23 November 2011
Durban must not be remembered as the place where the Kyoto Protocol was buried, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize said at a COP 17 preparatory meeting in the coastal city where the crucial UN climate summit starts next week.
The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, taking place in Durban from 28 November to 9 December, is also the 7th meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire at the end of 2012, unless renewed.
The agreement’s future is in question, with some countries, notably Japan, Canada and Russia, having said they won’t sign up for a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, while the European Union wants major developing economies to follow legal commitments if they are to sign up for a second round.
Call for ‘global giant leap’
“Our position as government and all leaders – religious leaders, traditional leaders and leaders of civil society, academics and ordinary people of this province – is that we do not wish for Durban to be the place of death and burial of the Kyoto Protocol,” Mkhize said on Tuesday.
“We wish Durban to be a world landmark for decisive action and a global giant leap from Cancun into a positive future for mankind.”
Alf Wills, South Africa’s lead negotiator, said the international climate system needed to be built piece by piece, as had been the case at the 2009 Copenhagen and 2010 Cancun talks.
He said that at Cancun, there had been many agreements in several aspects of climate change. The Durban talks, Wills predicted, would be very contentious and political – due in part to the looming Kyoto Protocol deadline.
The Kyoto Protocol headache
The Kyoto Protocol currently places legal obligations on nations – with the exception of the US, China, India and Brazil, which are not signatories to the treaty – to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The countries that did sign it together account for an estimated 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This has strengthened the criticism by environmentalists that the system was somehow flawed, and fueled their call that it must be revisited.
Some developed countries, led by Japan and Russia, have understandably adopted a hard-line approach towards the Kyoto Protocol and are now arguing that the system is both unfair and environmentally ineffective.
Small island developing states, least developed countries and Africa, including South Africa, also assert that the current system is ineffective.
To add to the dilemma, several of the nations that actually signed on the agreement have admitted they probably will not be able to make good on their promises.
But many seem to be in agreement that the contract should be renewed beyond 2012, albeit with stricter terms and conditions and hopefully getting the biggest climate sinners to sign too.
While the Kyoto Protocol alone will not cause enough change to stop global warming caused by increased amounts of greenhouses gases, analysts describe it as a good first step in curbing such emissions.