A new deal on climate change is the hope, but for the nearly 10,000 delegates of the UN’s conference in Durban on the eastern coast of South Africa, a week of difficult negotiations lays ahead.
The event, which starts on Monday, offers a chance for the world community to come together and agree on action. Most pressing is the debate about the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty that set limits on emissions. The treaty runs out at the end of next year, yet so far there has been deadlock on whether to renew, as favoured by China and India, or to draw up a new treaty, as favoured by Russia, Canada and Japan.
India and China favour renewal as they are classed as developing countries, which under the existing treaty have no obligation to cut emissions, leaving developing countries to shoulder the burden. However, as China and India now represent the largest and the third largest emitters on the globe, most industrialised countries are demanding a new agreement, which sees India and China also forced to make reductions. The US pulled out of Kyoto in 2001 over the apparent unfairness of the 1997 terms.
As such, the issue is nothing new. The climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009 reached a stalemate over Kyoto, with many predicting a similar outcome for Durban.
However, minds at the conference may be focused by recent figures that reveal that carbon emissions in the atmosphere now far exceed even the worst case predictions of four years ago, with a UN report showing a 6% increase in 2009 to 2010 levels.
Britain will play a role. The UK, along with members of the EU, have been active in drawing up a new Kyoto agreement in which India and China agree to some reductions, while the industrialised countries continue with their existing programmes.
Whatever happens, a global deal is now crucial, with the International Energy Agency predicting the world has only five more years to stabilise the temperature increase before the globe reaches a tipping point from which there will be no return.