Durban climate change agreement gets mixed reactions

After lengthy and volatile negotiations in Durban at COP-17 — the United Nations climate change conference — a deal of sorts was reached in the early hours of Sunday 11 December.

Exhausted negotiators were able to hammer put a last-minute climate agreement that would see both developed and developing nations reduce toxic greenhouse gas emissions, caused mostly by burning fossil fuels.

According to a UN press release, the agreement would see governments adopting a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015. The new agreement would not come into effect until 2020. In the meantime, the already lacklustre Kyoto Protocol would be extended by up to five years until the new legally binding agreement is adopted.

“We have taken crucial steps forward for the common good and the global citizenry today,” said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and President of the climate change conference. “I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today.”

The press release also said nations recognise “the urgent need to raise their collective level of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep the average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius,” which is the level scientists say must not be exceeded if dangerous climate change is to be prevented.

Unfortunately, as environmentalists quickly pointed out, the Durban agreement does nothing now to deal with the carbon-emissions time bomb that grows more destructive each year.

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director, said implementing the agreement from 2020 leaves almost no room to increase carbon cuts in this decade when scientists say emissions need to peak.

“Governments departing the UN talks should be ashamed,” Naidoo was quoted as saying. “We wonder how they will be able to look into the eyes of their children and grandchildren. They have let us down and their failure will be measured in the lives of the poor, the most vulnerable and least responsible for the global climate crises.”

Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative, was equally blunt.

“Science tells us that we need to act right now – because the extreme weather, droughts and heat waves caused by climate change will get worse,” Smith said.

“It is clear today that the mandates of a few political leaders have outweighed the concerns of millions, leaving people and the natural world we depend on at risk.”

Rémi Gruet from European Wind Energy Association, who has been attending the UN talks, was also sceptical about the outcome.

“This is a dramatic failure from governments to address one of the two crises the world is currently facing – one that will have much more long term effects than the economic crisis,” he said. “There is a complete discrepancy between investments in renewable and low carbon technologies on the ground, and the willingness of decision maker to commit themselves. In 2010, more investments were made in low carbon technologies than in fossil fuels for the first time ever. It is about time that governments realise this fact.”

Chris Rose,