Four days into the climate change meet, things yet to pick up momentum

There is now every sign that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban is turning out to be a victim of low expectations. Four days into the otherwise high-profile conference, in which invited delegates alone number 15,000, the event is yet to pick up momentum and show some clear direction. The Euro zone economic crisis and the political uncertainties around other parts of the world are casting their shadow over the meet, held in the seaside city in the Western Cape of South Africa.

The situation was the other way round two years back in Copenhagen when overwhelming enthusiasm and high expectations had killed the cat. If then, each delegate had to wait for hours in the queue to get registered, this time around, regular participants testify, it took less than five minutes in the queue. The previous year's meet at Cancun too was a “low expectation” round though it had more turnout than the present one.

This time, but for the disparate group of protesters trying to enact a Wall Street occupation in front of the conference venue on the Walnut Street here behind the towering Hilton Hotel and some voices against “dirty energy,” despair has seemingly taken over the spirits of the dissenters as well.

Zuma optimistic

Inaugurating the conference formally on November 28, South African President Jacob Zuma had expressed the hope that the governments the world over would see the urgency of the situation arising out of the increasing temperature levels and the worst ever so far year (2010) of carbon emission. “Durban must take many steps forward towards a solution that saves tomorrow today,” he said.

Not many among the officials of the representing countries are talking much about the Kyoto Protocol, ratified in 1997 but the hope is over the Green Climate Fund (GCF), agreed upon during the Cancun summit. The fate of Kyoto Protocol, which is to expire in 2012, if not ratified this time, is uncertain as the general mood seemingly is to allow it to die a natural death.

The developed countries term it “too demanding” in financial terms. The United States has taken a stand that the present financial situation is such that it cannot make any such commitments at the global level. Yet at the inauguration, U.N.'s top climate change official Christiana Figueres, who is also the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, mentioned the “central task of the Durban meet” as finding an answer to the very important question of the “future of the Kyoto Protocol.”

“At the same time the governments need to agree on how they want to pursue a broader framework to reduce greenhouse gases under the Climate Change Convention,” she noted.

The developing nations, including India, find less in the Kyoto Protocol as it now involved less than one fourth of the global GHG emissions than at the outset with 65 per cent — as the U.S., and the developing nations, including India and China, remain excluded from its provisions. And nobody is seemingly concerned as the issue remains punted around as the other's business. This is happening when the rise in global temperatures can range from 3.5 degree Celsius to 4.5 degree Celsius by the end of the century. At Cancun, 193 members of the UNFCCC had committed to limit the rise in temperature below 2 degrees Celsius limit.

“The expectations and optimism within the civil society are giving way to despair. Nothing concrete has emerged in the past three years at the global level. In the case of India, even when the efforts it made suo motu to control emissions in the past are laudable, it should be pointed out that the government did not take the political parties into confidence on the issue. There has also been no discussion — barring one on December 3, 2009 in Parliament prior to the Copenhagen meet, both the Houses of Parliament chose almost to overlook the issue,” points out Sharad Joshi, Secretary, Center for Community Economics and Development Consultants (CECOEDECON), who is leading a group of civil society people, including members of Parliament and two retired High Court judges, to the conference.

Amid the overtones of despair in this land of undying spirit which fought Apartheid and political hegemony the glimmer of hope in Durban lies in the possible consensus among the nations on the GCF, to be set up in 2012. Other good news could be a stronger commitment from both the developed and the developing nations to cut down on their carbon emission substantially. Both India and China have already shown the way in this regard taking concrete steps to reduce rate of emissions.

This Correspondent's visit to UNFCCC, Durban was sponsored by Delhi-based advocacy group, PAIRVI (Public Advocacy Initiative for Rights and Values in India).