Climate Change Conference Kicks off in Durban, South Africa

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Thousands of representatives from almost governments, international
organizations and civil society gathered today in Durban, South Africa for the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which seeks to advance ways to cut global carbon emissions and pollution.

The stakes at the two-week long conference are high, as its outcome will
determine the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding treaty to reduce
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, whose first commitment period is due to expire
in 2012.

UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity Virginia
Dandan said in a statement issued today that the Durban conference represents a
“make or break moment for humanity,” and warned that failure to act would
greatly damage future environmental negotiations.

“The world is calling for genuine international solidarity and multilateralism,
and for its leaders to take a leap of faith in unison, and as one,” Ms. Dandan
said. “There is great need for a radical mindset change in order to bring back
to the negotiating table the time-honoured values of humanity that have been
forgotten after decades of market and profit-driven orientation.”

Ms. Dandan stressed that decisive action and work in solidarity are needed to
achieve concrete results, adding that negotiations must also take into account
principles of human rights, equality and justice if they are to be successful.

“Greater cooperation and solidarity are required now more than ever before, to
face the challenges posed by climate change such as the intensification and
increasing frequency of natural disasters, as well as the continuing and
widening poverty gap, and the series of food, energy, economic and financial
global crises,” she said.

Ms. Dandan underscored that failure in Durban would have a negative impact on
the multilateral system as a whole, but would be especially damaging for the UN
Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) in Brazil in June next year.

“Failure in Durban would impact on the three pillars of the UN – namely, peace
and security, development and human rights, and pin the world down to ground
zero,” she said.

During her opening remarks to the conference, Executive Secretary of the UN
Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres urged
countries to seize the opportunity to finish the tasks set during last year’s
negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, and ensure policies are translated into action.

“We meet here at a time when greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere
have never been higher, when the number of livelihoods that have been dissolved
by climate change impacts has never been greater and when the need for action
has never been more compelling or more achievable,” she said.

Ms. Figueres said countries can take two major steps in Durban to address
climate change. The first is completing a comprehensive package to help
developing countries adapt to climate change and limit the growth of their GHG
emissions, and the second relates to how governments can work together to limit
the global temperature rise and thus prevent further natural disasters.

“These negations are about securing a better future and improving the quality of
life of people. The momentum for change is building, not least in developing
countries. More can be achieved if governments and the private sector work in
partnerships,” she said.

The Durban conference comes just after a UN conference on wildlife in Bergen,
Norway, last week in which agreements to protect seven migratory species were
reached. Species that were granted increased protection include the giant manta
ray, the Argali sheep of the Central Asian highlands, the Bobolink grassland
bird from South America, and the red-footed falcon.

During the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals,
organised by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), countries also agreed to
strengthen their efforts to mitigate the most serious threats to migratory
species, such as wind turbines, power lines, climate change, wildlife disease
and illegal hunting.

In addition, governments adopted various resolutions to protect marine species
from threats such as noise pollution and sonar from vessels especially in areas
that are home to whales, dolphins and sea turtles.

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