Expectations low for Durban: UN official

Updated: 2011-12-02 16:17


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UNITED NATIONS - Negotiations on climate change are now underway in Durban, South Africa, but the United Nations has warned that those looking for a groundbreaking agreement on emission reductions will again be greatly disappointed.

"It's safe to say that expectations are low for this conference of parties," Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and strategic planning, told reporters Thursday afternoon at the UN headquarters in New York.

The UN Climate Change Conference is taking place in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 to December 9.

Orr said that when high-level negotiations are held next week, government officials will have to face some very sobering facts from meteorological and weather experts.

"The World Meteorological Organization this year has a report that greenhouse gas concentrations have reached record levels," Orr said.

"The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has an extensive report on extreme weather and disaster risk reduction indicating that, on a global scale, hot days have become hotter and occur more often, and that if emissions are allowed to spin out of control, the likely frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of ten," Orr said.

Though a comprehensive global agreement on carbon emissions reductions will probably not be achieved in Durban, the UN is looking to "build on the spirit of compromise" established by the Kyoto Protocol by moving towards a binding agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol, initially adopted in December 1997, is a treaty aiming to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous man-made interference with the Earth's climate system.

Currently, there are 193 parties (192 states and one regional economic integration organization) to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The first commitment period of the protocol is due to expire in 2012.

Ideally, negotiations in Durban will produce an heir to the Kyoto Protocol, but that is unlikely given the intransigence of many developed countries.

"The UN Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) wants to see progress towards a comprehensive binding climate change agreement, but we know that agreement is not going to happen in Durban," Orr said.

"At this point, no one is calling for that. There's a lot of hard spade work that has to be done first," he said.

"We have momentum in this process, we're not going to cross the finish line in Durban, but if parties remain as sincere and committed as they appear to be in these first few days in Durban, (we) will in fact move forward," Orr said.

Instead, Orr said, the United Nations' primary directive at Durban will be to raise funds for both short- and long-term investment in alternative energy sources and green technology.

The long-term investment fund, called the "Green Climate Fund," aims to channel billions of dollars to help poor countries tackle global warming. It has a goal of raising $100 billion by 2020.

However, the investment funds have proven contentious, as both donors and recipient countries continue to argue about how much control they will have over the money.