Durban: Climate summit looks back and forward

Mauritius beach Island nations want guarantees of safety rather than risk percentages

Durban: To someone based in Europe, the demands, at first sight, seem both unconscionable and completely unrealistic.

Developed nations should cut their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% (from 1990 levels) by 2017, and by 100% - or, in one version, "more than 100%" - before 2040.

Developed nations whose emissions have not yet peaked must make them peak and begin to decline immediately.

Developed nations should provide sums of money each year to developing countries for climate adaptation and mitigation that "shall be equivalent to the budget that developed countries spend on defence, security and warfare".

All these are taken from the 143-page screed formally known as the "Amalagamation of draft texts in preparation of a comprehensive and balanced outcome to be presented to the Conference of the Parties for adoption at its 17th session".

Ministers and their negotiators are supposed to whittle it all down into something they can sign off at the end of the week.

And so you wonder - if developing countries are serious about getting an agreement here, why would they submit demands that have as much chance of success as a chocolate teapot?

One answer is that they're not real demands, they're negotiating ploys, designed to drag more reasonable concessions out of the developed world.

There's some truth in that. But there's another thing; from the perspective of some developing countries, these are, in fact, eminently reasonable.

If you're a small island nation, for example, you're interested in safeguarding your shores from rising sea levels.

You want a guarantee of safety - not something along the lines of "if we peak at date X and reduce emissions at rate Y that gives you Z% chance of not being flooded out of existence".

So from their point of view, asking rich nations to peak their emissions within a few years and halve them within five isn't unreasonable - especially, as another portion of the text says, that the problem of greenhouse warming has been on the radar for so long that rich countries could have peaked their emissions during the 1990s if they had wanted to.

In fact, if you choose, you can sum up the issues involved in this negotiation in terms of differing views on the relative importance of the past and the future.

For many of the developing countries, it is largely about the past - the West's responsibility for historical carbon emissions, the large share of the "atmospheric space" for carbon that Western nations have appropriated, and - usually unspoken, but real nevertheless - harms visited during the colonial era.

Their point is that at least some of these issues need to be put straight before moving on.

For other players, it's about starting where we are now - putting the past to one side and simply taking the best course from hereon in.

It might seem like the sensible course. The rate of greenhouse gas emissions is rising and we're rapidly approaching the date by which science suggests they need to peak if there's to be a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature rise under 2C.

But apart from the question of reparations to which some developing countries feel they are entitled, two other issues mean the past is always a factor.

One is, frankly, that governments of some richer developing countries appear to be in this process for what they can get.

If Western countries have to reduce emissions and fork out extensive sums of money and they do not, they stand to gain a competitive advantage - and dragging up the past as often as possible helps this agenda.

The other issue concerns trust.

What some developing country governments see happening here is that rich nations that have not fulfilled their past commitments are now demanding a new agreement.

Canada, for example, signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, in the process pledging to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead, emissions soared - and rather than meeting its commitment, the government simply said it would not make the emission cuts. There's no sanction.

As Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, chair of the Africa Group, put it: "When you're a country and you commit to a legally binding instrument, you have to respect it.

"If a country cannot keep its word, that country shouldn't be trusted; so for me it's very, very grave that those countries are going against what they committed to."

So in these negotiations, the past is always with us; the one aspect that cannot be changed or washed away.

Its lessons might point the way to a more constructive future for this process, and so for the global community. Then again, they might not.

Richard Black, Environment correspondent Article written by Richard Black Richard Black Former environment correspondent

Farewell and thanks for reading

This is my last entry for this page - I'm leaving the BBC to work, initially, on ocean conservation issues.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    "You want a guarantee of safety"

    So, this project obviously has nothing to do with science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    """"Developed nations should provide sums of money each year to developing countries for climate adaptation and mitigation that "shall be equivalent to the budget that developed countries spend on defence, security and warfare".""""

    I can see why the developing countries love this global warming malarky so much!

    money money money

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    You could ask what is the point of having another treaty/agreement anyway?
    Canada signed and ratified Kyoto, and then completely ignored it.
    At least the USA was honest by not signing it in the first place!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This is clearly very serious for small island nations. Richard can you remind us how many have had to be abandoned in the last few decades of rampant AGW?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I want to know the answer to that too battleaxe!

