The 17th Conference of the Parties — also known as COP17 or the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference — kicked off today in Durban, South Africa – despite echoing doubts cast by the world’s media outlets about the ability of the conference to succeed. Heading into the conference, the Chinese negotiator stated publicly that he’s “not very optimistic” about the meeting, Canada is rumored to be backing out of the Kyoto Protocol in just a few weeks, the United States is warning that if China doesn’t budge it won’t either, and the European Union is shouting above the fray that even ratifying the Kyoto Protocol across the board isn’t enough — we need more regulations. The nearly 200 nations gathered have until December 9th to reach an agreement that has a chance of stalling global emissions, halting rising sea levels, staving off increasingly intense weather, stopping droughts and preserving our place as citizens of this planet we call Earth.

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Ahead of the start of the talks, media chatter became increasingly heated as the richest nations of the world kept pointing fingers at their neighbors to place blame on the stalled talks in 2009 and 2010. Some smaller nations are pushing hard for a treaty to be signed — the Alliance of Small Island States and the United Arab Emirates are two — and others are saying that if the richest nations got rich off of cheap energy then how is it fair to block others from the same success. The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997 at a United Nations Climate Change Conference in Kyoto, Japan — it was signed by the United States delegate to the conference but never ratified by the US government — represents the only legally binding international emissions targets currently in effect, and it’s set to expire next year. Scientists around the world have been warning that global climate change is imminent and inaction will secure the demise of the human race. Sadly, going into COP17 in Durban, inaction seems to be the word of choice when describing the major players in the talks – 2020 is the closest date being thrown around for the start of emissions targets.

Much of the unhappiness with the Kyoto Protocol and other climate deals that have been set forth revolves around the disparate way that developing nations are treated compared with developed nations. Countries like Russia, Canada and the United States feel that countries like China and India needs to be held accountable as the behemoth global emitters that they are, and that the Kyoto Protocol must be thrown out and replaced with more equitable legislation. Jonathan Pershing of the United States responded to questions about China by saying, “the structure of a legal agreement in which we are bound and those economies are not is untenable. It will not solve the problem. It will not be accepted in the United States.” To the public — at least the public that believes in climate change — the stalemate is infuriating. EU negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger is pushing for a deal, for he believes if the world walks away from another COP conference empty handed, “people will lose confidence in this traveling circus.”

+ United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Photos by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change