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There seems little possibility that next month’s climate summit in Durban will produce an emissions reduction agreement — meaning the world will soon lack any binding CO2 targets. Europe may soon find itself alone in the fight against global warming.

A climate catastrophe descended on the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin early last week. Politicians and diplomats from around the world were attending a conference to discuss how global warming will affect the world. They examined scenarios depicting how millions of people living in coastal areas could escape flooding, what will happen to the fishing and mineral rights of island nations when they no longer exist and how China and Russia will benefit from an ice-free Arctic.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that it intended to “openly and creatively address” the dangers of climate change. The exercise was designed to help “find new paths of international cooperation.”

But the belief that global warming can be halted through international cooperation is elusive. The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only binding climate agreement, will soon expire. The most important means to date of compelling industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions seems likely to become a mere footnote in history.

The current CO2-reduction agreements expire at the end of 2012, and there is enormous resistance to new targets. The environment ministers and negotiators from roughly 200 countries, who will travel to Durban, South Africa at the end of November for the latest global climate conference, are a long way from breathing new life into the Kyoto process.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is making the bold claim that there is “a strong desire from all sides to see a final political decision made” in Durban. But this decision will probably consist of doing without fixed agreements on CO2 reduction in the future. “The meeting in Durban could become an act of mourning,” warns Reimund Schwarze of the Climate Service Center in Hamburg, which analyzes climate policy on behalf of the German government. […]

Clean Energy as a ‘Dirty Word’

The Kyoto Protocol was never ratified in the United States, and the country remains unwilling to submit to international commitments on energy consumption out of a concern that doing so could cost jobs. “Clean energy has become a dirty word in the United States,” a close advisor to US President Barack Obama said during a recent visit to Berlin.

And now other important countries, like Japan, Canada and Russia, are refusing to commit to new binding CO2 targets for the period after 2012, as long as India and China do not cooperate. The emerging powers are calling for decisive action by the industrialized nations before they are willing to do anything, creating a vicious cycle.

“Without new reduction targets, Kyoto is nothing but an empty shell,” says environmental economist Schwarze.

In times of financial crisis, many politicians apparently no longer attach very much importance to a threat that will only unleash its full fury after many years. In addition, mistakes and slip-ups have harmed the credibility of climate scientists. In particular, an incorrect prediction about the melting of Himalayan glaciers by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has given opponents of climate protection new ammunition.

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