The annual United Nations meeting on climate change convenes in Durban, South Africa on Monday. The talks are officially known as, ahem, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol. Got that? Good.
The meeting picks up where last year's Cancun talks left off -- that is to say, with not much more than an agreement to keep the UN climate negotiation in place. So what can we expect this time around?
According to the NRDC's Jake Schmidt, there are reasons to be optimistic. Writing for Huffington Post, Schmidt points out that several key countries, including Australia and China, have implemented domestic legislation to reduce carbon pollution. Also, on a global level, clean energy is growing rapidly:
Last year new clean energy investments skyrocketed by 30 percent to $243 billion. No longer can people say: “renewable energy is a nice thing but it isn’t a mainstream energy source”. In fact, renewable energy exists in a large chunk of the world. Commercial wind power is in operation in 83 countries and solar PV capacity was added in 100 countries last year. As a result non-fossil fuel energy accounted for about 50 percent of the world’s new electricity capacity added last year. That is a huge shift from a fossil dominated world to one with growing amounts of new energy coming from renewable sources.
Does that mean there's a good chance that negotiators will come up with a successor to the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol? Probably not. Here's why: The U.S. and China continue to spar over whether developing nations, which weren't required to make cuts under the protocol, should pledge to do more this time around. Japan, meanwhile, is dealing with a decade-long recession as well as recent earthquake losses, and has shown little interest in signing on to a sequel.
And now, one of the only tangible measures to come out of the Cancun talks -- the $100 billion fund designed to help developing nations combat climate change -- is being openly opposed by the U.S.
Even if a grand bargain is out of reach, the results from Durban are important even if they only include smaller agreements on deforestation or emission cut verification rules. At the very least, we can hope that the climate negotiation process lives to see another day.
Photo: A coal station in South Africa, one of the many the country relies on for the bulk of its electricity. (Leon Marshall / National Geographic)