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African Group Narrows Climate Focus in Durban

Demonstrators at climate change summit, Durban, South Africa, December 2, 2011.
Demonstrators at climate change summit, Durban, South Africa, December 2, 2011.
Gabe Joselow

African delegates at United Nations climate talks in South Africa have narrowed their focus on two key priorities, as time runs out for negotiators to agree on any major deals to combat climate change.

The African Group at the COP17 climate conference is continuing to push for a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, a legal mandate that binds governments to cut emissions blamed for global warming.

Although no African nations are part of the Kyoto Protocol, African Group lead negotiator Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, said Thursday that the mechanism is effective for cutting emissions and a good template for a future global agreement. He added that African countries also are willing to commit to emissions cuts, if they receive support from the international community.

"Because Africa has said for the longest time that we're willing to undertake action as long as that action is supported through the means of implementation: i.e., finance, technology transfer and capacity building," he said. "But we are willing to do our fair share in order to resolve this global issue."

That introduces the second priority for the African Group: financing. The group wants nations to finalize agreements made at the last U.N. climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, to establish a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations.

Mpanu-Mpanu says his group has narrowed its push to these two priorities - the Kyoto Protocol and financing - in the final hours of COP17, which is scheduled to end Friday.

"Whether we are reducing our priorities to two, while yesterday I spoke about five priorities, I will even go further and say that the priority that we have is only one: to keep one billion Africans safe as regards the adverse effect of a climate change phenomenon to which they did not contribute."

At the opening ceremony for the African Pavilion in Durban, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi praised African delegates for speaking with one voice at the conference. The African Group, which represents 54 nations, has presented a united front throughout the negotiations, with few disagreements among them.

Meles also spoke about the importance of securing financing for African developing projects. He noted that, because African nations are among the least developed in the world, they have tremendous opportunity to grow in an environmentally responsible way.

“It doesn't make sense at all when you are carrying out investment in the green field investment area to start with yesterday's technology," said the Ethiopian prime minister. "We have to start with what is viable in the future. Therefore climate-resilient development is our only option."

Although Africa produces the least amount of carbon dioxide of any other region in the world, it is considered the most vulnerable to droughts, floods and other extreme weather events that scientists say will increase as the earth gets hotter.

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