Thousands Protest U.N. Climate Summit; Emission Cap Talks Plagued By Indecision

Thousands protested against the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa as issues under debate at the summit remain unsolved.

Representatives from organizations such as Oxfam, Jubilee South, Center for Civil Society, and numerous others joined together on Dec. 5 to create a thousands-strong protest march through the streets outside the conference hall. 

Nnimmo Bassey, a protester interviewed by Democracy Now!, said the conference delegates' inaction to decide on universal energy and pollution standards harms the rest of the world.

"They can’t keep on bullying the world," he said. "If they don’t want to act, they should get out of the convention. Simple message: we can’t allow this any further."

Democracy Now! interviewed a number of protesters who said they demand climate justice and corporate accountability from their representatives.

Meanwhile, inside the conference center, delegates from all over the world are citing financial crises, political maneuvering, and the varying developmental statuses of rich and poor countries as impediments to finding solutions.

The most intense debate is over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement forged in 1997 designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and whether it should be extended past its 2012 expiration date.

Much of it depends on decisions by China and India. Both countries were exempted from the Kyoto Protocol's emissions requirements due to their developmental status and now are among the world's largest emitters -- but they are still wary of jumping into the fray. Officials from both countries maintain they are still "developing" and only "developed" countries should be legally bound to reduce their pollution rates.

Many delegates disagree. Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, said everyone has to step up to bat, including all the big polluters. 

"In order for there to be a legally-binding agreement that makes sense, all the major players are going to have to be in with obligations and commitments that have the same legal force," Stern told Reuters.

Although Chinese officials have hinted they may negotiate restrictions on their country's pollution, delegates at the conference say China is not willing to budge. 

"It is not my impression that there has been any change at all in the Chinese position in regard to a legally binding agreement," Stern told the Associated Press.

With a week to go before the conference concludes, the only concrete outcome so far is a "roadmap" to a new climate treaty submitted by the European Union. However, it states that due to its current financial crisis it can't promise much action until the end of the decade -- a compromise that may be too weak to win over the approval of other countries.

Inaction over climate change agreements is not new. Over 18 months ago, Yvo de Boer left his position as a U.N. climate official because he felt he "wasn't really able to contribute" as much as he would have liked during the negotiation processes. In an interview with the Associated Press on Dec. 4, he said what's happening in Durban is similar to the obstacles he faced. 

"You’ve got a bunch of international leaders sitting 85 stories up on the edge of a building saying to each other, you jump first and I’ll follow," he said. "And there is understandably a reluctance to be the first one to jump."