Durban: Rainbow effort to solve climate jigsaw

Ajith Vijay Kumar

Isandla sigez` esinye

One hand washes the other (Help is reciprocal) – Zulu proverb

The climate jamboree is set to pitch tent again, this time in ‘rainbow nation’ South Africa. Plane loads of scientists, activists and policy makers are heading to the land of the Zullu amid muted expectations from the climate stakeholders about forward movement on ways to cool down a boiling planet.

And it would be great if they heed to the ‘help is reciprocal’ wisdom of the hosts. Let’s get this clear - nothing, literally and figuratively nothing, can be achieved until the world community abandons the propensity to blame ‘others’ in the room for the mess and that a carbon free world is at best a utopia.

Expectations of making Durban a success are low, it’s no wonder it’s that way, given the persistent failure in uniting the world to work towards a common goal - getting 194 nations commit to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

However, it is actually good that the expectations are low this time as the world will have to find an answer to the question: What next after Kyoto Protocol lapses next year?

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol obligated industrial nations - United States never ratified it - to lower emissions so as to keep the increase in earth’s surface temperature to less than a 2-degree-Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

Kyoto is important but the fact remains - its relevance has been more of a positioning tool than a binding agreement which was effective in bringing global temperatures down, especially because the developed world is pushing for the finalisation of a new treaty by 2016, which would come into effect from 2020.

That’s why a new line of thought appears to be emerging which suggests a self-regulated mechanism in place of a legally binding global agreement.

On a more realistic level, the world community should work towards setting clear timelines for the wealthy countries to dole out the $100 billion a year they pledged at Cancun to help poor ones to adjust to climate change and buy green technology. Considering the economic situation in Europe and the US, it would be interesting to see whether they put their money where the mouth is.

If it’s about money on the table for the rich, the going would not be smooth sailing even for Brazil-South Africa-India-China (BASIC). They will have to make their stand clear on the verification standards for emissions cuts, besides elaborating on the promise to voluntarily cut carbon emission intensity if they want to continue with the ‘developing country’ tag.

The dragon despite being a part of the BASIC will expectedly also pursue its own agenda as it feels cornered by the growing clamour for ‘action’ owing to its status as world’s largest emitter of carbon by volume.

Some developed nations, including the US, want China to make its carbon intensity reduction target legally binding before they sign up for the deal themselves.

China is on a collision course with industrialised nations over their plan to delay any new international climate change treaty until 2020. China wants the Kyoto Protocol extended and the imposition of new emission reduction targets on the rich countries.

In this context the role South Africa would play is critical. It will have to, as the host, strive for a globally accepted deal even if would mean that it would have to risk angering China, its biggest trading partner.

The other important points of deliberation would be the so-called ‘Robin Hood’ tax on large financial transactions, and a carbon tax on shipping and aviation.

Clearly, no one is going expecting any tangible forward movement in Durban talks but at least a small step forward, if achieved, can make a difference.

You differ? Talk to Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed who is scouting for land elsewhere to set up his nation ‘if’ the island country goes below the azure waters of the Indian Ocean.

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