Durban Climate Talks Strain for Legitimacy

Durban, home of the U.N. COP talks Nov. 29 through December 8, 2011

The 2011 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began with guarded optimism last week in Durban, South Africa.  Elsewhere, with outright pessimism, largely due to what was widely viewed as a failure in Copenhagen two years ago to make any progress in preventing greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union nations proposed a compromise deal on Sunday called the “Durban Roadmap.”

The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol , signed in 1997 and enforced since 2005, is set to expire in 2012.
Although the proposal has gained wide support, heavy criticism persists, with less developed nations calling the deal much worse than Kyoto. India stood alone in drawing a “red line”, leaving officials to believe the talks may have been put in reverse by the EU deal.

The question of whether the “roadmap” or the criticism of it is a cynical illustrates the demoralizing truth about greenhouse gas emission reduction.

The Kyoto Protocol was largely neutered when the U.S. withdrew in 2001.

It was apparently very simple:

Business Saves Us From Kyoto.

The only sure thing to come out of Durban has been no secret. The new conservative Canadian government will completely withdraw from Kyoto.

Canadian PM Stephen Haper, as depicted by a Durban protester on Monday.

China, the world’s largest emitter, showed a willingness to follow the Western powers into extending Kyoto beyond next year, but will not lead the way without them.

“We’re not looking for a mechanism in which we would have an obligation to reduce emissions of a legal form and the major emerging economies would have a voluntary program,” U.S. deputy climate change envoy Jonathan Pershing spouted in an effort to portray a lack of equity in the 1997 accord.

According to Dr. Mutlu Ozdogan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies, developing countries in Africa, low-lying and island nations (e.g. Bangladesh and Maldives) are seeing some of the worst effects of climate change.  “The U.S. and Canada are likely to see some loss of arable land in the Western plains, but nothing with the scale and speed of what we are seeing in the global South,” said Ozdogan.

Business interests have long held undue influence in Western politics, but an an honest effort in the late 20th century by the U.N. to halt global warming appears to have fallen short.  The third world has made symbolic gestures by following Kyoto, waiting for us to lead the way. However, without Canada and China, even this delicate dance may soon end.

Postscript: Republican spin doctor Frank Luntz promoted the switch from the term “global warming” to “climate change”,  another example of how this conversation has been framed in the new century.

“’Climate change’ is less frightening than ’global warming.’ … While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge”


About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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