Dreaming of the Durban Protocol

Organisers have denied that negotiators headed for the international climate change conference in Durban are going in with low expectations. “If anybody talks about low expectations for Durban that’s because they don’t understand the complexity of what stands before governments,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Over the next two weeks, Durban will play host to negotiators from 195 countries who will iron out the details of an agreement to curb global climate change. The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) begins on Monday.
Many onlookers have deemed the last two COPs to be failures, as negotiators failed to agree on a binding agreement for all nations.

Speaking at a media briefing on the eve of COP17, Figueres said the negotiations are “nothing short of the most compelling energy, industrial, behavioural, revolution that humanity has ever seen”.

“This is not about just an environmental agreement, this is not a trade agreement. What is being laid here are the foundations for a revolution in every sense of the world,” she said.

Figueres said that the negotiations were very complex and the decisions made at COP17 would revolutionise every aspect of life, from communications and transport to production and consumerism.

“There is barely a sector that has a human component that is not being touched by these discussions. So if anybody says there are low expectations, they do not understand the complexity,” she said.

No guarantee of agreement
However, she admitted that there was no guarantee that an agreement would be reached this year. “COPs are always very challenging and so they should be. If it were easy, we would have done it years ago,” she said.

Figueres said there was a serious backdrop to the negotiations this year as scientific bodies have been reporting record levels of greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in extreme weather events. “Scientific reports show we must increase our action,” she said.

One of the issues that will take centre stage at this year’s COP is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, which represents the only legally binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions that developed country governments have ratified. The commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in 2012 and nations must now decide whether to add a second commitment period. A number of developed countries have rejected the idea of a second period but climate change activists say this would be stymy attempts to curb further global warming.

Figueres said this debate is the most difficult issue that faces governments at this point in the negotiations. Despite the naysayers, Figueres said she believes there will be a “very serious effort” to move into a second commitment period.

Negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol are expected to kick into high gear in the second week of the conference, when ministers from various countries arrive to take part in high level, political discussions.

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker