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Need for climate deal more pressing than ever after UN summit, says Christian Aid

December 16 2011 - It's always impossible to know exactly what will emerge from the two weeks of international climate change negotiations held every December. But one safe bet is that governments will put off big decisions altogether, if they can. In the short-term, it's easier than agreeing to something potentially unpopular at home.

This year was no exception. Although many negotiators left Durban in South Africa, the venue for this year's talks, claiming success, the truth is that they simply agreed to keep talking.

And in a world in which global emissions of greenhouse gases are rising steadily and scientists are warning that without urgent action we are all heading for dangerous climate change, talk is not enough.

What some governments called a 'breakthrough' this year is that more than 190 countries  present in Durban agreed to work towards a new international agreement on tackling climate change. For the first time the agreement will in theory cover every country. That includes the world's two biggest carbon emitters - China and the United States.

At Durban the UK and the European Union, with allies from the least developed and most vulnerable countries, pushed hard to maintain the Kyoto Protocol and forge a new deal which would come into operation by 2015 with all countries included. It would have meant binding commitments by all big emitters by 2015.

The European Union argued that such a global deal was vital because the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only existing law to limit countries' emissions of the gases which cause climate change, only covers a small proportion of the world’s countries. Its major signatory remains the EU, especially following Canada's withdrawal.

But in the end the EU and their allies were over powered by the self interests of big, wealthy emitters including the USA, Russia, Canada and Japan, who refused to take binding commitments until 2020. Without these big wealthy countries on board, India and China refused to support a more ambitious deal.

If the Secretary of State for Climate Change Chris Huhne had not been there standing beside the European Commissioner Connie Hedegard in Durban, pushing hard for a road map to a globally binding deal then there would have been a far worse outcome, possibly no binding commitments and no room for further negotiations.

However, while a global deal could - if done well, with proper protection for people living in poverty - be an excellent weapon against climate change, Christian Aid is deeply concerned about the Durban outcome.

Even if countries manage to break all their usual deadlocks and agree on significant global action - a huge 'if' - 2020 is simply too late.

Experts such as the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Energy Agency and the World Meteorological Organisation were practically queuing up in Durban to warn Governments of the urgent need to cut global emissions, which threaten to push the average global temperature rise above the generally recognised 'safe' limit of 2 degrees.

Mohamed Adow is Christian Aid's expert on the climate talks and he was part of our team in Durban, trying to influence the talks for the better. But he was desperately disappointed.

'This Durban outcome is a political compromise which saves the climate talks but endangers people living in poverty,' he said. 'Action against climate change in 2020 will come a decade too late for poor people on the frontline - they need it now. 

'Their lives are already ravaged by floods, droughts, failed rains, deadly storms, hunger and disease and we know that these disasters will get worse and more frequent as climate change bites.'

Mr Adow was also downcast at the fate on the Kyoto Protocol, on which Christian Aid supporters have campaigned vigorously. Countries agreed to rip out Kyoto's most important rules, he says, leaving it 'Kyoto in name only'. The requirement to take on emissions cuts in line with science and the principles of developing countries taking the lead on binding emissions cuts have been gutted.

So even though some governments said in Durban that next year they will extend it into a second commitment period, as Christian Aid has urged, this amounts to little.

One positive development in Durban is that the Green Climate Fund, set up to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change and develop in ways which don't make it much worse, has been given staff and an office, although very little cash.

Despite the disappointing outcome in Durban, Christian Aid will continue working for urgent action on climate change. We will continue to ask governments to commit to do the right thing at the global negotiations, which are the only place where all countries have a voice. 

Above all, we want governments to commit to deeper emissions cuts, which must not be delayed until 2020. The good news, say experts such as the United Nations Environment Programme, is that there is a great deal governments can do on this front which is technologically and economically feasible - for instance investing in renewable energies, energy efficiency and better-used public transport.

What we have learned over the past few COP meetings of the UNFCCC is that this is a long process and we cannot deliver the whole deal in one year.

The main obstacle continues being the US and that because of the very nature of climate change until the US comes on board the negotiating process will be slow. The EU can play a role by allying itself with China and others who are already doing a lot to respond to climate change.

Clearly governments and others should not wait until there is international agreement before taking action at home. Christian Aid will continue to call on them, as well as private companies and international organisations such as the World Bank, to use their power now to reduce the use of fossil fuels and help create sustainable, green economies. 

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Christian Aid Press Office can be contacted on 0207 523 2446 or 07850 242950

Notes to Editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in nearly 50 countries. We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they deserve.

2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. Our report, Poverty Over, explains what we believe needs to be done – and can be done – to end poverty.  Details at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/poverty-over-report.pdf

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together inhumanitarian assistance and development.  Further details at http://www.actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit www.christianaid.org.uk