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Playing for time on global warming

The Durban summit once again puts off a general commitment on climate change

The negotiations among the member states of the United Nations, aimed at reaching global commitments on climate change, have once again run aground. This, though expected, is the bad news; the good news, if so it may be called, being that the process has not actually broken down. The negotiations continue, and as long as they do, there will always be hope for the new global agreement which is their goal, and which is the only way to put even a minimal brake on the devastating effects of an excessive heating of the atmosphere due to human activity.

Unfortunately, the two weary weeks spent in negotiation in the city of Durban in South Africa have produced a paltry result: everyone agrees on getting together again, to attempt to reach an agreement in 2015 on a plan that would enter into effect in 2020.

In this way, everyone gains time. Firstly, time has been gained by the negotiators, who this time did not benefit from the energizing presence of top political leaders, as was the case at the failed Copenhagen summit in 2009. The idea of further negotiation has not been simply dismissed out of hand, and all the countries in the world now have before them an acceptable period of time in which to get used to the fact that in the world of the 21st century we are no longer facing a scenario of rich, highly developed, perverse polluters - the United States, the European Union, Japan - vying with a set of poor, developing nations - China, India, Brazil - which wish to have the same range of options that the rich ones had in their own process of industrial development.

By now these developing nations are already important emitters of greenhouse gases, and thus bear a similar responsibility for climate change. The geostrategic climate-change map, like the economic and commercial map, is now considerably different than the one that gave rise to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 for control of global warming. In this sense there is some tenuous justification for the positive opinions of those who point to the high scientific level of the debates held in Durban, the range of matters treated, and the implicit acceptance, though without any firm commitment, of the proposition that ways have to be found to slow down the rate of emissions.

The problem is that in this disappointing summit, time has also been gained by the most recalcitrant positions against any coordinated action. These positions are still headed by the United States, which did not accept Kyoto and which, like the dog in the manger, has torpedoed one summit after another. Together with the US, the world's heaviest per capita polluter, this meeting has highlighted the resistance of India, which is apprehensive of hobbling its competitiveness and development. To change the systems of production, and develop alternative types of energy without damaging competitiveness, is a titanic task, but the UN must keep trying to make headway in it.

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