Kyoto at heart of brewing climate change storm

The Kyoto Protocol once again took centre stage at this week’s round of climate negotiations in Panama, indicating that a fight is brewing ahead of Durban’s COP17 climate change talks.

The Panama talks are the last round of official United Nations climate change negotiations ahead of COP17 at the end of November in Durban. But South Africa will still host a pre-COP pow-wow in two weeks time to encourage the parties to connect informally.

In Panama, old battle lines were redrawn when Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States insisted they would not sign up to a second commitment period for Kyoto when it expires at the end of next year.

But many developing countries that have rallied behind the Group of 77 and China insisted that Kyoto should not die.

Speaking from Panama, Green­peace Africa analyst Ferrial Adam said countries were cognisant of what had happened in Copenhagen and were steering clear of an open fight over Kyoto.

“But in Durban, the gloves are expected to come off,” she said. “Countries are digging in their heels, protecting their national positions. The old blockages are still there.”

She said Panama would at least deliver a text to work from in Durban, an advance on last year’s talks in Cancun, Mexico.

The text from Panama would put options on the table regarding the future of Kyoto, but the ultimate decision would have to be made in Durban, said Adam.

The chairman of the least developed countries group, Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia, stressed that poor countries needed the financial mechanisms embedded in Kyoto to help them cope with climate change.

“The less developed countries consider a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to be of great importance,” he said.

A European Union delegate told the Mail & Guardian there was now a desperate desire to find a solution to the Kyoto dilemma. Apparently, the EU is discussing proposals that would extend Kyoto without dealing directly with the protocol in name, providing the financial mechanisms developing countries want.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane flew in for the talks but left on Tuesday, three days before they ended. She remained optimistic. “I’m encouraged by the attitude of the parties here in Panama,” she said. “They indicated that they have already started working on a draft text that would guide negotiations in Durban.”

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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