By Jessica Dacey
Switzerland says climate change talks starting in Durban on Monday need to come up with a “clear understanding” of how to tackle the issue over the next decade.
Delegates from nearly 200 countries will be in the South African city for two weeks of United Nations-led negotiations on a global roadmap for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, spurred on by the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
“I am rather positive that we will make a step forward but perhaps it will not be as big a step as many of us are hoping. It might be smaller or different steps,” Swiss delegation head Ambassador Franz Perrez told swissinfo.ch.
On the table are the possibility of a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period running until 2017-2020 – limiting emissions for around 36 industrialised nations – and the development in tandem of legally binding obligations for the rest of the world to cut emissions.
There are doubts about the Protocol, with some signatories – like Switzerland – unwilling to commit to measures if emerging economies and major emitters are not bound by similar cuts.
Whatever the outcome of the Protocol, Switzerland says the summit needs to start outlining a roadmap for a broader binding “regime” to cover all countries in the long-term. It also wants a mandate to be adopted for a committee to negotiate on such a future agreement.
Perrez said the Kyoto Protocol “made sense” when it was adopted in 1997 as a way of covering more than half of global emissions among economically advanced countries.
But today the Protocol would account for 17 per cent of global emissions – or around 11 per cent if it is not supported by all the remaining Kyoto “maybe” countries.
“We cannot tackle the climate change challenge by establishing a regime that covers only 11 or 17 per cent of global emissions, this is not enough. This is the reason why we need to move towards a regime that is broader. That has to be one of the clear outcomes of Durban.”
Environmental group WWF says it is concerned about a possible breakdown in the talks.
“We raise this not to be alarmist but to alert leaders that their current approaches mean they may fail to reach a minimally acceptable agreement in Durban.”
The head of WWF’s Swiss delegation Patrick Hofstetter told swissinfo.ch “small steps” of progress had been made in the lead-up to Durban in technology transfer, on REDD+ deforestation issues, finance and adaptation.
But he warned that “anything can happen” when it comes to the crunch issues of the Protocol and the future regime.
For instance, if developing countries, the United States, Japan, Canada or Russia don’t even agree to talk about a future legally binding agreement, he said. “This would really be a disaster, when you have to question whether this process is going to yield any progress in the future or not.”
So, what’s on WWF’s wish list for Durban? A package deal where some industrialised countries go ahead with a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and where there is a “clear plan with a timetable on how to progress to a global new legally binding agreement and which enters into force in 2018”, Hofstetter said.
For the Swiss governmental delegation, “the worst case scenario” would be to just tackle emissions for developed countries.
“Everything that is not helping us to make that shift towards a broader regime that will include reductions and limitations of emissions by all countries will be a failure and everything that helps us to move towards such a broader all-encompassing more comprehensive regime will be a success.”
“I am not afraid that there will be a breakdown in talks,” he added.
There are also concerns that governments will not be able to commit the full $100 billion (SFr91.9 billion) a year pledged to help the most vulnerable countries tackle climate change, as part of the new Green Climate Fund created at last year’s summit.
Switzerland has been playing a leading role in developing plans for the fund. In Durban, the Swiss delegation will be arguing for it to be based in Geneva, which it says could offer synergies with the city’s international and environmental institutions and the financial sector and its private financing possibilities.
Adding further momentum to negotiations will be new figures released by the UN weather agency showing global warming gases hit record levels in the world’s atmosphere in 2010.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also urged countries to make disaster management plans to adapt to the growing risk of extreme weather linked to climate change.
For Perrez, these developments underline the need for a global pact and the futility of having the Kyoto Protocol on its own.
“The emissions of the Kyoto parties have reduced over the last period, so the Kyoto period was a success.”
“But if, in parallel, the emissions of the rest of the world are increasing so tremendously as to more than offset the reductions of the Kyoto parties, then that’s no solution for the future.”