Too Little to Wait

Too Little to Wait

This week marks the end of the COP 17 talks held in Durban, South Africa.

This week marks the end of the COP 17 talks held in Durban, South Africa. The outcomes of this conference are heavily touted as momentous for climate-change mitigation. The conclusions of the meeting include: 1) the extension of the Kyoto Protocol; 2) the plan for a 2015 meeting which will decide whether all countries will be subjected to a legally binding contract to reduce global greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions to take effect in 2020; 3) the establishment of a Green Climate Fund which will provide climate-change adaptation and mitigation monies to poor countries; 4) and a work plan to commence in January 2012.

Although significant strides were taken, to say that COP 17 truly changed the face of global pollution is a bit of an overstatement and an exaggeration. The outcome of Durban severely lacks adjacency and action. “We have made history”, said South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. But how much is this “history” exacting auspicious change for the present?

The Kyoto Protocol—if you recall—is a pact to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aimed at fighting climate change. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan but did not come into force until 2005. Of the estimated 191 signatories, the United States is the only country that has failed to ratify the legally-binding protocol. The agreed objective was for signatories to experience a GHG emissions reduction of 5.2% from 1990 levels by the year 2012.

The United States’ refusal to fully commit to this protocol has had a less than stellar effect worldwide. Moreover, some countries could not muster the motivation for continued commitment to the Kyoto Protocol in the face of a lackluster, apathetic US American empire. In 2010, Canada, Russia, and Japan—go figure—all stated that they would no longer adhere to the arrangements of the protocol. This week, Canada became the first country to officially pull out of the protocol.

This “Durban Deal” appears to be nothing more than The Kyoto Protocol: Part Deux. According to Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “It’s certainly not the deal the planet needs—such a deal would have delivered much greater ambition on both emissions reductions and finance.”  

The United Nations (UN) warned in November that delays on a global agreement to cut GHG emissions would make it harder to keep the average rise to within 2 degrees Celsius over the next century. So how exactly is extending the Kyoto Protocol—again a protocol in which the United States has refused to ratified—going to achieve global GHG reductions right now? Moreover, a 2015 vote requiring all countries to be legally bound to a reductions agreement is currently no more than a pipe dream.

Even the most ambitious outcome of the Durban conference has glaring gaps. The newly created Green Climate Fund would potentially funnel $100 billion a year to poor countries fighting climate change. But, no individual or group has succinctly or convincingly established where this “mystery money” would come from. In a world where “Occupy-Mania” is at a frenzied peak, people continue to toss around money as if it is a mystical entity made to appear at our every beck and call. 

As world powers and world polluters—those countries that lead the way in GHG emissions, i.e. China, USA, India—continue to discuss ways to evade responsibility and postpone action, the real crime is against vulnerable communities and small-island states as sea levels continue to rise and shorelines continue to be encroached upon. “I would have wanted to get more, but at least we have something to work with. All is not lost yet”, said Selwin Hart, chief negotiator on finance for small-island states.

And “yet” is the operative word. It is high time for the world—starting with the United States—to get serious about climate change. If world leaders fail to make do on climate-change initiatives and agreements, the small-island nations will suffer most. Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International articulates it best when he states:

On the eve of the climate talks, hundreds of families in Durban lost their homes and some even their lives in devastating flooding. From the Horn of Africa to Thailand to Venezuela to the small island states of Tuvalu, hundreds of millions of people are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis they did not create. The lack of progress in Durban means that we are even closer to a future catastrophic 4 to 6 degrees Celsius of warming, which would condemn most of Africa and the small island states to climate catastrophe and devastate the lives and livelihoods of many millions more around the world.

World leaders make compelling and passionate statements about climate change year in and year out. In 2008, President Obama stated, “Few challenges facing America—and the world—are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.” But the action merely does not substantiate the rhetoric. Although many believe this “Durban Deal” made history, measures must be more ambitious and immediate before vulnerable communities and small-island states are history.    

Aaron Nash Wiggins

Aaron Wiggins serves with the Pacific Christian Council located in Suva, Fiji.  Aaron will serve as a program associate working with advocacy and justice issues related to global warming, nuclear testing, etc.