13 December 2011

Africa: U.S. Satisfied With Outcome of Climate Change Talks

Washington — The U.S. special envoy on climate change is calling the two-week round of talks in Durban, South Africa, a "successful conference," saying the United States is satisfied with the agreement reached by negotiators from almost 200 participating nations.

In a conference call with reporters December 13, Todd Stern said the Durban Platform commits nations to pursue talks on another accord for the reduction of greenhouse gases linked to climate change, an agreement that "would apply to all parties" from both developed and developing nations. For most of the history of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, developed countries bore greater responsibility to work toward emission reductions, a responsibility arising from the belief that their emissions were the principal source of the problem. In the Durban Platform, developing countries agree that they too will be committed to contribute to the solution to climate change in the future.

"That was notable," Stern said. "That's the first time we've seen that kind of thing." He called the change in position a "significant achievement."

Stern said a couple of factors influenced the fall of what he has called "the firewall" between developed and developing countries. The European Union, a party to the Kyoto Protocol and its binding commitments on emission reductions, was firm in its position that a successor agreement to the expiring Kyoto deal would have to apply to all the parties to the convention. Plus, he said, many developing nations "were passionate" about the meeting producing another agreement to work toward inhibiting climate change in the future.

"I wouldn't underestimate the role played by the smaller developing countries," Stern said, especially "the island states, who see this as an existential problem."

Small island nations face the first risks of climate change, according to scientific projections. In a warmer world, the ice at the world's poles would melt, causing the seas to rise with the threat of inundation for territories at sea level. Melting of polar ice has already been documented, and glaciers have shrunk on mountain ranges on all continents.

When he left the United States at the end of November to attend the talks, Stern said he would push for a renewal of commitments made by nations in 2010 at the Cancún round of talks. That agreement called for a Green Climate Fund to help poor countries in the changeover to a clean-fuel economy, creation of an international technology center devoted to the development of clean fuel sources, and transparency in all national reporting on emissions and mitigation activities. Stern said the Durban Platform addresses those activities to his satisfaction.

Questioned about what is next, Stern doesn't predict that other nations will be ready to enter another full-scale negotiation very soon. He anticipates a period of what he calls "pre-negotiation" when nations develop their own priorities for the next round of talks and examine the positions of others.

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