November 2011, Week 5


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Wed, 30 Nov 2011 22:14:46 -0500
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Why Durban is the Kyoto Protocol's Last Chance

    With climate change already claiming human
    victims, the world must get an agreement out of
    the UN conference in South Africa

By Amy Goodman 
Guardian (UK) 
November 30, 2011


The United Nations' annual climate summit descended on
Durban, South Africa, this week, but not in time to
prevent the tragic death of Qodeni Ximba. The 17 year-
old was one of 10 people killed in Durban Sunday, the
night before the UN conference opened. Torrential rains
pummelled the seaside city of 3.5 million. Seven
hundred homes were destroyed by the floods.

Ximba was sleeping when the concrete wall next to her
collapsed. One woman tried to save a flailing year-old
baby whose parents had been crushed by their home. She
failed, and the baby died, along with both parents. All
this, as more than 20,000 politicians, bureaucrats,
journalists, scientists and activists made their way to
what may be the last chance for the Kyoto protocol.

How might the conference have prevented the deaths? A
better question is, how might the massive deluge, which
fell on the heels of other deadly storms this month, be
linked to human-induced climate change, and what is the
gathering in Durban doing about it? Durban has received
twice the normal amount of rain for November. The
trends suggest that extreme weather is going to get

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is
a group with thousands of scientists who volunteer
their time "to provide the world with a clear
scientific view on the current state of knowledge in
climate change". The group won the Nobel Peace Prize in
2007. Last week, the IPCC released a summary of its
findings, clearly linking changing climate to extreme
weather events such as drought, flash floods,
hurricanes, heat waves and rising sea levels. The World
Meteorological Organisation released a summary of its
latest findings, noting, to date, that 2011 is the
tenth-warmest year on record, that the Arctic sea ice
is at its all-time low volume this year, and that 13 of
the warmest years on record have occurred in the past
15 years.

Which brings us to Durban. This is the 17th conference
of the parties to the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change, or, simply, COP17. One of
the signal achievements of the UN process to date is
the Kyoto protocol, an international treaty with
enforceable provisions designed to limit greenhouse-gas
emissions. In 1997, when Kyoto was adopted, China was
considered a poor, developing country, and, as such,
had far fewer obligations under Kyoto. Now, the US and
others say that China must join the wealthy, developed
nations and comply with that set of rules. China

That is one of the major, but by no means the only,
stumbling blocks to renewing the Kyoto protocol.
(Another major problem is that the world's historically
largest polluter, the United States, signed Kyoto but
did not ratify it in Congress.)

In Copenhagen in late 2009 (at COP15), President Barack
Obama swept in, organised back-door, invite-only
meetings and crafted a voluntary - that is,
unenforceable - alternative to Kyoto, angering many.
COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010 heightened the
distance from the Kyoto protocol. The prevailing wisdom
in Durban is that this is make-or-break time for the UN
climate process.

Exacerbating Obama's failures is the Republican
majority in the House of Representatives that largely
holds human-made climate change as being either a hoax
or simply nonexistent, as do eight of nine Republican
presidential candidates. Oil and gas corporations spend
tens of millions of dollars annually to promote junk
science and climate-change deniers. Their investment
has paid off, with an increasing percentage of
Americans believing that climate change is not a

Coinciding with the disappointing UN proceedings has
been a growing movement for climate justice in the
streets. Protests against fossil-fuel dependence, which
accelerates global warming, range from the nonviolent
direct action against mountaintop-removal coal mining
in West Virginia to the arrest of more than 1,200
people at the White House opposing the Keystone XL tar
sands oil pipeline.

Which is why Durban, South Africa, is such a fitting
place for civil society to challenge the United Nations
process. The continent of Africa is projected to
experience the impact of climate change more severely
than many other locales, and most populations here are
less well-equipped to deal with climate disasters,
without proper infrastructure or a reserve of wealth to
deploy. Yet these are the people who threw off the
oppressive yoke of apartheid.

South African novelist Alan Paton wrote of apartheid in
1948, the system's first year, anticipating a long
fight to overturn it, "Cry, the beloved country, these
things are not yet at an end." The same determination
is growing in the streets of Durban, providing the
leadership so lacking in the guarded, air-conditioned
enclave of COP17.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column

c 2011 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features


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