Durban is set to join the list of UN summits that fail to take significant action to resolve the climate change crisis—Bali, Poznan, Cancún and, most prominently, Copenhagen. Two years ago, US President Barack Obama and many other heads of state and government met in the Danish capital amid great fanfare promising a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. In the end, however, the summit disbanded in a debacle, with not a single agreed binding commitment. The deliberately lowered expectations for the Durban summit are reflected in the minimal international media coverage of the event.
The Obama administration now insists that there is no pressing need for a post-Kyoto treaty restricting carbon emissions. Jonathan Pershing, US deputy envoy for climate change, declared earlier this week in South Africa: “I’m not sure that the issue of legal form will be resolved here, or needs to be resolved here.” He hailed the voluntary pledges to reduce emissions that were announced at last year’s UN climate change summit in Cancún, Mexico. “To my way of thinking, that’s an enormous way forward in solving the problem,” he said.