Talks open as clock ticks on Kyoto deal

Updated: 2011-11-29 06:46

(China Daily)

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DURBAN, South Africa - Almost 200 nations began global climate talks on Monday with time running out to save the Kyoto Protocol aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for rising sea levels, intense storms, drought and crop failures.

The talks in Durban are the last chance to set another round of targets before the first stage of the protocol ends in 2012.

The Kyoto Protocol commits most developed nations to legally binding targets to cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

"It may seem impossible, but you can get it done," Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told delegates.

Su Wei, China's chief negotiator for climate change talks, said he is "moderately optimistic" about the global climate talks, as the countries taking part have a variety of viewpoints

The Kyoto Protocol is the most crucial issue of the meeting, Su said, adding that the whole process of the climate change talks will be affected if decisions cannot be reached in Durban on this issue.

However, at least in developed countries, the European Union has expressed a willingness to consider the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, he said.

Major parties have been at odds for years about the Kyoto Protocol despite increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and came into force in 2005.

Russia, Japan and Canada say they will not sign up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol unless the biggest emitters do.

Envoys said there may be a deal struck with a new set of binding targets but only the European Union, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Switzerland were likely to sign up.

Also, diplomats said they hope there will be some progress on funding to help developing countries most at risk from the effects of global warming, particularly in Africa and small island states.

Rich nations have committed to a goal of providing $100 billion a year in climate cash by 2020. But the United States and Saudi Arabia have objected to some aspects of the Green Climate Fund that will help handle it.

There is also a chance that some wealthy nations will pledge deeper emissions cuts.

But the debt crisis affecting the eurozone and the United States makes it unlikely those countries will provide more aid or impose new measures that could hurt their growth prospects.

Two UN reports this month said greenhouse gases had reached record levels in the atmosphere and a warming world would likely bring more floods, stronger cyclones and more intense droughts.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said global average temperatures could rise by 3 to 6 C by the end of the century if governments failed to contain emissions, bringing unprecedented destruction as glaciers melt and sea levels rise.

It said an 80 percent rise in global energy demand was set to raise carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions by 70 percent by 2050 and transport emissions were expected to double, due in part to a surge in demand for cars in developing nations.

The Alliance of Small Island States said: "If Durban puts off a legally binding agreement and closes the door on raising mitigation ambition before 2020 many of our small island states will be literally and figuratively doomed."

Despite nations' individual emissions-cut pledges and the Kyoto pact, the United Nations, International Energy Agency and others say they are not enough to prevent the planet heating up beyond 2 C above pre-industrial times, a threshold beyond which scientists say the climate risks becoming unstable.

On Monday, thousands of delegates from some 200 countries were kept waiting more than 40 minutes for the start of UN climate talks because the president of host South Africa, Jacob Zuma, arrived late in the main conference hall.