South Africa: COP 17 In Need of Comprehensive Agreement

By Shout-Africa Correspondent – Despite the deadlock, emerging economies have, however, indicated their openness to legally-binding carbon emission reduction targets from 2020. This commitment is potentially a great step to unlock one of the big political issues of this year’s climate change talks in Durban, South Africa. 

Protesters and Climate change summitThe goal of a comprehensive and binding agreement may be beyond the reach of the 17th United Nations climate change negotiations, says the organisation’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

Ban was speaking at the official opening of the high-level talks on climate change in Durban, South Africa, on December 6 – nine days into the 11-day 17th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He cautioned delegates not to set their hopes too high. “We must be realistic about expectations for a break through in Durban,” Ban said. The reasons for more cautious expectations were well-known such as the global financial crisis, which has led to fiscal austerity with countries prioritising national budgets before international needs. “But none of these uncertainties should prevent us from making real progress here in Durban,” Ban urged, noting that serious proposals and persistence were needed to proceed.

“It’s like riding a bicycle. As long as you move forward you keep your momentum,” he explained. Different positions still prevail on different points after more than a week of often staggering negotiations, reminding delegates “we all agreed that the earth is in danger and that we must do something about it.”

Participants to the COP 17South African President Jacob Zuma, leading British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, Nobel prize-winning scientists and leading policy experts have urged negotiators to act on the science of climate change at a special high-level event on the sidelines of the conference.

“We want to inject some positive energy into the climate talks which seem paralysed. We cannot give up on the UN process,” said Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and co-host of the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability. The brief only-on-invitation symposium was an unusual gathering of 35 high-level policy makers and experts from around the world.

“President Zuma called on delegates and their countries to set aside their individual interests to realize collective action,” said Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology. “Only when we act globally can we respond to the climate change challenge,” Pandor said in a press conference. “Climate talks at the conference as well as recent past ones seem to be in a state of paralysis. That paralysis stems from political situation within and between nations,” Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, disclosed.

US Position

The United States has become the major stumbling block to progress at the mid-point of negotiations over a new international climate regime, say civil society and many of the 193 nations attending the conference.

 “The U.S. position leads us to three or four degrees Celsius of warming, which will be devastating for the poor of the world,” said Celine Charveriat of Oxfam International.

“They are proposing a 10-year time out with no new targets to lower emissions until after 2020,” Charveriat said. At COP 15 in Copenhagen, the U.S. committed to reducing its emissions 17 per cent from 2005 by 2020. This is far short of what is widely agreed as necessary: cuts in fossil fuel emissions 25 to 40 percent below those in 1990 by U.S. and all developed nations.

Scientists have repeatedly warned that global emissions must peak by mid-decade and then decline every year thereafter. But U.S. negotiator Jon Pershing said their Copenhagen emission reduction pledge is sufficient until 2020.


Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, politely accepted being called a “liar” by protesters taking part in the Global Day of Climate Action protest march in Durban at the weekend. Ms Figueres promised protesters she would ensure negotiators heard their call for an effective conclusion to the UN climate change talks (COP-17). Protesters demanded a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first and only legally binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the first commitment period of which ends on December 31 next year.

Hope from emerging economies

Emerging economies like China, South Africa and Brazil have indicated their openness to legally-binding carbon emission reduction targets from 2020. Climate experts say the three countries’ willingness to consider legally binding commitments, even if they will not take immediate effect, was potentially “a great step” to unlock one of the big political issues of this year’s climate change talks. Only India continues to refuse to commit.

The EU proposed a “roadmap” last week, which stipulates that all major economies, including emerging countries like South Africa, Brazil, India and China, generally called the BASIC group – and not only industrialised nations as currently under the Kyoto Protocol – will be subject to legally binding carbon emission targets.

BASIC countries all face developmental challenges but are at the same time significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Major emerging economies and other developing nations already emit more than half of current carbon emissions. Within the next 20 years, they are projected to account for two- thirds.

Christopher JATOR with field report