Cool COP Morning: Protests, Rumors and Uncertainty Abound at Durban Climate Talks

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Act, COP17, The Wonk Room

With the dynamics of the climate talks in flux and the outcome unclear, some groups took to the Durban streets to protest the process while others continued to urge compromise, as the COP 17 conference neared the close of its first week.

While meteorologists reported the warmest fall on record for Boston, Massachusetts, and residents of California and Utah remained without power after Santa Ana winds of up to 100 miles an hour toppled huge trees on vehicles, across the globe in Durban, residents were being warned not to swim in rivers because of sewage overflowing into coastal waters after recent heavy rains. (Of course, continuing extreme weather events fit the pattern of a planet warmed by carbon pollution, but science isn’t able to determine whether most individual weather events are linked to climate change.)

Many observers of the Durban negotiations have found ways to call out what they see as inadequate action on this pressing global problem. A group of U.S. aid and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Union of Concerned Scientists, have written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticizing some U.S. negotiating positions, and urging the U.S. to remain flexible and open to progress.

Rumors at the talks that China may accept a more ambitious negotiating mandate than previously recognized have not been confirmed, but such a development might present an opportunity for the U.S. to achieve urgently needed reductions in emissions from major emitters.

It remains critical for the U.S., as the world’s second largest emitter, to continue working to meet its pledge for a 17 percent cut in carbon pollution below 2005 levels. The recent U.S. government proposal to dramatically strengthen fuel economy and tailpipe pollution regulations for passenger and light work vehicles is one positive step in this direction.

Other groups have traveled to Durban specifically to advocate for global action. Protests took many forms, from a mock refugee camp to Oxfam International’s “Hunger for Climate Action,” stunt, in which three people sat a dinner table in the crashing surf to symbolize the rising costs and risk to food security of climate change.

The Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly gathered outside the conference venue to sing, chant and carry signs calling for an end to carbon pollution. And this video shows an “Occupy COP 17,” protest from a South African news cast.

In a Boston Globe Opinion article, Juliette Kayyem wondered whether the best way to curb immigration — a current U.S. hot topic — might be by cutting carbon emissions (to avoid climate refugees). She recounts the plight of Kiribati, a small Pacific island made up of 30 coral atolls, currently about six feet above sea level, that are expected to be uninhabitable as early as 2025 due to rising seas and intruding salt water into drinking water supplies.

When his pleas to the world to curb carbon pollution at the 2009 climate conference fell on deaf ears, President Anote Tong has embarked on a forward-looking plan to train his people for jobs in health care and other in-demand industries so the population of 96,000 can gradually begin to emigrate to other countries.

We need decisive and clear action by all governments that will promote economic development through low-carbon choices, as well as continued efforts to build partnerships for international action.

Lisa Hayden is a blogger and writer for The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Flickr user Oxfam International (Oxfam’s Nov. 27 stunt on the Durban coast provides an illustration of the impact that climate change is already having on the world’s poorest people and the peril the food system faces unless governments act urgently) Used under a Creative Commons license.

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