Delegates are arriving in Durban, South Africa, as another United Nations climate change conference gets underway, amid sobering science reports, calls to “occupy” the talks, pleas from the Pope, and even deadly floods in the host province.
Based on the history of negotiations, expectations in the media are admittedly rather low for this 17th Conference of the Parties – or COP as it’s known – of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the urgent need for concrete progress on the world’s shared climate problem is spurring representatives from more than 190 countries to meet for the next two weeks to seek some kind of agreement to limit the world’s collective carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.
Hours before the opening of the conference, a heavy rain storm caused flash flooding that killed six people and damaged homes in Durban and Pietermaritzburg Sunday night, bringing the lives lost from the region’s flooding over the last two weeks to 13. Local reports are linking the floods to climate-related extreme weather, the subject of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which ties changes in some weather extremes to human-induced global warming.
As a pre-cursor to the talks, Sheik Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister, blamed climate change for more than 300,000 deaths last year, and said his nation can’t wait for international action, but is proceeding with plans to reduce emissions and adapt.
José María Figueres, the former president of Costa Rica suggested that vulnerable countries should refuse to leave the talks until there is real progress.
“I have called on all vulnerable countries to ‘occupy’ Durban,” he said, echoing the verbiage of the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement. “We need an expression of solidarity by the delegations of those countries that are most affected by climate change, who go from one meeting to the next without getting responses on the issues that need to be dealt with.”
Of course, there are still climate skeptics out there, who pointed to a fresh release of thousands of hacked emails from climate scientists from East Anglia University in Britain as evidence of a continued conspiracy to prove climate change. A similar release of stolen emails before the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference was dubbed “Climategate,” although numerous investigations found the scientists who sent the emails, despite some failures to openly share information, had not manipulated data to support their conclusions about climate change.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has called for Durban delegates to craft a responsible climate deal that takes into account the world’s poorest and future generations. For the Pope, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to deal with climate change is a moral issue, according to an Associated Press report in the Washington Post. He has said the natural disasters associated with climate change threaten people’s rights to life, food, health and ultimately peace.
Fully aware of the many challenges facing the delegates, The Nature Conservancy is once again participating in the UN climate conference because we support building on the best elements of past international negotiations, and we believe we must pursue every possible route to productive solutions.
We are working to advance forest-friendly economic development through REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) as one of many crucial strategies to reduce carbon pollution, as well as the critical work of promoting nature-based solutions for people and nature to adapt to climate change.
Over the next two weeks, visit Planet Change often for daily updates on the Durban talks. Watch for our Cool COP Morning posts, learn about our work in Africa to help people prepare and adapt, and join our ongoing conversation about actions we can all take to fight climate change.
Lisa Hayden is a blogger and writer for The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Flickr user linh.m.do (Flags flying at the COP 17 UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa) Used under a Creative Commons license.
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