan. As an anti-nuclear campaigner, I wanted to fall off my chair when I heard that Japanese government is insisting that nuclear power must be included in the KP’s Clean Development Mechanism. You would have thought that the Japanese government had, by now, realized that nuclear is neither "clean" nor even remotely related to sustainable "development".

The second point of complete craziness was Saudi Arabia continuing to insist that international adaptation finance should not only be for poor countries who will be hit by climate change, but also for rich oil states who will be hit by international climate agreements.

Of course spending time in a different country, one cannot help but learn some key language phrases – one such phrase that I heard and thought aptly described some of the problem countries in this process is “Cada loco con su tema”. This can be translated to mean “Each madman on his high horse” – this famous Spanish saying is commonly used in situations in which two or more people are, although formally conversing, not in fact interchanging thoughts. Rather, each of them is soliloquizing and listening only to himself. Hmm, sounds like exactly what was going on in the halls of the UNFCCC.

We certainly are going to have our hands full in Durban. We need to make sure that we push for as much as possible. The COP17 is being held in Africa – we must make our voices heard. Durban must be the place that Climate Change negotiations jump forward. We have to bring a sense of urgency to these negotiations. The planet is running out of time.