Can the Kyoto Protocol be saved?
Countries will make a last ditch effort to save a dying Kyoto Protocol at global climate talks starting on Monday aimed at cutting the greenhouse gas emissions blamed by scientists for rising sea levels, intense storms and crop failures.
Kyoto, which was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, commits most developed states to binding emissions targets. The talks are the last chance to set another round of targets before the first commitment period ends in 2012.
Major parties have been at loggerheads for years, warnings of climate disaster are becoming more dire and diplomats worry whether host South Africa is up to the challenge of brokering the tough discussions among nearly 200 countries that run from Monday to December 9 in the coastal city of Durban.
There is hope for a deal to help developing countries most hurt by global warming and a stop-gap measure to save the protocol. There is also a chance advanced economies responsible for most emissions will pledge deeper cuts at the talks known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP 17.
But the debt crisis hitting the euro zone and the United States makes it unlikely those areas will provide more aid or impose new measures that could hurt their growth prospects.
"The South Africans are desperate to ensure that the COP does not fail, but they will not be able to deliver much," said Ian Fry, lead negotiator for the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, which could be erased by rising sea levels.
Fry blamed the United States, which has not ratified Kyoto, for blocking progress and said: "The EU seems to be going weak at the knees and will opt for a soft continuation of the Kyoto Protocol with a possible review process in 2015 to think about new legal options."
Envoys said there may be a political deal struck with a new set of binding targets, but only the European Union, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Switzerland are likely to sign up at best. Any accord depends on China and the United States, the world's top emitters, agreeing binding action under a wider deal by 2015, something both have resisted for years.
China is unwilling to make any commitments until Washington does while Russia, Japan and Canada say they will not sign up to a second commitment period unless the biggest emitters do too.
Photo shows locals taking part in a march, against climate change ahead of South Africa hosting global climate talks starting next week, in Durban, November 26, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko