World mostly punts on climate change

The New York Times’ John Broder called it a “modest accomplishment” while Inter Press’ Stephen Leahy described it as “yet another failure.”

Both are news stories reporting on the conclusion of the week of intense climate change talks in Durban, South Africa — technically known as the UN Frameworks Convention on Climate Change.

Given the predictions by many that nothing much was going to happen, some say the agreement to continue the talks represents some kind of progress. Others not so much. As the NYTimes reports:

The conclusion of the meeting was marked by exhaustion and explosions of temper, and the result was muddled and unsatisfying to many. Observers and delegates said that the actions taken at the meeting, while sufficient to keep the negotiating process alive, would not have a significant impact on climate change.

“While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change,” said Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The decisions adopted here fall well short of what is needed.”

This is the same UN gathering that, in 1997, came up with the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that has had some problems and has been due to expire soon. Among the agreements reached in Durban, the Kyoto treaty was extended until 2017 or so.

Some of the key (mostly still unresolved) sticking points at the climate change meeting were about how to best assign responsibilities between rich and poor nations and how to support the growth of “green” economies and policies in the rapidly growing developing world.

The world’s biggest polluters — the U.S., China and India — were widely viewed in Durban as presenting the biggest obstacles to reaching consensus.

In a nutshell, the international community has largely punted on climate change, kicking the can down the road to be resolved later. Meanwhile, many say parts of Africa and other regions in the tropics will continue to suffer from altered weather patterns, rainfall and agriculture caused by climate change.

As The Guardian reported:

The deal did little to meet the needs of poor people already fighting climate change, and risked blurring important distinctions between the responsibilities of developed and developing countries…. The science of climate change tells us that, to avoid catastrophic levels of warming – and the droughts and floods that would inevitably follow – global emissions, which are rising at record speed, must peak within the next five years. The Durban deal’s provisions for action within this time period are vague.

Here are a few more reports out of Durban worth a look:

Atlantic How the world failed to address climate change, again

WashPost Five things to know about Durban climate pact

Reuters New Climate Deal Struck, Modest Gains

Alertnet Climate talks agree to keep disagreeing

SciDev Climate deal leaves questions on funding, tech transfer


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.