COP17 conference 'won't be easy'

The upcoming United Nations Climate Change conference—COP17—will not be an easy meeting, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Saturday.

"Ordinary people that suffer daily from the impacts of climate change ... have high expectations from their leaders," she said at the 50-day countdown in Soshanguve near Pretoria.

She described the conference as a complicated "party-driven" process where 194 member states were expected to engage and reach a consensus.

"We have appealed to parties to arrive at COP17 with the willingness to compromise and yield from their current positions.

"Otherwise there could be a breakdown in negotiations with serious ramifications of achieving progress on climate change through a multilateral approach."

She said climate change had become the most pressing sustainable development issue and its effects were felt in agriculture, food security, housing and health.

Last round discussions
Global climate change negotiators on Friday concluded their last round of discussions before next month's convention in Durban with faint hope of extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond next year.

But while negotiators see no chance for a sweeping deal to control greenhouse gas emissions, they say that the talks could yet lay the groundwork for a binding climate deal that could include the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the United States.

"Governments are really committed to starting a process toward that [new pact] and that includes the US and China," Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, told Reuters on Friday.

"How they will get there, with what speed they will be able to get there, that still remains to be seen," she said.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a global pact to curb greenhouse gasses, ends next year.

Kyoto was meant to stem climate change but obliged only developed nations to reduce emissions. The United States never signed the deal and developing nations have since become major emitters.

Nations including Russia, Canada and Japan have said they will not sign on for another commitment period when the current one expires.

The European Union is the only major emitter that has expressed willingness to continue committed to Kyoto, but EU negotiators say there is no point in signing a global agreement that would only cover around 15% of emissions.

"To really fight global warming, we need 100% of emissions being covered," Tomasz Chruszczow, a European Union negotiator, told a press conference on Friday.

US unlikely to sign
The US is still unlikely to sign any agreement and major emerging nations want assurance a UNFCCC agreement on green finance is in place before committing themselves to a binding agreement, negotiators said.

Seven days of talks in Panama were marked by assertions by developing nations that industrialised countries were blocking progress on the Green Climate Fund, envisioned as $100-billion in annual finance for poor countries to address climate change.

A draft text on long-term finance was released on Friday that climate discussion experts said will guide developed nations toward identifying capital for the empty fund in Durban.

"It's really encouraging that we got this text in Panama," said Tim Gore, a climate change adviser with aid group Oxfam who credited the European Union with moving the issue forward.

Before Durban, a UNFCCC committee will hold a final discussion on the fund's framework while the G20 is expected to discuss green finance plans at its next meeting.

But there is little expectation that a binding deal on emissions will come from Durban, many negotiators and veteran climate talk observers said.

Backers of a post-Kyoto emissions pact including Australia and Norway—countries that recently presented a new proposal to rescue climate talks—seek a binding agreement by 2015.—Sapa, Reuters

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