Echoes from Durban: the 5 key people who will make or break COP17

Echoes from Durban: the 5 key people who will make or break COP17

By Elodie Jacquet

November 28, 2011

Negotiations in Durban are under way. Many advocates of more stringent action against climate change are holding their breath, but with little illusions. According to Le Monde, the following 5 people will be key to these negotiations:

Connie Hedegaard – Europe

The European Commissioner for Climate Action did not leave a lasting impression in Copenhagen in 2009. For the past two years she has deployed a lot of effort to convince other countries to move towards a comprehensive agreement in the hope to improve her image. The European Union is ready to engage in a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, and appears as the only driving force of this negotiation. But it also raised its conditions: its commitment must be part of a common road map to all the major emitting countries. The principle of a global treaty must be binding and a date must be agreed upon. The divisions between Europeans, however, may slow Hedegaard. She will have to deal in particular with the reluctance of Poland, which holds the presidency of the Union, and Italy.

Todd Stern – United States of America

Barack Obama’s Special Envoy for Climate Change is a veteran of climate negotiations. His appointment in January 2009, was presented by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as a sign that “the United States take very seriously the fight against climate change.” Since then, the Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives and the warming skeptics have gained ground. Voluntary commitments made in Copenhagen – 17% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 compared to 2005 – remain on the table, said Todd Stern. But the confrontation with China, who the United States want to see subject to the same rules as industrialized countries, remains a major sticking point in negotiations. The two biggest polluters of the planet have, at present, failed to reach a compromise.

Xie Zhenhua -China

The Chinese spokesman was forced into a delicate partition: justifying that China continues to considered like a developing country -  from which no binding commitment can be claimed – while demonstrating that, as the largest emitter of CO2 of the planet, it is also ready to take some responsibility. The Chinese who knows that this position is not tenable forever, are  trying to save time. It is important for them however, that developed countries undertake new commitments, as they have invested heavily in green technology. In recent months, Chinese manufacturers have borne the brunt of the decline in subsidies by European governments in these markets. China also raises the quiet but growing annoyance of poor countries vulnerable to climate change.

Tosi Mpanu Mpanu – African delegation

Gone are the days when the African delegations arrived at climate conferences in a disorganized and unprepared manner. The African group speaks with one voice and we know since Copenhagen that it can hold its ground firmly. At its head for two years, the Congolese Tosi Mpanu Mpanu defends a clear line:  the extension of the Kyoto Protocol as the “pillar of the legal fight against global warming” and increased funding for adaptation. Africa, the continent most vulnerable to impacts of climate change has so far received a fraction of international financial flows. The African group is counting on the South African presidency of the conference to be heard, but has also approached other vulnerable island states to weigh more.

Jayanti Natarajan – India

 The Indian minister of the environment has clearly expressed herself against any form of legally binding and comprehensive treaty. She considers that before this debate, industrialized countries must honor their promises, particularly in terms of financing and technology transfer. She also wants trade issues to be included in the negotiations.  How can Jayanti Natarajan alter her position? This is one of the unknowns of the negotiation. By bringing up the interests of poor countries, India also wants to reiterate that it is not in the same situation as China. The level of per capita emissions in India is below 2 tons of CO2 per year. It is 6.8 tons in China. More than ever, India claims its status as a developing country.

While the delegates are enjoying their chats, the population of Durban is dealing with a treacherous flood:

According to the South Africa Weather Bureau, 2.5 inches of rain fell last night in Durban, which had already recorded 8.2 inches for November, almost double its average.

This record-setting killer flooding is part of a long-term trend of climate change. Over a decade ago, climate scientists had already measured a significant increase in extreme rainfall on South Africa’s eastern coast, finding “increases of over 50% in the intensity of 10-year high rainfall events” from 1930 to 1990. A 2006 analysis found that global warming pollution will continue to increase overall precipitation and extreme rainfall events during the South African summer (December through February).

It has been reported that some of the beach-related activities at COP17 (!) have been delayed due to this extreme weather. It is expected to rain heavily for the rest of the week. Let us keep our fingers crossed that the 5 delegates above will take this as a sign that the time has come to put aside petty arguments and to get down to work.







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