At stake is the possible dissolution of the Kyoto Accord, whose commitment period expires in 2012. Japan and Russia announced last year in Cancun they are against any extension or renewal of the accord if big green house gas emitters like the United States and China are excluded.
Katherine Sierra, a Brookings Institute expert on climate change and energy, said she expects the climate talks will be low key and will focus on what was approved last year in Cancun, but will not amount to much when it comes to establishing a new global greenhouse gas agreement.
The Kyoto accord will likely expire, she said, and turn into a pledge-and-review system where governments announce their reduction plans and are held accountable by peers.
I don't think you will see a broad-based binding agreement in the next several years, Sierra said.
After Copenhagen, countries made non-binding accords pledging they will reduce their emission's. A year later in Cancun, countries laid the frame work for a $100 billion green climate fund and country-specific systems for helping countries adapt to a changing climate, facilitating the development and circulation of environmental technologies, and a system for ensuring a level of transparency between all countries.
Sierra said she's confident what was established in Mexico will be finalized in the next few weeks in South Africa, but she also expressed her concerns about rising temperatures and climate change.
What the world needs is significant action, Sierra said.
That may not happen for some time. Speaking to the Johannesburg Star newspaper this month, South Africa's Environmental Affairs chief Alf Williams said he does not expect an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, nor does he think parts of the old treaty will be implemented in a new agreement.
The fundamental challenge of Durban is whether or not we'll be able to preserve the Kyoto protocol, Williams said.