Reverend Tafue Lusama knows a thing or two about the urgency to tackle climate change. Living in Tuvalu, he has seen the climate changing over the past 20 years. Rising sea levels, storm surges and ocean acidification have had devastating impacts of people’s culture, livelihoods and ability to grow food.

A few months ago, Tafue and his family almost ran out of fresh water. Prolonged drought plunged the small island nation into a state of emergency. Schools shut down and bottled water had to be flown in from Australian and New Zealand.

At this year’s UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa, Tafue is representing his country, population 11,000. Having lived the experiences of changing weather patterns and extreme weather events, Tafue is calling for urgent action to tackle climate change.

The Durban talks are now entering the final stages. Heads of state and ministers are giving short sharp speeches. Ambassadors and senior diplomats are discussing bottom lines and compromises. Environment groups are following the twists and turns, planning their next moves.

With just over two days to go, there is a clear coalition of ambition forming here in Durban. The European Union (EU) and Least Developed Countries — comprising many African nations and the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) including Tuvalu — are all calling for urgent action to increase ambition and put the brakes on runaway climate change. These countries also want to see the Kyoto Protocol continue with stronger environment safeguards and transparency and the elements of the Cancun agreements implemented.

Today the EU stated that they were committed to looking into increasing their emission reduction targets next year. Denmark, which takes control of the EU presidency next, has committed to reduce emissions by 40% by 2020 as has Germany.

Contrasting this coalition of ambition, are other countries such as the US, who is responsible for 18% of the world’s emissions, continue to block progress on attempts to limit warming to the below 2° target set in Copenhagen. The recent UN Environment Program report sets out the gap between countries current pledges and what is needed to meet the below 2° target set at Copenhagen.

Today, AOSIS made the sensible suggestion that developed countries acknowledge the “gigatonne gap”. Its proposal involves a plan for countries to address the gap and includes a ministerial meeting in early 2012. This was a bright ray in a dark day here at the talks.

Australia and other developed countries need to join this coalition of ambition and urgently move to the higher end of their current 2020 pledges. While developing countries also need to clarify what support they need to meet their targets.

The Green Climate Fund is the other piece of the negotiation puzzle here in Durban. Currently an empty shell, it needs governments to commit to provide funds. Early this week Germany and Denmark pledged $40 million and $14 million respectively to the fund. However, the world has committed to raise $100 billion per year by 2020. As the world watches the European economic crisis unfold, calls for new ways to raise climate finance such as a levy on shipping emissions and financial transaction tax are making headway.

Peter Fray

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