COP17 flawed - but vital
Sunday Times Editorial: TOMORROW marks the start of an important two-week international meeting in Durban on climate change. The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) reaches South Africa at a time when there is growing evidence that unless remedial action is taken urgently, the world is headed for catastrophic climate change.
The United Nations World Meteorological Organisation last year revealed that its Greenhouse Gas Bulletin had logged the highest level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since recording began. A recent report compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of more extreme weather as a result of the Earth becoming warmer. It said some parts of the planet would increasingly become impossible for people to live in.
All of this demonstrates the severity of the crisis and the need for all countries, rich and poor alike, to take urgent steps to reduce carbon emissions.
Yet there is much pessimism about what the Durban meeting, which will be attended by more than 190 ministers and close to a dozen heads of state, will achieve.
The scepticism stems from the failure of similar conferences in the past to reach a new global deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.
At the centre of the stalemate is disagreement between the rich and poor nations over each others' responsibilities in reducing dangerous emissions.
Although it is unlikely that a new deal will be signed in Durban, COP17 is an important gathering because it will not only ensure that climate change remains firmly on the world's agenda, but because it puts pressure on those countries - such as the US - which are reluctant to make firm commitments.
Developing countries will use the meeting in South Africa to push for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol that would commit all countries to "common but differentiated" responsibilities.
While this will be resisted by the developed world, the talks would have achieved much if the parties agree on a middle-ground. Failure is not an option for COP17.