Durban, South Africa – Representatives of close to 200 countries assembled in Durban, South Africa on Monday to continue their political engagement over the next two weeks on pressing unresolved climate change issues.

“We are under no illusion that this conference will be an easy process,” said President of COP 17/CMP 7, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

Nkoana-Mashabane, South African’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation told reporters on the first day of the climate change summit that Durban is the “end of the line” for many of the urgent outstanding political issues.

These include the second Commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol which is the global accord on tackling climate change and outstanding issues of the Bali Action Plans and the Cancun Agreements that require operationalization.

During the formal opening of the climate change talks earlier Monday, South African President Jacob Zuma drew parallels between the strident positions taken by countries at previous climate change talks to the complex political situation that once faced his country.

“I have mentioned some of the outstanding leaders who taught us the power of reaching out to people who think differently from ourselves, in order to find solutions to complex political problems. That is the spirit that should prevail in COP 17/CMP 7. With sound leadership, nothing is impossible here in Durban over the next two weeks,” the South African leader said.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) noted that he impacts of climate change are “more and more” threatening people’s lives and livelihood.

“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 achieveable,” she said.

She outlined the two decisive steps for Durban as finishing the task from COP 16 held in Cancun, Mexico last year and answering the key political questions that remained unanswered.

“Finishing the task from Cancun means translating policy into concrete action,” Figueres asserted.

One of the main tasks is consideration and approval of the Green Climate Fund’s governing instrument and contributions for a prompt start-up of the Fund. Others include launching the Adaptation Committee, approving the modalities and guidelines for national adaptation plans and progress on approaches to address loss and damage.

In Cancun, countries committed to raising US$100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing nations adapt to the cost of limiting climate change. They also agreed to set up a Green Climate Fund which would be a major vehicle for raising and spending climate funds.

Figueres also said it was clear that the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is linked to launching a process towards a broader multilateral rules-based system under the Convention, providing greater rigor and structure to the global effort to tackle climate change.

Poorer nations want the Kyoto Protocol extended, but rich nations have called for a broader pact to include all the big polluters. Russia, Japan and Canada have said they will not sign up for a second commitment period unless the biggest emitters do too.

The United States has never ratified the treaty.

China and the G77 which comprise 132 developing countries from all regions of the world have demanded a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol when it ends next year.

The Group of 77 and China said the Durban conference is an important opportunity to find a viable agreement for a Second Commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, maintaining high level of ambition and legally binding obligations for developed countries.

“Once the political agreement can be reached, the issue of a possible legal gap between both commitment periods, due to technical reasons, needs also to be addressed, “it said.

“In Durban we will see if developed countries are ready to show their commitment and make the perhaps difficult political decisions to preserve the multilateral climate change rules-based system that we all defend.”

Action Aid’s International Climate Justice Coordinator Harjeet Singh says the Kyoto Protocol is a 14-year old promise made by rich nations to slash their carbon emissions.

“If rich nations do not deliver on this promise, the death of the Kyoto Protocol could leave a wound so deep in the negotiations; it’s unlikely a climate agreement would be struck at all.”

Singh accused rich countries of purposefully keeping expectations low for the climate summit.

“Yet poor nations, whose people are first and worst hit by climate change, have made clear the bar must remain high.

“Over one and a half billion people are on the verge of a climate-driven food crisis and unless tackled now, another 50 million people could be at risk of hunger by 2020. If rich countries don’t radically curb their carbon emissions by 2020, the climate crisis that ensures could dwarf our ability to respond,” Singh said.

Meanwhile, as the conference opens to discuss major climate change issues, the World Meteorological Organisation’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletins said the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new high in 2010 since pre-industrial time and the rate of increase has accelerated. It focused special attention on rising nitrous oxide concentrations.

Between 1990 and 2010, according to the report, there was a 29% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate system – from greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide accounted for 80% of this increase.

“The atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases due to human activities has yet again reached record levels since pre-industrial time,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Even if we managed to halt our greenhouse gas emissions today – and this is far from the case – they would continue to linger in the atmosphere for decades to come and so continue to affect the delicate balance of our living planet and our climate.”

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