Beginning today, Durban, South Africa, will be the epicentre of the United Nations climate change negotiations, the 17th
Conference of Parties meeting or COP17.
For the next 10 days, activists and diplomats from all over the world will be in the coastal town seeking answers to the challenge of climate change.
Numerous meetings hosted before Durban have only resulted in partial agreements and broken promises.
Africa is expectant: Durban will produce a balanced, fair and credible outcome, particularly on climate financing and reduction in greenhouse gas production.
Africa demands that developed nations cut emissions by 40 percent by 2017, and by 95 percent by 2050 relative to 1990 levels, according to the African ministers of environment common position paper released late September.
In the same vein, credible guarantees would be gained for Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period post-2012.
The ministers also demanded developed nations pay for the pollution they have caused by releasing money to capitalise the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which would help finance mainly mitigation and adaptation programmes in the continent.
There are high hopes for Durban in a murky atmosphere. But the continent’s hopes have been dashed before, severely.
Former UN Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer recently said that Durban would be a “very difficult meeting”.
I think the main question is: Why should my grandmother, who is a subsistence farmer in Tandi village, Rusape, or any other grandmother struggling with droughts in rural Zimbabwe be concerned about the outcome from Durban?
Mr Verengai Mabika, executive director at DRI Africa, a Harare-based organisation with special interest in climate change and sustainable development, said the situation was paradoxical.
He said although most international climate change debates were complex matters for most people, even the educated ones, it was equally important for a grandmother in drought-prone Chivi to be concerned about COP17, just as much as a carbon trading European businessman would.
“For rural subsistence farmers, whatever outcome expected from COP17 means either opportunity or threat to life and livelihood,” Mr Mabika explained.
Theoretically, it is essential for all citizens to comprehend the dynamics and deliberations of the global climate change discourse.
In practice, however, it is a struggle with reality.
Mr Mabika said the current stalemate between developing and developed countries on the talks made it difficult for “my grandmother to be concerned about outcomes of some endless international debate, a show-off for political prowess and power.”
In this case, perhaps the national debate on climate change needs to be clear first and hope Durban will have positives on adaptation and mitigation.
“This could be of interest to a Zimbabwean grandmother because it means climate proofing, the only livelihood portfolio she has.
“It can strengthen the confidence of a better future with climate,” he said.
Perhaps Africa should not raise its expectations too high. The political and economic landscape in the developed world today is very unfriendly.
The debt crisis in Europe, where some economies are now bankrupt, reduces the chances for the immediate capitalisation of the GCF.
As economies struggle to keep head above water, it is more likely this fund will remain empty for the foreseeable future.
At best, Durban will produce thin commitments, and only undetailed commitments from developed countries on financing mitigation and adaptation, analysts say.
The United States, which is targeted by Africa and other developing nations to take the lead in climate funding and extending Kyoto’s life beyond 2012, is gripped with its own challenges, especially elections billed for next year.
Kyoto is the only legally binding instrument committing nations to limit emissions in an effective manner.
A report released by South Africa ahead of Durban from pre-conference informal consultations emphasised “the major challenge for the conference to be the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol and links to the legal status and form of a future climate change regime”.
Moreover, the world’s biggest polluters, and drivers of climate change are not too keen on wholesale changes to the present climate policy framework.
Instead, they are calling developing nations to commit to limiting their little greenhouse emissions, or else a binding international agreement could be difficult.
The climate politics are deep, complex and often unnecessary.
These issues could be the major stumbling blocks for a solid outcome at Durban. While Durban remains useful for maintaining the process of negotiation, its outcome is unlikely to be anything to write home about except the continual slow steps to a global deal.
It’s easy for Zimbabwe’s grandmothers, and Africa’s for that matter to be ill-concerned about global climate talks.
Even when my grandmother was concerned, she can only do so little, apart from being concerned.
Several Durban-like conferences before have not stopped the climate from changing.
Actually, things have worsened, as the world continued with its snail’s pace negotiations.
Climate talks have dragged for long, since 1992 when world leaders appeared to speak with one voice in Brazil on the need to fight the threat of climate change.
While the negotiations continue to be a long drag, the climate system has taken a turn for the worse.
The one thing that those nations pulling down progress on the talks do not want to appreciate is that nature does not negotiate.
It has no time for nonsense. Imperatively, thus, the world at Durban in reaching a global and functional agreement will be catastrophic for humankind.
Let’s share ideas on the climate story.