As the first week of climate negotiations drew to a close, Saturday saw people from across Africa and beyond march through the streets of Durban to demand progress on a fair, ambitious and legally binding global climate deal.
I joined the march, speaking to many different people about what climate change means to them, and why they felt it important to be here in Durban. One woman, a local fisherwoman, told me that she had to be there because climate change meant she was unable to catch enough fish to survive. I also spoke to the Pretoria chair of the Landless People’s Movement, who told me he had travelled all the way here because for him, climate change was ‘a matter of life and death.’
While there were no official negotiations on Sunday, negotiators were still meeting and civil society groups were hardly pausing in their planning and lobbying, preparing for the arrival of ministers for the high-level negotiations beginning on Monday. The work done in the first week wil be passed on to ministers for agreement - although time is running short to hammer out the complex issues where the UN process is still stalling.
The key issues remain the legal framework of a global agreement, particularly around the Kyoto Protocol and levels of ambition for keeping temperature rise to a ‘manageable’ limit. The KP, the only existing legally binding framework for industrialised countries to reduce their emissions runs out in 2012, yet players are still unable to agree whether it should be renewed, amended, or abandoned altogether in favour of ‘voluntary’ reductions.
It’s impossible to predict at this stage what will happen with the KP this week - negotiations on this will really run up to the wire. But progress must be made not only on the form, but, crucially, on the substance. There’s a concern that focus on the process is sidelining progress on targets to keep temperatures down.
Worryingly, Germany spoke out over the weekend to say they might change their mind on supporting the KP. The UK, however, is still saying it is “willing to consider” a second commitment period of the KP. But with so many options still on the table - some of them strong, but some extremely weak - all eyes this week will be on the EU.
In terms of financing to help people in developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change - the other key issue in these talks - there is an urgent need to fill the pot with money instead of just words. The conference is agreed that there must be progress on the Green Climate Fund in Durban, as the initial pledges - “fast start finance” - run out in 2013.
There’s a worry that without a new mechanism for filling the pot beyond 2013 we’ll see a huge drop off in support for developing countries to survive climate change. It’s looking hopeful that this mechanism can be agreed at Durban, and that the fund can be ‘operationalised’ by the end of this conference, but we also need to see clear plans for filling the pot, and forward planning and timelines to ensure that the money for it is forthcoming.
As ministers arrive to begin work on Monday morning, there’s a lot to do. But the message from people across Africa and around the world is that progress must be made. And fast.
The words of a woman I met on the climate march are ringing in my ears: ‘While they are in there arguing over words, I am out here, trying to feed my children. They need to fix this.’
• Lexi Barnett works for SCIAF - the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund - and is representing Stop Climate Chaos Scotland in Durban