Durban’s Race to Save the Kyoto Protocol

By Chris Bathembu

DURBAN, South Africa, December 8, 2011 (ENS) – With less than 24 hours left before the end of another climate change conference, negotiators in Durban are working around the clock to salvage the talks, with the African Group vowing on Thursday to ensure some kind of deal is achieved.

Progress has been made on several issues, including the structure of the Green Climate Fund, with an agreement imminent on the multi-billion dollar long-term financing instrument.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, left, with Teresa Ribera Rodriguez, Secretary of State for Climate Change, Spain (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

But the main issue that negotiators are struggling to find one other on is whether industrial countries will extend their commitments to further reduce carbon emissions after their current commitments expire under the Kyoto Protocol at the end of next year.

Developed countries such as Japan, Canada and Russia have signaled that they will not be part of any new commitment after December 31, 2012.

Indications are that most of the 37 developed countries bound by the protocol to cut their emissions by an average of five percent in the period 2008-2012 also will not be signing, although the European Union has said it supports a new commitment period, albeit with conditions.

Delegates consult on national adaptation plans, December 8, 2011 (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

The EU also wants assurances that the world’s biggest emitters, including China, the United States and emerging economies India and Brazil, will also sign up for the protocol.

Developing nations know that the Kyoto Protocol remains key to the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, UNFCCC. It is the world’s only legally binding agreement aimed at cutting the greenhouse gas emissions scientists say are responsible for the world’s rising sea levels, drought and crop failures.

It remains the hope of developing nations that they can also be able to grow their economies without having to bear the brunt of historic emissions largely attributed to developed countries.

African Group climate negotiator Tosi Mpanu Mpanu in Durban (Photo courtesy ENB)

“We have been saying to the developed countries that as Africa and other developing countries, we are willing to do our share – provided that we move with some finance guarantees to meet our mitigation needs, said African Group lead negotiator Tosi Mpanu Mpanu of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We also need assurances that these countries will continue to cut their emissions which is what we get from the Kyoto Protocol,” Mpanu said.

He said developing nations will not approve any “politically agreed” arrangement with no legal form.

“We have many legal minds in Africa and our task here is to make sure we keep the one billion Africans safe so when we go to a second commitment, it must be legally binding not politically driven,” said Mpanu.

The opening of the high level segment of the conference on Wednesday brought desperate pleas from leaders urging negotiators to come up with a workable solution to the issue of climate change, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warning the planet is in danger.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of our planet is at stake. Science is clear. We are at a point of no return,” Ban told the 15,000 delegates on Wednesday.

South African President Jacob Zuma made an example of recent severe and prolonged droughts in Africa which he blamed for wars and famine on the continent.

South African President Jacob Zuma at the climate-smart agriculture event (Photo courtesy ENB)
South African President Jacob Zuma at the climate-smart agriculture event (Photo courtesy ENB)

Climate-smart agriculture offers a “triple win” for food security, adaptation, and mitigation, President Zuma and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Durban on Wednesday.

Zuma and Annan addressed a side event at the conference for early action on climate-smart agriculture, an initiative driven by the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Climate-smart agriculture is being proposed for all of Africa to deal with climate change impacts that have been taking a toll on food production and security.

“Climate-smart agriculture seeks to enhance agricultural productivity by improving on resilience. Farmers should be at the center of this transformation of the agriculture sector,” said Zuma.

Annan, who now chairs the African nonprofit organization Alliance for a Green Revolution, said Africa must grow its own food to meet its needs and also be able to export any surplus. He said this would require a collaborative effort from farmers, businesses, government and scientists.

“We need the creativity, leadership, resources, expertise and solidarity of every organization and individual if we are to find solutions to this common challenge,” said Annan. “We all have a part to play as well in ensuring our leaders do not shy away from the hard decisions necessary to ensure the world we pass on to future generations is a stable, secure and healthy one.”

“These efforts must have at their heart Africa’s army of small-holder farmers, many of whom are women, who grow the majority of the continent’s food,” Annan said. “Without their active engagement, we will fail to promote the uniquely African Green Revolution we need.”

African leaders in Durban (Photo courtesy ENB)

The World Bank offered support for the climate-smart agriculture initiative and its managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati said, “As climate change increases its impact on agriculture, we strongly support African leaders in their efforts to boost action that will help feed Africa and the world.

“This is about working together,” said Indrawati. “We need strong, continuous and collective action to boost agricultural production and productivity and to improve distribution networks, so people have food security.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi observed that 70 percent of Africans are farmers, and said that even achieving the global target of limiting emissions below 2 degrees Celsius will not reduce the negative impacts of climate change on African agriculture. He underscored that climate-resilient agriculture must start protecting water resources and soil degradation.

Annan said that the current financial turmoil and social pressures must not be used as an excuse to delay progress on climate change negotiations.

The former UN chief urged stakeholders to continue working after the Durban conference to meet the agreed target to limit global warming; promote technology transfer for mitigation and adaptation; and deliver the developed countries’ financial commitments for the Green Climate Fund.

{Kemantha Govender contributed to this report. Both Bathembu and Govender work with BuaNews, the South African government news agency.}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.