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Will Economic Collapse Save Us from Climate Catastrophe?

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On June 18, the second round of 2011's UN climate change negotiations ended in Germany. As the talks drew to a close, the atmosphere was familiarly grim: little had been achieved. There was scattered discussion of holding more, informal, meetings between Bonn and the negotiations in Durban at the end of the year, which will mark the start of the final year of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol - the global treaty drawn up in 1997 to limit carbon emissions. But could more meetings make a difference to the outcome at Durban?

Japan, Russia and Canada have made clear that they will not be making any undertakings under Kyoto's second commitment period - the mooted second phase of the global climate agreement, after the first expires in 2012. Developing nations insist this is a political step backwards for the climate change negotiations process, a move that ignores the huge challenges ahead and shirks responsibilities. The European Union and Umbrella Group (a loose coalition of non-EU developed nations in the negotiations) have also expressed concern, saying this is a grave `low for the process.

Developing nations want to see a fair outcome from Durban - an agreement to go ahead with a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, during which Annex 1 industrialised nations commit to emissions cuts. At this crucial juncture, the European Union has failed to step up and take the lead in resolving the situation, preferring to line up with other developed nations and propose a new agreement under the Kyoto framework, which all major "emitting nations" must sign up to.

Those major emitters include the United States, the BASIC group of nations - Brazil, South Africa, India and China - and other developing countries. And it is clear that they will not accept such a condition. The United States made plain at Bangkok this year that it will not agree to emission cuts imposed by international agreement, or regulations on consequences for failing to achieve emission targets. The BASIC group and other high-emitting developing nations will naturally stick to the "common but differentiated responsibilities" principle - the idea that rich nations bear a heavier burden than poor in the fight against climate change- and refuse to discuss such conditions. The stance of the United States and BASIC nations makes this route impassable.