The climate talks in Durban, South Africa, ended this week with some progress but even more questions about the future of a global effort to reduce the impacts of climate change. The talks included the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the seventh Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. There was a lot on the line, as the first commitment period to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.
The end result of the talks were mixed. The “Durbin Platform” will bring the U.S., China, India, and Brazil into the fold in a way that Kyoto did not, yet the targets won’t become effective until 2020. Some critics say this is so far in the future that it will do nothing to curb short-term warming. The Parties also agreed to a new Green Climate Fund that would provide up to $100 billion dollars to developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; there was no agreement on how that money would be raised. In the end, Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, saying the country could not agree to any new emission reduction commitments because the cost of meeting the first commitment period was already too high. Instead, Canada is going to continue with its own reduction targets.
Developed nations and developing nations have been pitted against each other on binding targets since the Framework Convention was adopted. Developed nations, lead most vocally by the U.S., believe that all countries must work together to solve this global problem. Developing nations, lead vocally by China, want to be able to emit pollution as they grow their economy to the levels of the developed world; its not fair the developed world got to where they are now by polluting with impunity. But this begs the question: “Is high carbon use the only road to development?” Can there be another, more sustainable path that will grow economies without contributing to global, and local, air pollution? Perhaps instead of focusing on the past to solve our problems, we should look to the future. Fuel cells and other renewable technology are here today, and new development patterns should be built on their backs, rather than trying to recreate petroleum-dependent societies, which will only hold us back.