Tuesday, December 20, 2011

From Durban, with HOPE!

Coming from Durban, world governments committed themselves to write a comprehensive global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, covering both developed and developing countries, for the first time. Despite this good progress at Durban, the conference could not arrive at a legally binding deal to bail out the planet. This global agreement that has received commitment is to come into force in 2020. I wish it would be earlier than 2020, though. It has been a long and tiring journey. Sometimes I ask myself, “Why is it so easy to save the banks – but so hard to save the earth?”

There have been such climate change agreements before, but never like this. The 1997 Kyoto protocol is an example of a treaty stipulating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but the cuts only apply to developed countries and the US never joined in. Several accords were struck under the Kyoto Protocol but they were voluntary, not legally binding. Politicians could easily walk out of such non-binding agreements, compared with legally-binding treaties. Coming out of Durban, the new phase of negotiations about to start should be "a protocol, a legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force", which will effectively mean countries are legally bound. Unfortunately, it is worrying that the Durban talks had nothing on how how far and how fast countries should be cutting their carbon dioxide.

Scientists say when global temperatures rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius, climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible. And emissions have risen by nearly 50% in the past 20 years, and still rising. With every year of increase, we have much less chance of keeping global temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius. But the earth needs to wait till 2015 when governments will wrap up negotiations and a legal document will be ready to for signing; and a further 5 years for ratification. In between now and 2015 and then 2020, advocacy must go on to ensure that nothing goes wrong. It’s a delicate process but “working together, we will save tomorrow today”. I have HOPE!

There are more positives which make the Durban conference great, in my opinion. Compared with previous meetings, it seems this time Africa had a better representation. The African Group made up of 54 nations presented a united front throughout the negotiations, with few disagreements among them. The group had clear priorities and stood by them. The leader of the African group made this statement "Whether we are reducing our priorities to two, while yesterday I spoke about five priorities, I will even go further and say that the priority that we have is only one: to keep one billion Africans safe as regards the adverse effect of a climate change phenomenon to which they did not contribute." Reports were still rife that some of the African delegates were just out of touch with the issues that were being discussed but it is a great improvement on previous delegations. As usual, some African delegates were reported to have found the shopping malls and streets of Durban a better conference room. Some were obviously there on holiday! But this time, the continent had better representation and I believe it is getting better and a time will come that National Delegations will be made up of people who really understand what is to be discussed and not because they are government functionaries and there is an opportunity to travel.

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