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Binding deal at Durban climate talks unlikely

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ALTHOUGH politically difficult, it was important to aim for a binding agreement at climate change negotiations in Durban in December, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) climate policy advocate Tasneem Essop said yesterday.

This was after top US climate change negotiator Todd Stern said in Johannesburg yesterday he did not expect the Durban talks to deliver a legally binding agreement on halting global warming.

SA is this year’s host to the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and hopes to follow on the relative progress made at last year’s negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. The Cancun negotiations left negotiators with a sense of accomplishment after the disappointment of 2009’s negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"It is my strong impression (a legally-binding agreement) is not on the cards yet," said Mr Stern, who is in SA for a series of high-level meetings. He said big greenhouse gas emitters should set voluntary curbs on emissions for the time being.

Ms Essop said if Durban delivered only voluntary pledges it would not be enough to cut carbon emissions sufficiently to halt global warming, nor would there be the requisite finance to help developing countries reduce their emissions. Also, there would be no enforcement or compliance regime.

"The WWF wants to aim for a legally binding agreement, even though the politics (are difficult). If there are only voluntary pledges, who will decide what to do? There will be a mismatch between countries’ pledges and what science says (should be done to avoid environmental disaster)," she said.

Mr Stern said the US was not keen on signing a legally binding agreement that would tie it down when big developing countries, especially China, refused to sign.

China last year passed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy.

Mr Stern said progress could be made without a binding agreement, if countries committed to "politically and morally binding" decisions on issues such as carbon dioxide emission reduction, the establishment of a "green fund" and forest protection. Also, some of the Cancun commitments could be implemented.

Repeated requests for comment from the Department of Environmental Affairs were not answered.

Mr Stern expected progress on several fronts, including those of concern to Africa. He said it was important to set realistic goals to avoid the rancour that followed Copenhagen. The US and Australia are the only two developed countries not to have ratified the protocol.

Mr Stern said the US was not against a legally binding agreement in principle, but would wait until everyone was committed to signing. This did not mean the conditions had to be the same for developing and developed countries.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut