How will nations finance the effort to slow and adapt to climate change? What role will the U.S. play? And will the countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol vote to renew it? These are some of the questions journalists are looking to answer during the U.N. climate talks under way in Durban, South Africa, this week.

Unfortunately, they are the same questions journalists were posing last year in Cancun and the year before in Copenhagen. Asking them in earnest, when the history of the last decade of climate negotiations suggests that major countries, especially the U.S., are more interested in preserving their political and economic autonomy than averting a global environmental catastrophe, seems supremely foolish to this reporter.

After the monumental tease that was the much-anticipated Copenhagen conference, many of us who have been following the climate beat for the last few years, especially as independent journalists, can’t help but feel as though we already know the answers to these questions. And our forecasts are not good. –ARK

Mother Jones:

2. When will there be a new, legally binding treaty? While the United States is not a party to Kyoto, it is still the major factor holding up progress on that front, because other countries want an assurance that the US will take part in the next accord. As of yet, there is no indication on when, or even whether, the commitments from Copenhagen would become formal, legal agreements. While 2012 was once the target for a new, binding deal, it’s now looking more like 2015 or 2016 for an agreement, which wouldn’t go into effect until 2020. The US has been reluctant to establish a time frame, however.

5. What role will the United States play? The US is, of course, the only developed country not currently included under the Kyoto Protocol, and much of the holdup on a new legally binding agreement is concern that the US will once again be the holdout. In previous negotiating sessions, the US has been firm about transparency rules for developing countries—often referred to as “monitoring, reporting, and verification” in UN speak—but has been unwilling to commit to a road map for a legal agreement. The US position has also been a major concern on the finance side. “The US continues to say it’s supportive of mobilizing large sums of money to deal with this challenge, but it has been resistant within the climate setting to have a conversation about how to mobilize those resources,” said David Waskow, the climate change program manager with the humanitarian group Oxfam America. He also expressed concern that the United States could use progress on the establishment of the fund as “a bargaining chip” to ensure it gets what it wants on the other components of a deal.

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