COP17 dithers as earth withers

2011-12-11 10:00
Yolandi Groenewald
Time was running out yesterday afternoon as nations at the climate talks in Durban pushed for an agreement to stop climate change.

COP17 president and International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was taking flak for the negotiations going into extra time.

At the time of going to press, observer organisations questioned whether a Durban deal would have any teeth considering the proposals on the table.

But a ray of light was that the Green Climate Fund to fund developing nations’ adaptation to climate change was set to be adopted, even though it would just be an “empty shell” at this stage.

South Africa would have egg on its face if delegates left Durban without any sort of solid agreement and Nkoana-Mashabane’s team was working against the clock to get an agreement at the time of going to press.

The sudden rush for a deal came amid European Union allegations that Nkoana-Mashabane wasted time at the indabas she convened.

“We are now in an extremely critical situation because of time,” German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said yesterday morning while the COP17 infrastructure was being demolished around him. He said the delays in the talks made it difficult to succeed.

French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told journalists that the extremely slow pace of negotiations under the South African chairmanship had made the odds of a deal slimmer.

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard described the last hours as “extremely challenging”.

“We have come quite a way at this COP. Countries have made moves that they haven’t made for years. It would be disastrous to lose that now.”

Parties were under pressure to catch flights and vacate their hotel rooms, and while the big nations could afford to postpone their flights and organise a last-minute stay, poorer nations were stretched to do the same – jeopardising the numbers for a quorum to make a deal.

The idea for an extension of COP17 to New York for an extraordinary United Nations session was bouncing around the International Conference Centre late yesterday afternoon.

While progress had been made with a new negotiating text in the early hours of Friday night, some of the delegates got the new text late due to a photocopy problem and had less time to study it before talks resumed yesterday morning.

The new text was described as progressive, but still weak.

The main point the negotiations were focusing on was the legal form a future “treaty” would have – words like protocol, framework and mandate were being debated.

This was especially a big issue for the US, which wanted to know what it would be signing on to in the future.

Head of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s Climate and Energy Initiative, Sam Smith, said the text available yesterday had not gone far enough to keep global temperature rise under the necessary 2°C.

“With the current text on the table, we will be locked to a 4°C rise. This is not good enough,” she said.
But she added that in the bigger scheme of things, Durban did make progress because developing nations such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa were willing to talk about taking on legally binding caps for the first time in the 17 years the climate talks had been going.

Smith said South Africa’s COP presidency could not be blamed for the slow pace of the negotiations.

“There were 17 years of issues that ended up on the South Africans’ table here in Durban. It would have been grossly unfair to expect them to solve all the issues,” she said.

Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo said: “While the diplomats, lawyers, pundits, NGOs rake over the tepid embers of the full document in search of good news, any good news, the carbon cartels will once more be drinking champagne and dancing in the streets of Durban tonight – job done, business as usual.”