Climate talks struggle to gain clear path forward

Durban is a lovely place. I have never been here before and I will probably see nothing but the beach in front of my hotel as I walk to the bus stop for the shuttle to the convention centre. This, COP17, is stop 17 on a marathon of inaction called global climate talks. Last year Cancun, now Durban and next year Qatar. And for the last 5 Conferences of the Parties (COPs) it is hard to find any evidence of progress.

Over the last 14 years since Kyoto was negotiated, there has been some action and many successes. Most industrialized countries that committed to emission reductions under the first phase of Kyoto have achieved their targets. A long list of countries have done a spectacular job. Sweden reduced emissions while improving GDP by 40%.

The UK far exceeded their 8% below 1990 target and hit 20% reductions. So too did Germany, Denmark, and other countries take Kyoto seriously. Even Japan that has not yet hit its target is struggling to do so.

It’s the law, after all. Legally binding. Canada has distinguished itself as the law breaker. I always find it ironic that this self-declared “law and order” government considers itself above the law. And now in Durban the news from Canada that the Harper government has already decided to legally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, but not announce that fact until December 23rd has further damaged our reputation. If the Harper Conservative government does legally withdraw, we will also be violating domestic legislation in the Kyoto Implementation Act.

Here in Durban, the fact that our delegation is still here, negotiating to weaken the various steps for the next phase, has led to anger in many quarters. Delegations wonder why a country planning to legally withdraw continues to weaken plans for a phase in which it has no intention of participating.

As I listen to countries in the negotiations, it is clear the majority want a second commitment period under Kyoto. But the UN doesn’t make decisions by majority vote. The decision making process requires consensus. So Canada’s obstructionist tactics work. And without the US, agreement is elusive.

But still, for those who want to see a meaningful agreement, there is no let up in negotiations. With four days to go, we are hanging on to hope.

Originally published in iPolitics