South Africa's foreign minister said Monday she is hoping for compromise but expects only incremental progress in climate change talks she's hosting, further lowering hopes the Durban meeting will produce a dramatic agreement to stop global warming.
There are fears that "politics cannot deliver on what science requires," Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told South African business leaders in a speech Monday.
She was speaking three months before talks in Durban that follow a failed round in Copenhagen in 2009 that undermined confidence the world could produce a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto provisions capping greenhouse gas emissions by industrial countries expire in 2012.
Talks in Mexico last year ended with a sense progress could be made.
"I will need to find compromises that will protect the integrity of the process," Nkoana-Mashabane said.
She added that developing countries in Africa and elsewhere also expect her to champion their calls for industrialized nations to deliver money and technology to help them develop clean industries and cope with the droughts, floods and other disruptions associated with global warming. The developing world is seen as suffering disproportionately from climate change because of poverty and other weaknesses.
Difficult questions were left after Mexico, Nkoana-Mashabane said.
"It is now left for us to solve all this in Durban, or at least set mechanisms in motion" to address challenges that touch on economics and politics.
Nkoana-Mashabane said the talks can't just be about the environment.
"People need to eat first," she said. "People need sustainable jobs for survival."
The U.S., a key player, has already said it does not expect this year's climate change conference to yield a binding international agreement.
In a rift that became particularly clear in Copenhagen, poorer nations complain that the industrialized world that grew rich off polluting industries should commit to deeper cuts in the emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Developing nations also say they cannot be denied polluting technologies, at least in the short to medium term, to pull themselves out of poverty.
The industrialized world balks at legal restrictions that could hurt its economies, particularly when poorer countries like China and India, who have become some of the world's biggest polluters, also are resisting legal restrictions.
South Africa, the country with Africa's biggest carbon footprint, has identified clean energy as an industry that could create jobs in a country where more than a quarter of the work force is unemployed.