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If you shut your eyes and say the word, you probably think of white straw hats, the famous shipping canal or the 2001 movie adapted from John le Carre’s spy novel, the Tailor of Panama.

For Panamanians, its meaning is grounded in place and nature, as they believe it to mean “an abundance of fish, trees and butterflies”.

So what will Panama bring, with its natural themed meaning, to the next round of UN climate talks starting on Saturday?

For Australia’s negotiators, these talks are significant. Our federal parliament is debating legislation to put a price on carbon pollution, increase our emission reduction targets to 80% by 2050 and provide a $10 billion investment in clean energy. Going to Durban with this legislation in place is important for Australia and will help global efforts to get a deal on climate change.

For the world’s negotiators, Panama is the last opportunity before the important UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa (November 28 – December 9) to make real progress on key issues around the scale of emission reductions, the Climate Fund and the future of the Kyoto Protocol (the current global climate agreement which is set to end in 2012).

On emission reductions, negotiators need to bridge the gap between current emission reduction pledges and the amount needed to limit warming to below the 2 degrees target set at last year’s Climate Summit in Cancun.

On the Climate Fund, negotiators need to work hard to identify long-term sources of money that will fill the fund set-up to provide assistance to poor countries being impacted by climate change. Last weekend’s meeting of G20 finance ministers in Washington, saw Bill Gates announce his support for a financial transaction tax and a surcharge on shipping and aviation fuels to contribute to the $US 100 billion a year needed to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Significantly, the IMF and World Bank also support calls for a surcharge on shipping and aviation fuels to assist countries adapt to climate change.

Negotiators will be continuing to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol. This is a key element of the talks as it is vital that there is strong global agreement to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Become a UN Climate Tracker to keep up to date and add your voice for international action on climate change. You can also follow me on Twitter at @clancymoore

Until then, here are some interesting, amusing and somewhat bemusing facts about Panama…

  • In the early 80s it was illegal to jog or exercise in Panama whilst wearing a white t-shirt and beige trunks!
  • Almost 30 million kilograms of dynamite was used to excavate and construct the canal in 1901
  • Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set in the Atlantic
  • Ropa vieja (old clothes) is a common Panamanian dish made up of shredded beef served, chilli and rice.

Clancy Moore is blogging from the UN negotiations in Panama (Oct 1 – 7) as part of Oxfam Australia’s UN Climate Tracker project