Starting on Monday, an important 12-day summit on climate change is taking place in Durban, South Africa. It's called the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and it will pick up where last year's meeting in Cancun left off. Who's attending? What's at stake? Here's a short primer on the Convention.
What's the history of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings? In 1992, several countries joined an international treaty encouraging governments to work together on limiting future global temperature increases, as well as finding ways to deal with whatever impacts were already inevitable then. In 1995, the treaty's signees decided that the existing treaty was inadequate, leading to the signing two years later of the Kyoto Protocol, which legally binds developed countries to limit their emissions, and which came into force February 16th, 2005. Meetings have taken place several times since then to assess the effectiveness of the Protocol - in 2009, for instance, a meeting in Copenhagen led to the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding agreement that critics say will not force action from any of the signees. The period covered by Kyoto ends in 2012.
Who will be there? 194 nations will be represented at the Durban Framework Convention. The U.S. will be at the meeting - and they will have, as always, a large role to play in the outcome. Many other world powers have refused to create legally enforceable limits on their emissions unless the U.S. does; based on comments from American legislators, it seems unlikely that the States will agree to create such limits. Also attending are representatives of the BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and host country South Africa. These countries are expected, with the exception of Russia, to lobby as a group for rich countries to offer financial and technical assistance to developing countries to help curb carbon emissions.
What's Canada's role? Canada was one of the first countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol, in April, 1998. With the election of the Conservative minority government in January, 2006, however, the Protocol was dropped. The Harper administration stated that they would replace the Protocol with a "Made-In-Canada" solution. Recently, the government announced that they are cutting $200 million from funding for research and monitoring of the environment. Canada is now characterized by the Guardian as part of "an obstinate cabal of big emitters [with] an opposition to the prospect of any legally binding targets being inscribed in a new treaty".
What's on the agenda? With an actual agreement on a worldwide deal basically off the table, discussion at the event is expected to focus on drumming up money for the promised $100 billion "green fund" to help poor countries adapt to climate change, which is supposed to start providing funding in 2013. One of the central questions is what the eligibility criteria will be: how do you prove that you are a country deserving of money from the "green fund"? Finding consensus on that issue will be part of the conference, but talks will also focus on convincing rich countries to actually contribute cash to the fund itself.
That's it? While there is little hope of a new, Kyoto-style binding agreement, there is a chance that some countries may band together to push for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol itself. Brazil, for instance, is seeking an extension of Kyoto to 2020 so that an alternate agreement can be reached in the intervening time. Still, the general consensus seems to be that, with starkly different goals among nations, reaching a meaningful agreement will be nearly impossible: the U.S., Canada and India support voluntary, non-binding emissions targets, while the European Union is pushing for legally binding emissions cuts and targets, and the African block is eager to get on board with climate negotiations only if developed countries fulfill their pledges on the "green fund".