Pointing Fingers in Durban: A Discouraging Start to COP17

As I sat yesterday afternoon and watched negotiating blocs deliver their opening remarks to the opening plenary of the 17th annual UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP17), a clear picture began to emerge: parties were there to point fingers, not create solutions.

The delegate from Argentina spoke first, representing the G77+China group, a conglomerate that consists of  (in spite of the name) 132 self-described developing nations plus China.  She declared that “although developing countries have not contributed to the creation of the problem, they continue to suffer worst.”  She continued along this theme, noting that developing countries have already done their part to address the problem of climate change, calling for a renewal of the Kyoto Protocol, and making promises to negotiate “constructively and in good faith.”

But while some members of this bloc have made substantial progress in reducing emissions in recent years, with China most recently releasing a report its progress during its most recent 5-year plan, these cuts are not proportionate to their current and expected contribution to global emissions, even when the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is taken into account.  Furthermore, these parties know that a renewal of the Kyoto Protocol (which only covers 17% of global emissions), will require no further commitments on their part.  The G77+China position avoids ambitious obligations and avoids the commitments that will be necessary from all parties to solve the problem of climate change.

It was sad, then, to see the Africa group represented by the Democratic Republic of Congo, the group of rainforest states represented by Papua New Guinea, the group of landlocked and mountainous states represented by Tajikistan, the group of Central American states represented by El Salvador, the eponymous Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the BASIC group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China, all follow up with explicit support for the G77+China position.  While each of these blocs each had a slightly different approach to their presentation, the tactic of blaming developed nations and relieving developing nations of any current or future responsibility remained the same.

Of course, developed nations do deserve blame.  Historically, they have been the largest emitters, the U.S. is not even a signatory to Kyoto, and major emitters such as Canada, Japan, and Russia have expressed their desire to put an end to Kyoto altogether.  But these positions should not serve as an excuse for developing “non-Annex I countries” to shirk their responsibilities moving forward.  Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution.   When the conglomerate that represents many developing countries (known as the Umbrella Group) openly acknowledges its responsibility to “show leadership in facing climate challenge,” the countries who insist they are suffering the most at the hands of climate change should respond in a way that promotes collaboration and cooperation. Instead, rapidly growing economies like China insist that development should take precedence above all else.  As the world’ second largest, and soon to be largest, emitter, China must end the political games and articulate a position that truly is “constructive and in good faith.”

If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) used their opening statement to call on both sets of parties, developed and developing, to step up to the plate and to take on proportionate and fair responsibilities.  More on the LDC remarks in Part II.

This is Part I of a two part post. Please see “LDCs call on all parties to reach a fair and effective solution.  But will the others listen?” for Part II.

(Photo Courtesy of Google Images)