    I have just looked uop a BBC report from 2000 in which it talked about the first climate refugees, Tuvalu it seemed was about to dissappear below the waves and all its populace about to be displaced!!

    Did it happoen>

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    We also need to ask questions about how long a country will be "developing". In India, for instance, there has been growth, some have become rich, but they still have the caste system, child labour and much poverty. There is little incentive to eliminate inequality and poverty, if being "developing" gives you carte blanche to keep increasing consumption and emissions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    "Developed nations should provide sums of money each year to developing countries for climate adaptation and mitigation that "shall be equivalent to the budget that developed countries spend on defence, security and warfare"."

    ... because we all know that moving large amounts of money around cancels out greenhouse gas emissions

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    openside and Eric

    The Maldives and Tuvalu have experienced flooding and are experiencing dangerous coastal erosion in places.

    I imagine the citizens of Pompeii laughed at those who feared Vesuvius.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    ROFLMAO, Kyoto is dead, global warming drivel is dead for all butt those worshiping at the fat a$$ of Al Gore. So stay there as he wants to sit on you and use you and you deserve it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    This is the toughest moral issue of our time. When developed nations alter climate due to greenhouse gas emissions we kill people - lots of people. We are currently killing around 300,000 people per annum (Sources: WHO & UNEP). And we kill people slowly - stavation is an agonisingly slow death. Put in the right context it is right to demand immediate action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    LOL voted down! OK then.

    There has never been flooding or coastal erosion in the Maldives or Tuvalu and people are not complacent before disasters.

    Let's not do anything about climate change - it's just a lefty myth anyway. Chortle chortle. Brandy anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    "The Maldives and Tuvalu have experienced flooding and are experiencing dangerous coastal erosion in places. "

    They are also experiencing population growth which if what you say is true seems rather puzzling

    PS how much of their income is from aid given as a result of the 'threat' of global warming?

    Im not blaming them, Id do the same in their position

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    If we chose to space the reductions in our greenhouse emissions identified by the 1990 IPCC report over 100 years we would have to cut them by 2.5% per year. Starting in 1990, by 2017 our emissions would be down by 50%, so this demand made by the Developing countries doesn't seem so unreasonable after all ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @9 ohcalcutagirl

    Thanks for sharing...

    Is the 'floor you are rolling around laughing on' in any of these places that face these problems? Are you in Venice? It now floods 60 times a year; or did I make that up?

    Kyoto may be dead - the point is it shouldn't be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    To make sense of any of these endless, expensive "Climate Summits",
    it is essential that an effective world body be formed to actively monitor and enforce limits of gas emissions all over the world. The UN based WHO seems to be effective in the field of health; surely a World Emission Monitoring Organisation, WEMO, could be financed by subscriptions based on population size and remain unbiased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.


    Venice is sinking not flooding, it was sinking long before the effects of so called AGW were even thought about at the rate of 7cm a century for the last 1000 years in fact

    Its dishonest attempts like that to link 'normal' activity with AGW that gives the science a bad name

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Hi openside.

    The Maldives is doing rather well as it is an up market holiday destination. I saw a programme that said the govt was saving up to move the people when the floods finally take it. Tuvalu seems to be reasonably OK but it's too remote to benefit from tourism. Population growth - I hear the Maldives is increasing, a friend of mine lived there, main island really crowded and not nice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    With the USA out of Kyoto and Canada's declaration of withdrawal, just how do developing countries think that they'll hold the developed nations to account? As for credibility, I don't give much to the pronouncements of a cossetted elite seeking more cash when made from five-star luxury venues, to which, no doubt, they all travelled first class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    These meetings contribute to Global Warming (now rebranded Climate Change), by their Hot Air..

    Ban them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    We've known about the problem of climate change for years, but the "developed world" & emerging countries like China choose to ignore it because the rich of those countries don't want their lifestyles to change & they don't want to have caps put onto the amount of money they can squeeze from the poor & the environment. Which will come first, extinction of humans or running out of fossil fuels?


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