Whether or not the globe heats up, it is likely to get pretty hot in Durban as the climate change conference progresses. It is opening with a kind of subdued desperation — one, it is clear that the Kyoto protocol, the only binding agreement to curb emissions, has failed, and two, the blatant disagreements over responsibilities at the Copenhagen meet seem to be endangering even the continuation of this international process. The sparse patchwork done at Cancun provides the only hope — if the details of the Cancun proposals can be worked out. The chief proposal is that for the Green Climate Fund to be stocked by developed countries to help poor countries curb their emissions. If the principles of the fund can be designed, that is, who gives how much by 2020 as promised, how private investment can be invited, and how recipients are supposed to respond, something will have been achieved at Durban. The other Cancun proposal, spreading green technology to poor countries, must also be looked into.
So, at the very best, more plans and a near-desperate effort to stay together are all that can be expected of Durban. Is the Kyoto protocol to be declared defunct? Emissions have risen alarmingly, with no indication of turning towards 1990 levels. India, China and other emerging economies still refuse to be bound legally: for India, for example, a more immediate need is to get electricity to all of its huge population so the less privileged do not die in global warming than being legally bound to curb emissions. But in Cancun India had promised to cut emissions on its own; that may help. Cancun had shown that developing nations are willing to accept responsibility for curbing emissions: what they will not accept is the developed nations’ opportunistic bullying. Japan and Russia, disgusted with the other signatory nations’ inaction, want to junk the Kyoto protocol when its provisions expire in 2012, while Europe, the only good boy on the block, is willing to renew it. Since Europe causes only 14 per cent of the total damage, it is urgent to get everyone else on board. That is more than unlikely at the moment, especially since the United States of America will not touch a binding agreement with a bargepole. It would rather outsource carbon-emitting manufactures to poorer countries and pretend that the emissions are theirs. All Durban can show is whether there will be another climate change meet at all.