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Vulnerable Nations Worry as Climate Change Conference to Save the Kyoto Protocol Opens in Durban

By Periscope @periscopepost

Vulnerable nations worry as climate change conference to save the Kyoto Protocol opens in Durban

Polar bear - victims of global warming.

It’s a far cry from the big names and media circus that attended the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen just two years ago – but the COP17 climate change talks that opened in Durban, South Africa Monday may just be more urgent, observers claim.

Delegates from 194 nations will meet in Durban over the next two weeks in the hopes of hashing out an agreement to, at the very least, extend the Kyoto Protocol, the only global agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The first round of pledges to the Kyoto Protocol are set to expire at the end of 2012 and UN climate officials warn that something must be done to shore up the public’s confidence that climate change is being addressed. However, two of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases, the US, which left the treaty in 2001, and China, which is considered a developing nation under the agreement and therefore has no specific emissions targets, are not bound by the treaty – meaning that other nations are wondering why they should be.

This climate change conference may not be as splashy as the COP15 in Copenhagen two years ago, but it does have its own Occupy.

This round of talks, the 17th such meeting of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), also takes place against a dire backdrop: Severe weather conditions including drought and flooding are wreaking havoc on the world’s food supplies, while economic turmoil fosters a grim atmosphere of uncertainty and worry.

So: Can Durban pull it together, or should we all buy oceanfront property in Arizona?

Rich vs. Poor. Divisions at the climate change talk are pitting richer nations against poorer nations, the AFP reported – as well as rich nations against other rich nations and poor nations against other poor nations. “Wealthy countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol are balking at demands to renew their emissions-cutting vows beyond 2012,” the news agency explained, as long as the US and China are not bound by the agreement. But vulnerable nations such as Nepal and Afghanistan are desperate to see Kyoto renewed, so much so that 19 of them came together in mid-November to sign a declaration demanding a legally-binding treaty to follow Kyoto that will uphold the objectives of the UNFCC. At the same time, other poorer nations are urging the conference to push forward with the “Green Climate Fund”, a $100 billion fund that’s supposed to be available by 2020 to countries affected by climate change’s ill-effects and that the US and Saudi Arabia have lately refused to sign.

Food prices to rise, warns OxFam. It’s not only oceans that are expected to rise as the Earth continues to warm, but food prices as well, warned charity OxFam ahead of the Durban talks. In the last year, extreme weather conditions – a heat wave in Russia and Ukraine, heavy monsoons in Southeast Asia, drought in Africa – sent wheat, rice and sorghum prices skyrocketing. “Oxfam warns that increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events will compound the projected impacts of climate change on crop yields and food prices, creating food shortages, destabilising markets and precipitating price spikes,” according to a press release from the charity. Durban must agree to a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and move to close the emissions gap.

Are we all in this together? Durban is crunch time, Geoffrey Lean, writing at The Daily Telegraph, declared, as the evidence mounts proving that the Earth is warming and as greenhouse gas emissions are not only increasing, but accelerating as well. A legally-binding treaty on emissions could raise “a good chance that governments and businesses will start making appropriate changes ahead of its coming into force, seeking first-mover advantage,” he wrote, while addressing other causes of global warming, such as pollution. The best chance for success is to “encourage voluntary action, while setting a timetable for a new universal treaty and keeping the Kyoto Protocol for the EU countries – who are ready to abide by it – and as many others as possible”.

No Kyoto paves way for ‘wild west’. A legally-binding treaty that reinforces the Kyoto Protocol is the only thing that can save the Durban talks from being yet another exercise in futility, Alf Wills, South Africa’s lead climate change negotiator, said ahead of the conference, according to South Africa’s The Mercury. “A horrible outcome for Durban is a transitional period with no further commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. This opens the way for a wild west approach in which countries say what they can do regardless of what science says about climate change.”

Which comes first: Bottom-up changes vs. top-down? David King, director of the Smith school of enterprise and the environment at Oxford and former chief scientific adviser to the government, writing at The Guardian, claimed that a bottom-up, a “kind of muscular bilateralism” putting pressure on other nations to set their own voluntary emissions goals, is the best way to “achieve the internationally cohesive agreements the Kyoto process has sought – and failed – to deliver”. But Achim Steiner, under-secretary general of the United Nations and executive director of the UN environment programme, argued that for a “bottom-up” approach to work, “there needs to be a top to which all these efforts can aim”, an international binding agreement that “recognize[s] collective responsibilities while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from the impacts of others.”

Dame Vivien Westwood, the flame-to-carrot-haired fashion designer, has pledged £1 million to tackle climate change.

Don’t forget about the farmers. Climate change may seem remote and conceptual to those in Western nations, but for farmers living in places like Ghana, it’s a reality. “Agriculture is both a victim and culprit of climate change, and I believe there is a critical need to bring it into the heart of climate change negotiations,” attested Professor Sir Gordon Conway, writing at The Huffington Post. “We have to do more to build adaptation and resilience for rural communities and significantly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases if we are truly serious about tackling climate change globally.”

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