By Nelson Muffuh, head of the U.N. Millenium Campaign project for West and Central Africa
As the first week of the Durban climate talks drew to a close, an increasing feeling of desolation seemed to engulf participants as they trawled through the hallways and meeting rooms of the conference venue.
This despair was aptly articulated by a young activist from one of the youth observer delegations engaging with the proceedings in Durban. During a plenary session, this emotional young man admonished negotiating parties for the irresponsible, expensive and embarrassing delay in agreeing measures that will secure the livelihoods and very existence of present and future generations of vulnerable and poor people.
The U.N. Climate Conference (COP17) started on a high, with negotiators repeatedly saying, "Let us work together to save tomorrow today", and quoting the great Nelson Mandela, who said "it always seems impossible until it is done".
Citizens and faith groups also chimed in, stating "we have faith" that a good outcome will emanate from COP17. But they are now starting to lose faith in the ability and willingness of the negotiating parties to actually set aside their differences and come to an agreement.
In the face of sustained prevarication and intransigence, it is understandable that most of the observers from citizens' groups at the talks are losing faith. They are questioning the seriousness of negotiating parties, especially those from developed countries, about their readiness to commit to meaningfully reduce their emissions and enable climate-resilient development and low-emission, pro-poor growth in developing countries.
The resounding sentiment from concerned activists at the talks is that the prevailing situation is untenable.
PROTECTIONISM AND HORSE-TRADING
Instead of spending their time considering and proposing ways of actually raising the ambition of emissions cuts and providing predictable resources to address the climate challenge, the focus of richer states is on dodging their responsibilities and attempting to shift the burden of action onto those who have little historical responsibility for the problem and less capacity to deal with its consequences.
The buzz words being thrown around by representatives from the rich and powerful nations are the need to ensure a “balanced” outcome based on “trade-offs” that accommodate the interests of their countries.
Unfortunately, what seems to be fuelling agreements at these talks is protectionism and horse-trading and hardly ever the fate and the right to development of the poor and vulnerable.
It is now time to act. Further delay in fully implementing the provisions of the U.N. climate treaty is negligent, irresponsible and expensive.
The clarion call from campaigners in and outside Durban is for negotiators and their political masters turning up this week to assiduously work towards an outcome. They want an outcome that will ensure global temperature increase stays below 1.5 degrees, allows for the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the sustainable development aspirations of the poor, and guarantees a dignified and secured livelihood for current and future generations.
How activist groups at the talks will strategically channel their frustrations and efforts over the next few days will play a key part in determining the outcome. Hopefully, they will avoid grandstanding and focus their energies in effectively communicating and demonstrating their combined and influencing force.
What will make negotiators and their masters listen is not how logical and emotive these groups sound, but how influential and politically relevant they actually are and are perceived to be.
Nelson Muffuh is head of the U.N. Millenium Campaign project for West and Central Africa, based in Dakar. He previously worked as a senior climate advocacy adviser for Christian Aid.