The conclusion of the Durban Climate Change conference has produced mixed response along familiar battle lines. Critical Ngo's, jubilant Europeans and unsatisfied developing nations have all had their say in the aftermath of what looked set to be a repeat of Copenhagen in 2009.
The one response I can't quite get my head around is the idea that the Durban conference has been some sort of historic victory and more precisely victory for whom? Sure, the conference was a vast improvement on the failure of Copenhagen. Political nit-picking aside, Durban did see an agreement reached. I'm just not sure if that agreement has the strength or the political will to really address the challenges of climate change.
Apart from the criticisms levied towards the host nation, it was fitting that the conference was held in Africa. A talk I recently attended by the acclaimed Oxford lecturer Paul Collier gave an interesting insight into the effects of global warming on a region heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Africa has much to lose from global warming and the talks held in Durban were its chance to take action. Studies show that an increase in global warming would have catastrophic consequences for the continent causing a loss of biodiversity, key cities submerged and widespread droughts.
The main victory claimed last Sunday has been the agreement by more than 190 countries to cut carbon emissions. Problem is, this does not come into force until 2020 yes you read correctly 2020! Seem like a long way off? Well it is! If climate change is indeed progressing at the accelerated rate that scientists say it is then 2020 is simply not soon enough.
Petty squabbling over the wording of the agreement AKA the Durban platform has meant that it is both vague and weak .One of the reasons perhaps, the only reason it was able to secure the approval of the big three carbon emitters India, China and the US.
The launch of the Green Climate Fund has also been hailed an important victory. Aimed at helping developing nations adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, the fund is without a doubt one of the more positive things to come out of the conference. However fundamental questions still remain. Where will the money come from? Who will host the fund? How will it be managed? Key details which will need to be worked out if the fund is to be put into practice.
I guess it's no real surprise but the conference has once again highlighted the precedence of national interest over the realities of climate change. Canada's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol speaks volumes at a time when unity in the face of climate change is vital. The Kyoto protocol, though not perfect, has been important symbolically indicating an international commitment to the fight against global warming. However, Canada's withdrawal highlights the fragility of the Kyoto protocol and the increasing need for international solidarity and cooperation for it to work.
If Durban has done anything it has shown that there is still much to be done. The conference was a step in the right direction but not quite big enough to adequately combat climate change. The victory that has been claimed is premature and overlooks the challenges that have yet to be addressed. The time is for action not words.