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Activists showing impatience at Durban climate talks

Climate activists in Durban are expressing their displeasure at negotiators from wealthy countries, whom they see as dragging their feet on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. 

By Arthur MaxAssociated Press / December 8, 2011

Members of the Canadian Youth Delegation stage a protest Wednesday as Canada's Minister of Environment Peter Kent addresses the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Macolm Boothroyd/Canada Youth Delegation/Reuters

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Durban, South Africa

As a global climate conference enters the home stretch, it's likely that the 194 nations represented will reach some consensus on how to respond to the emissions that are warming the planet. But details on how tough those measures will be remain buried under a sea of competing national interests and economic worries.

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The talks, due to wrap up Friday or early Saturday, are likely to finalize a massive fund to help poor countries cope with climate change. And indications are strong the conference could end with an agreement to begin the next phase in a battle to control heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

But Durban could also be the place where the only treaty that has governed carbon emissions from the industrial world, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, breaks down, several years before anything is likely to replace it.

The slow pace of dealing with the core problem of rising temperatures is dispiriting delegates from small islands on the edge of survival, and from activists impatient with the familiar posturing of climate negotiations.

"Waiting is going to be a disaster for us," said Samuela Alivereti Saumatua, Fiji's environment minister, who said the Pacific island this month relocated its first coastal village because of climate-related flooding and unseasonable cyclones.

"We have cyclones now at any time of the year. We have flash floods in the coastal areas. Water supply is being salinated. Food security is going to be a problem. We are desperately looking at how we will deal with the situation," he told reporters.

The conference in this coastal city along the Indian Ocean began Nov. 28. It is the latest meeting to seek incremental steps after attempts were abandoned two years ago to reach a global agreement on reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Much of the debate centered on a demand by industrial countries, led by the European Union, to revise the 20-year-old division of the world into rich and poor nations with two levels of responsibility: Rich countries are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions while developing countries take voluntary actions.

"This is the main issue. I don't know how it's going to be resolved," said Argentine Ambassador Sylvia Merega, who leads the 132-nation group known as G77 and China.

The EU won an endorsement from an alliance of small islands and the world's poorest countries — about 120 nations altogether — for its proposal to start negotiations now on a deal to take effect after 2020. Under the EU proposal, all countries would be equally accountable for their global-warming actions. The EU later announced that Brazil — a major power in the developing world — also was lining up with its proposal.

The European Union has said it will not renew its emissions reduction pledges, which expire in one year, unless all countries agree to launch negotiations on a new treaty that would equally oblige all countries — including the world's two largest polluters the United States and China — to control their emissions. The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, though it has made voluntary efforts to reduce emissions.

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