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UN chief calls for action at climate change talks

Published: 
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
South African President Jacob Zuma.

Durban, South Africa

Secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, says economic and political uncertainties facing countries worldwide should not prevent them from advancing major decisions at the UN Climate Change conference currently in its final week in South Africa’s coastal city of Durban. “We must be realistic about expectations for a breakthrough in Durban...We know the reasons: grave economic troubles in many countries, abiding political differences, conflicting priorities and strategies for responding to climate change,” he said yesterday at the start of the high-level segment of the two-week long conference.

“And it may be true, as many say: the ultimate goal of a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach—for now. “Yet let me emphasise: none of these uncertainties should prevent us from making real progress here in Durban.” Giving an eyewitness account of climate change impact worldwide—from melting glaciers to rising sea levels and drought—the UN chief called on countries to take collective action on a number of key decisions. “The world and its people cannot accept no for an answer in Durban...To the contrary, I say to you that now is the moment to be ambitious,” he told high-level delegates and negotiators.

One of those areas in which he urged action is the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period ends in 2012. Calling on countries to carefully consider a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the UN official said in the absence of a global binding climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol is the closest they had. “While Kyoto alone will not solve today’s climate problem, it is a foundation to build on, with important institutions,” he said. “It provides the framework that markets sorely need. “Carbon pricing, carbon-trading depend on a rules-based system...It is important that we do not create a vacuum.”

Poorer nations have called for the Kyoto Protocol, which commits 37 industrial countries to limit carbon emissions, to be extended, but rich nations want a broader pact to include all the big polluters including India, China and Brazil. The United States has never ratified the treaty. South African President Jacob Zuma, also speaking at the high-level segment, described Durban as a decisive moment for the future of the multilateral rules-based regime, which has evolved over many years under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. With the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol about to come to an end, Zuma says questions hang over the second commitment period.

“In order to find a solution, parties need to be reassured that should some of them commit to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol in a legally binding manner, others would be ready to commit to a legally binding regime in the near future,” he said. For the future, countries also needed to decide on the legal nature of the outcome of the future multilateral rules- based system, he added. “In this future multilateral rules based system, the level of ambition and the fact that all parties will collectively have to do more, will have to be addressed,” Zuma said.

He said developed countries had the responsibility to take the lead in addressing the climate change challenge, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide support to developing countries in their mitigation actions and efforts to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. “It is common knowledge that developed countries benefited from a high level of emissions for their own development,” he said. “It is therefore fair that developing countries be provided developmental space in a sustainable way so that they too may develop and eradicate the poverty that continues to afflict their people.”

Ban also called for tangible progress on short- and long-term financing. He said short-term, fast-track financing of US$30 billion had been pledged, and almost all of it had been identified in national budgets. “However, recipient countries want to see greater transparency in how the funds are allocated and disbursed,” he said. “The UNFCCC secretariat has created a tool to do this...We also need prompt delivery of these funds to where they are most needed.” On longer-term financing, he said, countries needed to mobilise US$100 billion per annum by 2020 from governmental, private sector and innovative new sources.

Ban also called for the Green Climate Change Fund, created in Cancun, to be launched in Durban. “And I appeal to industrialised nations to inject sufficient initial capital to allow the fund to begin its work immediately,” he said. “This will inspire confidence and generate further momentum for action.” Discussions on the Green Climate Change Fund have faced some blockage from countries, including the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Venezuela.