Durban: One climate, one goal?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Negotiators in Durban must put aside their national interests and come up with common targets on emission cuts and climate funding within the spirit of solidarity in order to achieve a climate breakthrough, argues Roeland Scholtalbers.

Roeland Scholtalbers is media and communication officer at the international alliance of Catholic development agencies CIDSE. This opinion was first published on

"There is much at stake as the international community gathers in Durban, South Africa, for the yearly UN summit on climate change.

The Kyoto protocol, the only binding international agreement on emission reductions, expires next year, while more ambitious science-based emission cuts are urgently needed to halt advancing climate change. International climate finance needs to be firmed up to ensure reliable funding for developing countries to tackle the impacts of climate change.

However, after the limited progress at last year’s summit in Cancun, Mexico, it seems unlikely that countries will be able to iron out the scores of divergences and reach an ambitious and legally binding agreement.

That’s a shame, because tackling the global environmental, humanitarian and development emergency, which climate change is, should be everyone’s first priority.

The debate in the world’s most advanced economies seems to concentrate mainly on the costs of tackling the climate threat, among worries about the economic consequences of ambitious green house gas emission reductions and about is going to pay what share of mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The cold wind of the EU debt crisis will no doubt also reach the climate summit on the Durban shores, but economic troubles should not be allowed to blow out the candle over ambitious climate action.

In fact, the advanced economy perspective is only one of many, and it is a fairly comfortable one too. It might seem OK to prioritise other issues when your country spends billions to protect your home on the North Sea from rising sea levels. But what if you live on the Bangladeshi coast and the land that feeds you and the house you live in are threatened by advancing sea water? We should remember that climate change is first and foremost about human lives and see it from a perspective of solidarity and responsibility for our common future.

Even though the EU has shown far more ambition than the US so far, both eagerly attend signals from emerging economies such as China and India that they are ready to take their responsibility. If we are to tackle climate change, however, there’s no time for a wait-and-see game in which one country only commits to do what is both right and urgently needed if its main competitors do so too. As the climate negotiations reach Africa for the first time, it is time to set differences aside and show solidarity with the people of Africa and other areas threatened by climate change.

The climate negotiations must lead to an extension of the Kyoto protocol until a global deal including all parties is agreed. A collective emissions reduction target for all negotiating parties is needed to drastically reduce global emissions. Currently targets are being set according to countries’ individual commitments, rather than according to what science indicates is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), developed countries as a group will have to reduce their emissions by between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels. This, however, may not even be enough to prevent some small island states and coastal cities from disappearing altogether.

Countries must also get their act together on climate funding, ensuring that developing countries can mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts in a timely manner. In Cancun, developed countries pledged $100 billion by 2020 for a new green climate fund and must now tell the world how they are going to fill it. Innovative sources, like a tax on financial transactions which is gaining growing consensus among world leaders, could make a valuable contribution.

One thing about the Durban summit is sure. In order to achieve the climate breakthrough the world is waiting for, negotiating parties must rub out own interests and dollar signs at the top of their priority lists and replace them with the words responsibility and solidarity."

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