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Climate change convention begins behind scratch in Durban

DURBAN (SE): Over 10,000 people are expected to attend the United Nations (UN) Framework Conference of Climate Change, (COP) which was opened on November 28 in Durban by the president of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.

Observers say that the location of the conference in South Africa is a significant choice, as it is a reminder to delegates that solving climate change cannot be divorced from the challenge to eradicate poverty.

“For most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death. We are always reminded by the leaders of small island nations that climate change threatens their very existence,” Zuma said in his opening address.

“Recently, the (Pacific) island nation of Kiribati became the first country to declare that global warming is rendering its territory uninhabitable. They asked for help to evacuate the population,” he continued.

Zuma went on to say that this type of devastation is not limited to small islands or nations with low-lying coastlines. He claimed that climate change will reduce the productivity of African farmlands by half.

“Severe drought in Somalia is exacerbating an already volatile region, causing displacement of populations and increasing refugee communities in Kenya,” he went on, adding that the combination of the predicted rise in Africa’s population, coupled with a radical drop in food production paints a bleak future, which puts addressing climate change in the for immediate action basket.

Zuma added that his own nation of South Africa has already experienced coastal flooding, which he claims is a result of climate change, and has led to loss of life and livelihoods.

“In the Americas, we have also witnessed the frequency of intense hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, from which the communities of New Orleans have never fully recovered, five years after Hurricane Katrina,” he added.

The secretary general of the World Council of Churches, Reverend Olav Fykse-Tveit, said prior to the meeting, in a statement released on November 23, that committing to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol (the only legally binding instrument available) is a must for the Durban meeting.

The chief negotiator from China, Su Wei, says that it is essential for leaders of industrial nations to sign up for another round of Kyoto, which is scheduled to expire in 2012.

“If we cannot get a decision for the future of the second commitment period, the whole international system on climate change will be placed in peril,” Su said.

Pope Benedict XVI has put his weight behind the conference as well. Speaking at his midday blessing on November 27, he said that he hopes delegates from the 194 countries represented in Durban can agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon.

Pope Benedict urged the delegates to keep at the foremost part of their talks the fact that those placed in greatest jeopardy are the poorest people in the world and future generations.

The Vatican sent a 20-strong delegation, 



ed by the president of Caritas Internationalis, Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, to Durban.

The cardinal said prior to his departure, “Our climate is changing. Caritas organisations are responding to increasing unpredictability and extreme weather conditions experienced around the world. This year, we saw floods in Central America, south and southeast Asia and drought across east Africa.”

He added, “Urgent action is necessary. Climate negotiators in Durban must not further delay in agreeing to international legislation to curb the threat of climate change and set the world on a path to a more just and sustainable future.”

Pope Benedict told a Franciscan environmental group that the Church’s teaching on the environment is derived from the principle that men and women are collaborators with God in his act of creation.

“In fact, it is now evident that there is no good future for humanity or for the earth unless we educate everyone toward a style of life that is more responsible toward the created world,” the bishop of Rome told the group.

The South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference urged its own government, which is chairing the Durban meeting, to support resolutions not just on immediate economic profit, but on the basis of survival into the future.

In his welcoming address, the president of South Africa reminded delegates of progress made to date, saying that at the COP in Copenhagen in 2009, there was a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 42 per cent by 2025.

Zuma added that reductions of this scale are necessary to keep temperature rises under the catastrophic two degrees Celsius mark.

A study released by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences entitled, The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene, called the two degree benchmark a guardrail, as scientists would prefer a much lower 1.5 degree mark for safety.

At the COP in Cancun in Mexico in 2010 a worrying factor emerged, as parties agreed to reduce emissions, but failed to agree on a timeline, which puts the starting line in Durban well behind scratch.

The UN Environment Programme has since found that such limited pledges are not sufficient to meet the goals of the convention.

The programme estimates that keeping emission levels at 44 gigatonnes annually would keep the temperatures below the magical two degree mark, but a continuation of business as usual would see them skyrocket to 55 gigatonnes, which would cause havoc in the world.

Reverend Fykse-Tveit notes in her statement that religious communities, and especially those from across Africa, have come together to express that climate change is also a moral and spiritual issue.

“We proclaim together, we have faith. Act now for climate change,” she says, adding, “Churches and religious communities witness in their congregations how climate change is affecting the lives and livelihoods of entire societies, as well as the earth created by God.”

Reverend Fykse-Tveit continued, “People’s rights are threatened, environments are destroyed, the whole of creation is groaning. We call on the World Council of Churches memeber Churches… and other religions to continue praying and speaking out, voicing the cries of the poor and the earth at these crucial times.”

Zuma concluded his welcoming address by saying that parties must strive to find a solution in Durban. “You must work towards an outcome that is balanced, fair and credible,” he stated.