Hope from the first day of Durban climate talks

This article was first published on the political news site Crikey.

“Solving climate change can not be separated from the struggle to alleviate poverty”

This was the message on the opening day of the UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa.


In his opening address, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa highlighted how the Pacific island nation of Kiribati is set to become the first nation forced to relocate due to climate change. He also talked about the vulnerability of many African nations to climate change, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where they are currently facing the biggest drought of the 21st century.

With these key themes shaping the start of the talks, there is a sense of urgency and hope amongst the thousands of environmentalists, activists and young people attending the UN Climate Summit. Hope, that our countries’ negotiators and environment ministers will be able to deliver solutions to assist the world’s poor in tackling climate change.

Poor people in developing countries are being hit first and worst by changing weather patterns. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlights the link between extreme weather and global warming. Whilst we can’t yet say that any particular flood, bushfire or cyclone was caused purely by climate change, the IPCC report does show that increases and intensification of some extreme weather events are likely to occur in the future as a result of climate change.

The IPCC report also showed that between 1970-2008, more than 95% of natural-disaster-related deaths occurred in developing countries.

Personally, I’m hopeful that Australia, the highest per-capita polluter in the OECD and a middle power in international diplomacy, can heed these messages and play an important role at Durban.

This includes ensuring that the Green Climate Fund, devised to help developing countries, is up and running by 2012. Australia’s negotiators also need to deliver on promises to fill the fund and support calls for new ways to raise funds such as a global levy on shipping emissions and a financial transactions tax (FTT). A FTT or Robin Hood Tax is a tiny tax of about 0.05% on transactions like stocks, bonds, foreign currency and derivatives which could raise money to fight climate change and alleviate poverty.

I also hope that rich countries including Australia can keep the Kyoto Protocol alive and increase their emissions cuts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to protect the most vulnerable countries.

In the opening address speaking on behalf of the Umbrella group of countries, Australia’s Ambassador for Climate Change, Louise Hand quoted the recent International Energy Authority report which outlines that the world is currently slipping off the path to meet the below 2 degree target set in Copenhagen two years ago.

Australia is currently planning on cutting emissions by at least 5% by 2020 on 2000 levels. The IPCC recommends developed countries reduce emissions by between 25%-40% by 2020 on 1990 levels.

The passing of the Clean Energy Future legislation last month is a good first step for Australia in acting on climate change. Over the next two weeks, I hope that my government will take these next steps in tackling climate change and in doing so, help global efforts to tackle poverty.

I’m also blogging on our sister site in Australia, A Climate for Change (www.aclimateforchange.org)