With the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban having ended in the wee hours of yesterday, here is a selection its highlights and also some low points.
The weather was balmy on the day the talks began.
People arriving at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) walked purposefully.
The place was buzzing with conversation in countless tongues. The atmosphere was expectant and hopeful – activists hoped that SA would surprise everyone, as it had on many other occasions.
But not much happened.
President Jacob Zuma, in his opening address at the conference, called the international climate crisis for most people in the developing world and Africa “a matter of life and death”.
He said the expectation was that negotiators would work towards an outcome that was balanced, fair and credible.
“We also feel strongly that as an African Conference of the Parties, the COP17 outcome must recognise that solving the climate problem cannot be separated from the struggle to eradicate poverty,” said Zuma.
Developing countries, led by Africa, urged the developed world to agree to a second commitment period.
“The African Group would like to make it loud and clear it will not allow African soil to be the graveyard of the Kyoto protocol,” said Victor Kabengele the Democratic Republic of Congo’s representative to COP17, speaking on behalf of the African bloc.
The EU received praise from Greenpeace for twice challenging the US over its refusal to even consider an increase in ambition
“The EU has clarified its position and it has put ambition and science right at the centre of its plan. We’re behind the EU when it says we need a comprehensive and binding treaty by 2015,” said the organisation in a press briefing.
The EU, it added, was going to undermine its position fundamentally if it argued that it should lock in its own weak target for another eight years.
The COP president, SA’s Minister of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, came under fire from the group for not finalising the talks’ agenda.
Fiona Musana, spokeswoman for Greenpeace Africa, said in a statement that a draft proposal which was on the table during discussions would make the phase-out of financial support for oil, coal and gas a part of the new climate deal they wanted to see signed.
“Over the coming days, we expect progressive countries to table suggestions that – if adopted – would ensure that the money saved is redirected to projects to help developing countries adapt to climate change,” she said.
The Canadian Youth Delegation, taking a page from Big Oil, tried to raise money to compete with big polluters to set Canada’s climate agenda in Durban. The youth delegates held a bake sale to “buy back their future”.
Representatives of the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and their supporters rallied outside the conference centre and called their gathering a survival march.
Zuma, in his opening speech for the conference, said that the island nation of Kiribati became the first country to declare that global warming was rendering its territory uninhabitable.
A mass march by international and national community members, labour, youth, academic, religious and environmental organisations, to draw attention to the need for global leaders to take meaningful action on climate change was interrupted by people who attacked those participating in the march.
Some of the marchers complained that they were prevented from gaining access to water trucks. Scuffles broke out and banners were burnt, torn and confiscated.
Meanwhile inside the ICC, in what were dubbed “technical discussions” on tropical forests, a highly political row went on about how countries would be required to report against the safeguards for biodiversity and indigenous peoples’ rights that were agreed last year in Cancun.
Faith communities held a prayer service to help negotiators reach consensus.
Six Greenpeace climbers occupied the World Business Council on Sustainable Development conference at the Edward Hotel and were arrested during an attempt to hang a banner saying “listen to the people, not the polluters”.
They each appeared at the Durban Magistrate’s Court and were fined R500.
The foreign complement of the groups was deported.
On the same day, Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that the country would withdraw from the Kyoto protocol by the end of next year.
Activists condemned this decision.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Christiana Figueres said that during the past eight days, delegates had achieved “good progress” on a number of issues, including support for developing countries and the Green Climate Fund, which is to be capitalised by $100 billion (R810bn) a year by 2020.
There were some “thorny political issues” that would require “not only guidance, but your very active engagement”. These were not new, she said.
“They concern reliable long-term funding, the second commitment period under the Kyoto protocol, and the future of the mitigation framework under the convention.”
The framework refers to a post-Kyoto, universal agreement on legally binding emissions targets that will include the US and big greenhouse-gas emitters like China, Brazil, India and South Africa that do not have obligations under Kyoto.
Children from several schools around Durban gathered at South Beach opposite Addington Hospital to form the head of a lion and were invited to roar for progress in the talks.
At the ICC, members of the Canadian Youth Delegation were ejected from COP17 as Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent delivered his opening address – they later lost their accreditation.
Just as Kent began his speech, six members stood up and turned away from the minister, revealing the message, “turn your back on Canada”, prominently displayed on their shirts.
Oxfam sent out a statement that “skeletons of a possible package” were slowly starting to emerge.
“But crucially, the major gaping hole remains how countries revise their emissions reduction pledges before 2020 to get us under the 2°C target.
“Leaving aside the punishing human impacts that a 10-year timeout would have on the poorest people in the world, locking this fate in place could undermine whatever deal comes out of the future pathway discussions,” the organisation said.
US climate negotiator Todd Stern was interrupted by Middlebury College student Abigail Borah. She said: “I am scared for my future – 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. You must take responsibility to act now,” said Borah.
She was later escorted out of the venue and had her accreditation revoked.
Protesters outside the Durban City Hall were attacked by people dressed as COP17 volunteers. Civil society groups were meeting with President Zuma.
Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace and nine other activists were removed from the building and banned from attending the rest of the proceedings.
Naidoo joined scores of campaigners from across the world at a protest in the conference centre, outside the plenary room.
Talks went over the allotted time and result in negotiators cancelling flights or leaving talks early.
Meetings were moved to heavily guarded, closed rooms.
COP president and Nkoana-Mashabane closed the talks.
“Of course, the package is not the best we can do – we must and we will do better. For now, it is important to preserve the integrity of the system and the trust among countries,” the minister said.
“I have full appreciation that some of you may feel that what we have achieved is too modest, while others feel that they are being asked to do too much. I believe, however, that the package before us is the bridge that will join us together.”