South Africa Struggles to Save UN Climate Talks

Channels Television  
Updated December 12, 2011
United Nations

South Africa struggled on Saturday to find a compromise deal that could save U.N. climate talks from collapse.

Ministerial negotiations in the South African port city of Durban were put off until Saturday afternoon but with many delegates due to head home there was a strong chance real decisions would be put off until next year.

Changes to an original draft document failed to secure a consensus. Developing states and the European Union said the latest document contained no reference to how the fight against climate change would be paid for and set no date by when cuts to emissions must be decided.

Delegates at the conference centre were reluctant to comment on how the talks were going, but tried to remain positive.

“People are talking, so it’s good. When people stop talking, then that’s a problem. But people are talking,” said negotiator Tosi Mpanu Mpanu.

The U.S’s special envoy for climate change brushed off a suggestion that delegates appeared tense. “I’m not tense,” said Todd Stern.

Many delegates said South Africa had failed to do enough to broker a deal that better protected the poor countries it pledged to help and had failed to show the leadership needed to push through agreements.

But South African environment minister Edna Molewa insisted the host country had played its part.

“South Africa has actually done its work. This is work that is now solely and squarely in the parties’ hands,” she said.

The European Union has tried to rally support for its plan to set a date of 2015 at the latest for a new climate deal that would impose binding cuts on the world’s biggest emitters of heat-trapping gases.

But Washington says it will only pledge binding cuts if all major polluters make comparable commitments. China and India say it would be unfair to demand they make the same level of cuts as the developed world causes most of the pollution responsible for global warming.

A policy advisor for Oxfam said if the Durban talks failed, there would have to be another summit in the next few months.

“The critical thing though is when we get to that stage, it will be time to say to the United States don’t come to that meeting because it doesn’t seem possible to strike a deal we need while the U.S. is in the room,” said Tim Gore.

U.N. reports released in the last month show time is running out to restrict global warming to safe limits, generally accepted as within a two degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures. A warming planet has already intensified droughts and floods, increased crop failures and sea levels could rise to levels that would submerge several small island nations.