Rollercoaster emotions at Durban climate talks

02 December 2011 | Blogs

We are almost at the half way point of this COP and the overall mood is gloomy, says Stewart Maginnis, Director of IUCN's Environment and Development Group at the UN Climate Summit in Durban. Many seasoned COP watchers will say that this is only to be expected.

Climate negotiations have a well established emotional cycle that tends to unfold as follows – cautious optimism evolving into growing despair and concluding with a sense of relief that some modest achievements were delivered, but tempered by a sense of disappointment that more was not!

However this time it might be different – previous COPs have been postponing some big decisions and we are now almost out of time. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends next year and at this point in time there is very little agreement on what will follow – indeed some industrialized countries that agreed modest cuts first time round have publically stated that they are walking away from any future commitments.

Even an uninspiring compromise that would extend the first commitment period for three more years to buy additional time to negotiate a more comprehensive agreement is now subject to a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

So what would happen if Durban ends in stalemate and Kyoto is allowed to expire? One thing that is sure is that the climate won’t stop changing. At some stage the world's governments will need to come back to the table and when they do they will be facing even more challenges. In the meanwhile, national level action will continue – both to reduce emissions and to adapt.

Some countries will have to take action out of necessity, others will do so out of enlightened self-interest. What is also increasingly clear is that nature-based solutions to reducing emissions and – critically – for adaptation are going to be at the forefront for many countries’ “work around” responses to a lack of formal agreement.

In an ideal world we would see bold leadership and the rapid emergence of a credible agreement - but if that doesn’t happen yet – and to be clear we still don’t know what will occur by next Friday – there will be a growing bottom-up demand to manage natural systems better to buy the world some much needed breathing space in mitigating and adapting to climate change!