The hope for a just and legally-binding climate deal to keep the global temperature rise to 2°Celsius is waning as the U.N. Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP 17, reaches its crucial round in the second and final week of consultations here.

When even the sceptics among the experts and climate change activists staying put here with some patience and even more hope are challenging the effectiveness of the 2°C ceiling — which, they say, will not be sufficient to protect small island nations from disappearing from the face of the earth — the developed nations are playing hard to get on the Kyoto Protocol front.

Worse still, the attitude of the developed nations on their commitments to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) — agreed upon at last year's Cancun conference — is fluctuating like the unpredictable weather in this port city. While the stand on the Kyoto Protocol, which lapses in 2012, is none too encouraging, the 37 nations required to reduce their greenhouse emissions by 40 per cent by 2012 are fighting hard to shift the responsibilities to the developing countries and small nations, who are the main victims of climate change and the resultant devastations.

Unabashed

It is to be pointed out that many of the developed countries — Russia, Canada and Japan, to mention a few — have been unabashed about their non-committal attitude towards both the Kyoto Protocol and the GCF. The GCF aims to collect $30 billion by 2012 and $100 billion by 2020 to help smaller countries gain capacity and maintain growth at the same time. Led by the United States, the refrain from the developed nations in the conference halls and the negotiating tables has been that of a pledge-and-review system — verbal assurances to keep emissions under check without any legal bindings.

The developed nations also want the emerging economies — BASIC countries Brazil, South Africa, India and China — to undertake binding commitments.

On December 5, Minister of Environment and Forest Jayanti Natarajan, the leader of the Indian delegation, asserted that India's stand was that of “equity in atmospheric space”.

The European Union countries, now in economic troubles, are equally evasive about commitments on both KP and GCF, arguing that developing countries like India and China should be brought on board first. The most spelt-out stand so far from these countries has been that of seeking another legal framework on the Kyoto Protocol which brings in major developing nations and Annex 1 countries. They also suggest that this could be finalised by 2015.

As for Africa and especially for South Africa, one is often reminded of Alan Patten's book Cry, the Beloved Country. The stakes are high for Africa; and for South Africa, prestige is at stake in the success of the Durban conference, which is also referred to as the African COP. Though every South African whom this correspondent met while in Durban could not hide their anxiety over “something concrete” emerging out of COP 17, the leadership of the host country is showing signs of weakness in negotiating a fair deal for the world. In fact, President Jacob Zuma publically supported the World Bank move on “climate smart” agriculture which, activists and soil scientists point out, would bring soil carbon sequestration in carbon market — a situation which might worsen the condition of farmers and play havoc with world food security.

(The Correspondent's participation in UNFCCC was facilitated by advocacy group, PAIRVI.)