Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are gathering in Durban, South Africa, for this year's round of climate change talks. But after disappointments at the last two annual summits, there are serious doubts on whether countries will be able to reach a new deal.
The 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, also referred to as COP 17, aims to continue progress towards a new global deal to reduce emissions and boost sustainable development. Talks begin on Monday, November 28, and will run for two weeks.
But a new deal has eluded countries for the past few years. The existing period of legally binding emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ends in 2012.
The European Union has traditionally backed the creation of another legally binding pact. Yet even this European support is now wavering given Europe's current financial troubles. Many fear strict climate change regulations could harm economies.
The United States has always been reluctant to commit to a new legally binding pledge to reduce emissions, preferring softer voluntary reductions. With US President Barack Obama facing challenges in next year's presidential elections by Republican candidates that oppose binding emissions cuts, it is unlikely the US will change its line at this year's talks.
Under the Kyoto Protocol's original compliance phase, only wealthier countries were required to comply with emissions targets.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate commissioner, says the old situation of only 'rich' countries bearing the burden makes no sense in the 21st century. She says the EU will only agree to more binding targets if emerging countries also sign up to do their part.
But emerging countries like China are reluctant to commit to legally binding targets, preferring their own self-imposed targets for energy efficiency and carbon reductions.
UNFCCC and Kyoto
Originally adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the UNFCCC treaty was the world's first collective attempt at managing climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC was created, requiring wealthy countries to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide. Poorer countries were not required to do so.
However, the binding period ends in 2012. The idea was that countries would have committed to a new binding agreement by the Copenhagen summit in 2009. But the annual UN climate change summits have thus far failed to produce a deal.
On the eve of the Kyoto summit, it seems no new agreement is in sight.
Global average temperatures could rise by 3-6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if governments fail to contain greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group representing developed countries.
The OECD says that while developed countries were once the main cause of the rise in greenhouse gas output, but the responsibility would increasingly be shared in decades ahead by newly emerging economic powers.
By 2050, global energy demand may rise by 80 percent, raising emissions of carbon dioxide by 70 percent. Transport emissions are also expected to double due to a surge in demand for cars in developing countries and expansion in aviation.
Global carbon emissions already hit record levels last year. The International Energy Agency (IEA) also warned earlier this month that the world is heading for “irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change”.
Green Climate Fund
Another issue at next week's talks will be a proposed Green Climate Fund to help developing countries move away from fossil fuels. Countries pledged to create the fund at last year's summit in Cancun, Mexico. The fund is supposed to raise and disburse US$100 billion a year to developing countries.
But so far no money has materialised. Last month, it appeared that both rich and poor countries had finally agreed on how the financing would work. Negotiators had planned to bring a report to Durban as a finished package. However, the US and Saudi Arabia pulled out at the last minute, making any agreement at Durban doubtful.
Report: US won't agree to Kyoto Protocol [China Daily, 23 Nov 2011]
Report: China expects Durban conference to firm up countries' climate-change targets[Xinhua, 23 Nov 2011]
Report: UK calls for new legal climate deal by 2015 [BBC, 24 Nov 2011]
Report: OECD: World must act to cut CO2 emissions [Reuters, 23 Nov 2011]
Analysis: At Durban, the big emitters will no doubt fail us again on climate change [The Guardian, 24 Nov 2011]
Analysis: Damage control [Financial Times, 25 Nov 2011]