The XVII Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change and the Seventh Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol began today in the South African city of Durban. Some 20,000 delegates and observers from 194 countries and regional blocs will meet until December 9 to address the problems associated with climate change.
At the opening of the meeting, South African President Jacob Zuma thanked the UN for its "confidence in the ability of South Africa to host this conference," and stressed that climate change
"is not just an environmental challenge but a challenge for human development, and for many people is a matter of life or death."
A priority of this meeting is to advance the renewal of the Kyoto Protocol
, a legally binding agreement adopted in 1997 which committed 37 developed nations and the EU to set targets for reducing emissions of gases blamed for global warming.
Getting a new agreement on emission of greenhouse gases is urgent because the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Kyoto is the only international agreement that aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities. Only developed countries, with the notable exception of the United States have ratified the agreement. Other major emerging economies
including China, Brazil and India remain uncommitted. Japan, Russia and Canada warned not to continue assuming
obligations that the United States is not willing to assume.
The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and its implementation were very difficult. In 2007 in Bali, countries agreed that in 2009 there would be a new instrument. The Copenhagen Meeting in 2009 was attended by over 150 Heads of State, but the adoption of an agreement failed.
The United States has indicated
that it expects modest but concrete progress at the conference in Durban; however this "does not mean that is willing to join an agreement." The U.S. position could lead to the Durban conference to another failure.