12/08/2011 02:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Will Durban Climate Talks Leave us on the Wrong Side of History?

Whatever happens, the next 36 hours will change the world.

The Durban climate negotiations dance on a wire. Sway but a little, and everything falls.

For the past ten days scientistspoliticiansfaith leadershealth leadersartists and unions have formed an urgent choir calling on the negotiators to act. Our partners in the TckTckTck alliance have sung, danced, protested and marched. In solidarity, 400,000 (and counting) people worldwide have signed the latest Avaaz call to action urging the European Union, Brazil and China to take these negotiations forward.

And yet, here we are. Not much further than we started last week.

Over the past few days, I've traveled to speak to people directly affected by climate change. I've visited both the OccupyCOP17 assembly and the Kennedy Road informal settlement (home of the Abahlali baseMjondolo shack dwellers movement).

The faces of climate change do not take shuttle buses from pristine hotels. They do not sit in air-conditioned plenary rooms and eat catered food. As you can see in this video, their reality is much different.

These are the people who should be deciding our climate future. The ones who are unable to go to school when high tides flood their classrooms. Who watch as extreme drought turns their grasslands into deserts littered with desiccated carcasses.

They are starving. They are drowning. They are fleeing their homes, or being flooded out of them. They do not have the luxury of waiting to 2020 for binding emission targets.

It is easy to reconcile the act of waiting until 2020 in an air-conditioned hall. It is easy to vote against the Kyoto Protocol when you've never pulled your children out of the remains of your house after a rainstorm washed it away.


It is time to take the negotiations out of the convention centre and into the sweltering Durban summer heat. Instead of sitting in cool halls, let the delegates stand in the downpours expected on Thursday and Friday. Let them look Tambilo and her son in the eyes and tell them why they chose not to fill the Climate Fund.

There is still time to turn the Durban talks around. A deal by 2015 is still possible. For all 315,000 victims of climate change so far this year, I pray we end up on the right side of history.

And if not, forgive us.