International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Picture: GCIS
International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Picture: GCIS

DOHA — International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on Monday officially passed the United Nations (UN) climate change talks presidency on to Qatar’s Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah as about 200 nations gathered in Doha for this year’s talks.

South Africa, Brazil, China and India — known collectively as the informal "Basic" negotiating group — have warned developed nations that responsibility for the talks’ outcome lies at their door. They want developed nations to increase their targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, linked to the overall rise in global temperatures.

For many, the Doha talks are a last-ditch effort to save the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only global agreement ever reached on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Its first commitment period expires at midnight on December 31 and an agreement on a second period has not yet been reached.

The Basic nations want the protocol to remain a key component of the international climate regime and have said securing a second commitment period at Doha is one of the conference’s key deliverables. Under the protocol, industrialised nations agreed to cut their emissions 5.2% from 1990 levels by the end of this year.

There was no commitment for developing nations.

About 30 European nations and Australia have signalled readiness to take on new targets, but major greenhouse gas emitters such as Canada, the US, Japan and Russia are refusing to sign a new agreement unless the larger developing nations also take on commitments.

China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and India the third biggest.

South Africa is in the top 15.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres said while across the globe state policy was "moving faster" towards a global agreement, the door was closing on the Kyoto Protocol at an even quicker pace.

Mr Attiyah had inherited a "complex" conference of the parties to the UNFCCC. But Ms Figueres said she was confident of a breakthrough as the participating countries had expressed resolve to find solutions and had come armed with completed negotiating texts.

A major challenge was the global financial crisis and its effect on the Green Climate Fund, established at previous talks to help the developing world pay for measures needed to cut greenhouse emissions.

The developed world has pledged about $30bn in grants and loans as part of "fast-start" financing, and the annual $100bn fund. But the cash has not been flowing in and the fund has not begun operating.

Sue Blaine is attending the talks on a UNFCCC scholarship.