Battle lines redrawn in Durban

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The hot and humid weather that followed unusually heavy rain and flooding in Durban the eve before the talks began, and which saw 8 people lose their lives, has not helped delegations to settle into negotiations. Indeed, the temperature is already starting to rise inside the talks.

Noses were firmly put out of joint amid rumours that Canada will jump the Kyoto ship before Christmas, thus avoiding any fines for missing targets. While the media have carried the story, the Canadian government has not yet made a formal statement indicating this is its position. Although Canada's environment minister Peter Kent hardly quashed rumours when being interviewed by the Washington Post during which he described Kyoto as “in the past” and said signing up to Kyoto was “one of the biggest blunders they have made.”

In honour of this, Greenpeace awarded Canada the first and second “fossil of the day” – a now regular and loud event that attracts a large crowd at the UNFCC talks to honour those deemed to do the most to stall, frustrate and obfuscate. Its second place award was given on account of a comment Peter Kent that: “Emerging and developing countries need to stop “wielding the historical guilt card.” Third place went to the UK because of reports of a government deal to support Canadian tar sands in European fuel supply chains.

Canada's comments are likely to infuriate China which has called for a second commitment period under Kyoto. Russia and Japan have already confirmed that they will not join a second commitment unless China and the US join. If these countries abstain, any further commitment period agreed would only cover less than 16% of global emissions.

Despite support from Australia, Norway and New Zealand, this also makes the EU's position tenuous. It has been calling for a roadmap to be agreed in Durban with a deadline for a “comprehensive and legally binding global climate framework that should enter into force no later than 2020”. At a press conference at Durban on the opening day, the EU again confirmed that with this reassurance it would be willing to sign up to a second commitment period under Kyoto. In a press release it outlined two further conditions it says must be met before signing up: The rules surrounding the first commitment period must be tightened and further market mechanisms must be developed. Yesterday, the US distanced itself from the EU's call during its press briefing at the talks. It just wants the whole issue to go away.

China, India, Brazil and South Africa of course want Kyoto to continue but have previously rejected achieving this by simultaneously starting negotiations on a new agreement. Nevertheless, the EU's “Kyoto+” approach is gaining some traction amongst least-developed countries including many African countries and Bangladesh, middle-income countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Chile and Columbia and small-island states such as the Caribbean islands and Maldives. Once again we are seeing the battle lines being redrawn.

So is Kyoto dying before our eyes? It is too early to tell. Australia's negotiator said today in the working group meeting on further commitments under the Kyoto Protocol that while governments are making hard-line public statements in closed meetings they are being “pragmatic and show willing to take the middle ground.” There are certainly some signs China may be flexible. South Africa, of course, would love to have a deal agreed under its stewardship. While the odds are still stacked against a deal, Durban still warrants watching.

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