As the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa nears the end, UK environment experts said any substantial climate deals are unlikely since developed countries hesitated to commit to a legally-binding global agreement.
"At this stage, things do not look like they will come to a positive conclusion," Matthew McKinnon, head of the Climate Vulnerability Initiative at the humanitarian group DARA, said. "I would not be surprised if we come out of Durban without any real clarity."
Why Has Progress Not Been Achieved?
The inability of developed countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, to commit to any form of agreement at the summit has been "disappointing" to McKinnon.
He said he believes there is a problem in the U.S. and its approach to climate change, which requires a national response to the issue when the subject is not of interest to most American voters.
Other experts have also criticised the U.S. for not giving sufficient attention to the subject of climate change and focusing on the economy instead.
"The U.S. is very concerned about the economic situation, while climate change has always been pitched as a cost that they will have to deal with and as something that will threaten the American dream and lifestyle," McKinnon said.
Ironically, McKinnon said, while the U.S. emits the most carbon in the developed world, it is also the country that is most vulnerable to the impact of climate change among advanced major economies, due to it having a number of low-lying geographical areas and a high rate of severe weather conditions.
Meanwhile, Durban has been touted as a "last chance saloon" for negotiators to get together and hash out a legally-binding climate change agreement before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
As far as McKinnon is concerned, if no agreement is reached, then it was "definitely a missed opportunity" and there is no point in attempting to keep up the momentum about climate change at summits every year when there is no real intention of reaching an agreement.
Regarding the assumption that the Kyoto Protocol would have a second commitment period, he said: "It is disappointing to see countries like Japan and Canada falling out."
He also said it was unfair to demand nations like Brazil, China, and the EU make major emission cuts when corresponding developments are not taking place in countries like the U.S. and Canada.
Durban Climate Talks: A Wasted Opportunity?
Aubrey Meyer, director of the Global Commons Institute (CGI), an independent environmental campaign group, said negotiators at the climate change conference in Durban are wasting time.
"They're absolutely wasting the time they've got..." Meyer said. "But the larger picture is that we are all collectively wasting time, because we continue to cause this problem rather than preventing it."
Meyer said the "guesswork approach" at the climate talks is simply accelerating the path to failure. "This is suicidal," he said in exasperation.
Meyer has called for an agreement that he termed "climate justice without vengeance". The Global Commons Institute conceived a contraction and convergence model as a proposed global framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. Researchers intend for the model, based on a simple mathematical formula, to form the basis of an international agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to avoid dangerous climate change.
Meyer said he was doubtful that any positive progress or agreements would come out of Durban before Friday, but stressed that the need to adopt a second period of the Kyoto Protocol was "more urgent than ever".
An Urgent Need for Emphasis on Climate Change
Adrian Ramsay, deputy leader of the UK Green Party, said that while the talks in Durban have provided another opportunity for genuine progress on climate change, the political will is lacking.
Ramsay said he finds the approach of the U.S. and Canada "deeply disturbing" and believes that they have acted self-interestedly because they stand to profit enormously from excluding themselves from a legally-binding agreement that will ensure a reduction of carbon emissions.
"The fact is that we will all be at a major disadvantage if we don't act now and richer countries need to take the lead," Ramsay said, adding: "We also need a fair approach to the developing world."
At this stage, Ramsay said it was hard to predict whether the Durban talks will produce a positive outcome before Friday. "What's really important is that countries don't allow richer countries to hold everyone else to ransom," he said.
Typically, at climate change conferences, global leaders have shown commitment right up to the last moment, according to Ramsay. "I will always remain hopeful while there's still time left... It's so often that the agreements come at the end of the conferences, so let's not give up hope yet," he added.
More importantly, Ramsay said, there needs to be a greater emphasis on climate change and the urgency to act quickly. "We should have had a legally-binding agreement a year ago. We need global leaders to emphasise the urgency of the situation."
He said he was not going to accept the argument that global leaders are giving preference to one issue over another, such as the current focus on the dire economic situation in the world and fears over a double-dip recession.
"We need to work towards a solution for the future that reduces our reliance on fossil fuels... We could be tackling the economic problems at the same time by investing in renewable technology, which will be much more reliable in the long term."
If we do not take action on climate change, the devastating effects will be seen within the lifetimes of most people living today, Ramsay warned.
"Scientists have been warning us for decades and the urgency to tackle the climate threat is getting ever greater, yet some governments seem too unwilling to look beyond the next 12 months. Our future economy and future quality of life depends on drawing up a legally-binding treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out next year, and on action at a domestic level to take the practical steps needed."
The 17<sup>th Conference of the Parties (COP17) climate change summits runs until Friday.