The top 10 power brokers in Durban

 By John Parnell

Christiana Figueres, UN Climate Change chief

UNFCCC chief Figueres will look to guide the talks toward an eventual globally binding agreement (Source: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

As the 17th Conference of the Parties prepares to begin in Durban, RTCC looks at ten of the key players in the negotiations.

Economic turmoil in the West, unabated growth in the East and unprecedented extreme weather events globally. Not the ideal conditions in which to begin an international negotiation process. Despite this, progress will continue in Durban with a second period of Kyoto and the formation of the Green Climate Fund topping the bill.

Those leading the talks are under pressure to continue the progress made in Cancun. With 194 nations and countless other parties involved, RTCC boils down the players to ten of the most powerful and integral to attaining a global deal at COP17.

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC chief

Ms Figueres will be overseeing her second COP since taking over as head of the UNFCCC in May 2010.

Throughout the build-up to the talks she has set the bar high whilst remaining pragmatic about the hopes for a second period of Kyoto being agreed in Durban, an unrealistic burden that the COP can do without.

Speaking exclusively to RTCC in September, Figueres called for a more ambitious limit on warming of 1.5 degrees. Her continued enthusiasm for the process has helped to maintain momentum for a step by step solution kicked-off in Cancun.

Briefing by H.E. Ms. Maite Nkoana Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of SouthAfrica.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has said she will ensure the most vulnerable are fully included in this year's talks (Source: UN/Eskinder Debebe)

Maite Nkoana Mashabane, South Africa Minister of international relations and cooperations, incoming president of COP17 and CMP7

As president of COP17, Ms Mashabane faces the daunting task of reconciling the differences developed and developing nations.

She is well placed to do so. In the build up to the talks she has overseen work to that effect. Mashabana is not only looking to find a climate solution but also to ensure that previously marginalised groups, can be involved in the creation and implementation of adaptation and mitigation mechanisms.

Writing exclusively for RTCC she said: “We must work together, as a global community, to make sure the causes of climate change are urgently addressed before more lives are lost and irrevocable damage is done to our planet.”

Jayanthi Natarajan , Minister for Environment and Forests, India

China has traditionally been the most powerful voice representing the developing countries. As its economy edges closer towards full development, the interests of developing countries are arguably becoming more closely aligned with India.

India has led calls for a review of intellectual property rights at COP17 and is becoming increasingly important in the BASIC group. Its GDP is among the top ten globally and is the fourth fastest growing GDP.

Ms Natarajan was appointed in July. Her predecessor, Jairam Ramesh, was championed for standing up to big business. COP17 will offer the international community the first indications of whether her department will continue its strong line.

Bolivian President Evo Morales passed a law this year giving nature equal rights to humans (Source: UN/Devra Berkowitz)

Bolivian President Evo Morales passed a law this year giving nature equal rights to humans (Source: UN/Devra Berkowitz)

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia

In Cancun, Bolivia became the first country to object to any of the UNFCCC’s 268 agreements.

They claimed that the Cancun Agreement “guaranteed warming of four degrees Celsius” and refused to sign calling for stronger action. This was painted by some to be purely obstructive, but that is not in the nature of Mr Morales or his government.

In April this year it passed the Law of Mother Earth, which granted all of nature the same rights as humans. Expect ambition from Latin America and expect Morales’ delegation to be leading the charge.

Abdulhadi Nasser Al-Marri, Qatari National Coordinator, Convention on Climate Change

People have often looked to Saudi Arabia as the voice of the oil producing Middle East. In recent years however, Qatar has risen to prominence in regional and international diplomacy. Look out for further flexing of diplomatic muscle in Durban.

The country may be a major supplier of natural gas but it is also bearing the brunt of water shortages and has plenty of incentive to pursue action on climate change.

Doha is also said to be vying for the presidency of COP18.

Silvia Merega, Ambassador and Director General of Environmental Affairs Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship, Argentina

As chair of the G77 + China group, Argentina has a key role in moving negotiations forward.

There has been tentative talk among some EU nations that the more progressive developing nations could be ready to start talking about making future commitments. This issue will divide opinion among the G77.

The group includes a diverse range of countries and these differences have stretched over the years. The group includes some of the strongest economies in the world, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, UAE as well as some of its poorest such as Mali and Haiti.

The G77 will have plenty to discuss amongst itself as well providing the voice for some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world. How it addresses these will be critical.

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has launched several publicity stunts to raise awareness (Source: UN/Jean-Marc Ferrre

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has launched several publicity stunts to raise awareness (Source: UN/Jean-Marc Ferrre

Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives

If any one nation punches above its weight at the UNFCCC talks, it has to be the Maldives.

The low lying island group has taken a leadership role in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) negotiating block. President Nasheed has also been extremely vocal in the media and international diplomatic circles.

A number of publicity stunts, including an underwater cabinet meeting gained worldwide media attention.

The Maldives face a loss of land mass from rising sea levels. Increasing salinity in the water table is also damaging ecosystems and putting pressure on freshwater resources.

Nicole Wilke, Head of Division, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany

Germany’s leading role in solving some of the problems thrown up by the Eurozone crisis has cemented its position as the leading EU nation.

Action from Eurozone countries will cost money and Germany could be reluctant to see the stability it has been able to create thus far threatened by commitments the group cannot afford.

Greece and Portugal find themselves in different positions to Germany and France. As a group however, it may only be as strong as its weakest link. The question will be whether Germany and other nations are prepared to shoulder the burden of additional commitments that more precariously placed nations are unable to make.

Germany’s input in the design of Green Climate Fund should be watched keenly.

Patti Londoño Jaramillo, Colombian Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs

Colombia’s COP participation, led by Patti Londoño Jaramillo, has been typified by strong call for universal, international binding agreements and is becoming an important voice in Latin America.

The Colombian city of Cartagena gave its name to an increasingly important group involved in UNFCCC talks. Although not a negotiating block, the Cartagena Dialogue seeks to remove layers of bureaucracy and enable negotiators to ask frank and direct questions.

Together with Bolivia, the two will place forestry high in their agendas.

Canada and the Kyoto dissenters

Canada is one of three countries that ratified Kyoto but have pledged not to sign a second period, the others being Japan and Russia. Despite intense pressure on the government it has reiterated its position.

The trio of dissenters are held by the developing nations as a reason to restrain their own position.

They absolutely have the right to opt out of Kyoto regardless of how people perceive their stance. It is crucial however that all three continue to be engaged in negotiations as a change of heart would represent a boon for those looking for “commitment to commit” from developing nations.

With question marks over the future of Canada’s tar sand reserves (often cited as the source of the country’s U-turn) there will be close scrutiny on all three nations if a Kyoto replacement begins to take shape.

Contact the author of this story @rtcc_john

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