Parties jostle for position at Durban climate talks

12:28pm GMT: President Obama has had a half-decent week on climate change, kicking the Keystone XL Pipeline into the sands of Nebraska and introducing regulations to double the fuel efficiency of light vehicles.

Yesterday he even managed to speak about the Durban climate talks, albeit from the safe distance of Australia. I suspect this is the only presidential quote that we’re going to get over the next month:

part of our insistence when we are in multilateral forum — and I will continue to insist on this when we go to Durban — is that if we are taking a series of steps, then it’s important that emerging economies like China and India are also part of the bargain….they’ve got to take seriously their responsibilities as well

Hmmm, maybe the US delegation in Durban will need their hard hats reinforced after all..

What worried me more was Obama’s general reflection on climate change. Having praised Australia’s legislation as “a bold strategy”, he said:

as we move forward over the next several years, my hope is, is that the United States, as one of several countries with a big carbon footprint, can find further ways to reduce our carbon emissions

So much for those calls for urgent global leadership.

1:38pm GMT: Africa’s chief negotiator at the forthcoming Durban talks, Meles Zenawi, has put out strong signals of willingness to compromise on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. According to Voice of America coverage of a press conference in Addis Ababa:

Meles acknowledged that the principle of saving Kyoto may be out of reach….Tuesday’s strategy conference (of the 10-member Africa group) had concluded that this is not the time for the hard positions which led to failure of previous climate summits.

The Ethiopian prime minister’s focus on saving the spirit rather than the substance of the Protocol may come as a surprise to Kyoto hardliners – the newly industrialised countries like China, the most vulnerable countries that met recently in Bangladesh and of course most of the NGO movement. But suspicions that Meles is flaky on the Kyoto Protocol date way back to those final hours in Copenhagen (2009). Allegedly nobbled by the Americans in advance, Meles caved in on the notorious voluntary pledge system which has so undermined the Kyoto principle of legally binding commitments on emissions.

2:23pm GMT: Better news for the Kyoto Protocol. The European Parliament yesterday approved a resolution authorising the EU position in the Durban talks.

I don’t think the approved text has been published yet but it seems clear that it gives unequivocal support for a second Kyoto commitment period to commence without a break after 2012.

Rather more nuanced was the speech delivered to the parliamentary debate by Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action and the key official in Durban. “We have also attached a condition,” she says:

in the clear roadmap that we want, we also need to have a timeline. When will other major economies commit? And when will they commit in the same legal form as we do? That is going to be one of the main discussions in Durban.

If this roadmap to the future can be agreed, will the roadmap be legally binding? It feels like the dog chasing its tail to me.

The resolution also recommended that the EU should upgrade its current target of 20% emissions reductions by 2020. But this needs approval by ministers and does not furnish Ms Hedegaard’s handbag with negotiating cookies.

3:00pm GMT: One step forward, two steps back. More knives out for the Kyoto Protocol. This time it’s Mark Lynas, former editor of and now fearless pundit on energy and climate change.

He wants the Wall to come down in Durban. He’s referring to the “Berlin Wall” of climate negotiations, the 1992 division of the emissions world between rich and poor (Annex 1 and Annex 2 in UN language).

The Kyoto Protocol imposes binding promises only on Annex 1 countries. As Mark says in Andrew Revkin’s column in the New York Times:

In a world where Europe goes cap-in-hand to China seeking trillions for a bailout, the idea that the distinctions in ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ formulated in 1992 should remain unchanged is clearly absurd. And yet that is the central issue facing the world at Durban.

He leaves unspoken the remainder of his case. Until the poorest countries are prepared to openly side with the richest against the new “major polluters” (China, Brazil etc), the Berlin Wall will stand. Now that China pays the bills in Africa, we have an impasse.

7:29pm GMT:  Any young African civil servants who fancy themselves as future participants in UN climate talks should read this interview with Petrus Muteyauli, chief negotiator for Namibia.

You will find that when you attend the negotiations, countries with vested interests on climate change come in big numbers with hundreds of delegates to the COP to continuously relieve each other. This is mainly a ploy to frustrate and tire smaller delegations like Namibia, so that when decisions are made at 04h00 in the morning, they will say the decision was made by consensus by those Parties in the room. If you are a small delegation following a number of issues this is a major challenge.

Recent years have seen the big donors trying hard to redress this particular corner of global injustice. It sounds as though there’s a long way to go. And capacity-building projects won’t do much for another little difficulty experienced by Mr. Muteyauli:

You will have to be modest, polite, humble, and friendly with those parties who might have opposing views. Also I think one has to be very analytical and be able to read the negotiating text between the lines as some words and sentences may be tactically crafted against your position.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK