Brokering a deal to replace Kyoto will take years, EU ministers say

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 06 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7963
  1. John Vidal
  1. 1Durban

Hopes of a breakthrough to unblock the stuttering United Nations talks on climate change remained slim this week as ministers from 190 countries flew to Durban, South Africa.

With Canada, Russia, and Japan refusing to sign up to a second period of the Kyoto protocol, and the United States stating it would not be legally bound to any treaty unless poor countries were too, it was left to the European Union to try to broker a compromise. The Kyoto protocol, which legally binds all rich countries except the US to cuts, runs out in 2012.

The EU’s Durban “roadmap” initiative seems to square the circle by keeping Kyoto alive and bowing to most US demands, and it appealed immediately to the coalition of 42 small island states (Aosis) and the 48 least developed countries. But persuading China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia, with a combined population of nearly three billion people, to start negotiating a new, possibly weaker, and economically damaging treaty without concluding the first, proved tough from the start. Privately, European negotiators admitted this week that it would take years to negotiate and would depend on governments showing political will.

But while attention focused on a possible treaty on 6 December, ministers reported that agreement was close on key areas such as finance for developing countries, forest protection, and technology. No attempt will be made this year to negotiate the cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that individual countries must make to keep the global mean temperature within 2°C above preindustrial levels.

Outside the main halls, the UK Climate and Health Council partnered with the international coalition Health Care without Harm and the US think tank the Aspen Institute to run a climate and health summit covering the effects of temperature rises on health, particularly reproductive health, and development.

South Africa’s health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, warned that climate change could undermine all health efforts put in place in the past few decades. African countries, he said, were expected to be the most adversely affected, with widespread poverty hindering their ability to adapt to extreme weather events.

Hugh Montgomery, cofounder of the Climate and Health Council and coauthor of the first report by the joint Lancet and University College London Commission on climate change and health, said that climate change was an “enforced multiplier of existing problems.” He added, “Climate change is not just about dollars. It’s about lives, suffering, and surviving.”

Elsewhere, a new assessment by the UK Meteorological Office of temperature and rainfall trends in 24 countries confirmed that temperatures had risen everywhere since the 1960s. In Britain, the researchers found 35 more “unusually” hot days a year than 50 years ago.

Delegates in Durban noted that 47 of the 50 US states were forced to declare a state of emergency in response to climate related weather disasters in 2011. Fourteen of these disasters cost more than a billion dollars each.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7963


  • John Vidal is environment editor at the Guardian.

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