10 december 2011

[4C comment: While the Durban results are clearly insufficient to prevent catastrophic warming later in this century (predictions are a 3-4.C global temperature increase), they are highly important in three respects.

1) They have provided an indispensable perspective and momentum for action in the next few years, inasmuch as for the first time China, the U.S. and India have agreed to submit to the creation of a new treaty that would cover all countries, be drafted by 2015 and take effect in 2020. The new treaty is expected to mandate emissions cuts for all countries, though how much, for which countries and when are not spelled out. Meanwhile, the Kyoto Protocol, under which only developed economies are obliged to cut emissions, would be extended. The EU and the smaller developing countries, particularly those in danger of severe flooding and drought, have been vehement in demanding a more rapid scenario with specific emission cuts for all countries. While they did not obtain it, they do now have a better basis for pushing for more urgent action.
2) As extreme weather phenomena increase in the near future, governments will feel increasing pressure from hitherto indifferent segments of their citizenry to act more quickly. The framework for doing so is now available.
3) The Durban agreement could turn out to be the death knell of the carbon era. Investors, knowing that new coal plants or oil refineries have to be planned for a forty year life span, will be more likely to put their money on new wind farms, or on companies manufacturing solar ovens or panels.

Meanwhile, our thanks to the courageous representatives of the many groups organized in the Climate Action Network for their unremitting, if exhausting, lobbying efforts in Durban. And to Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, and the members of the European Parliament who fought the good fight in Durban.


A Durban Deal
By Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones, Sat Dec. 10, 2011 7:45 PM PST

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, climate negotiators pulled
out an agreement on climate change after two days of last-ditch
efforts. The decision puts world leaders on a path to a
negotiating a legal agreement beginning in 2015 and managed to
avoid a total disaster, but still leaves a number of questions

In some ways, the agreement is better than many had expected
heading into Durban. The US, China, India and a few other
countries had been reluctant to commit to a timeline for a legal
agreement, while the European Union and small island nations were
insistent that one be laid out. Over the course of two days,
various versions of an agreement outlining a process to create a
Protocol, legal framework, or a "legal outcome" were debated
furiously among delegates. India emerged as the strongest critic,
arguing that as a developing country it should not be held to the
same standard as industrialized nations. But at around 3:30 a.m.
on Sunday morning, there was a breakthrough.

Earlier, South African Minister and COP president Maite Nkoana-
Mashabane pleaded with the parties not to leave Durban with
nothing completed. "I think we all realize they are not perfect,
but we should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good
and the possible," she said.

In the end, it came down to a single turn of phrase: changing
"legal outcome" in the earlier draft to "an agreed outcome with
legal force under the convention applicable to all parties." That
was enough to win the consent of Indian negotiator Jayanthi
Natarajan, who earlier had worried that her country was "being
made the scapegoats" of the meeting for not consenting to the
agreement. But she could not, she said, "sign away the rights of
1.2 billion people and many other people in the developing world"
by agreeing to something that could limit their ability to grow
their economy.

Her impassioned speech, however, was followed by equally moving
remarks from Karl Hood, the negotiator from Grenada and
representative for the Alliance of Small Island States, who are
the most immediately imperiled by climate change. "This little
island is where I get my dignity from," said Hood. "I shouldn't
be transported somewhere else by the whims and fancy of others
who want to develop."

Of course, the change still leaves the agreement, termed the
"Durban Platform for Enhanced Action," somewhat vague. Even if
negotiations on a new legal agreement are set to begin under in
2015, it's not clear when they'd conclude. It also reaffirms the
goal of holding global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius
(3.6 Fahrenheit), notes with "grave concern" that the pledges
listed won't meet that goal, and launches a "work plan" to
consider improving those targets. But countries are still
continuing pledges that put the world on a path toward 4 degrees
C warming (7 degrees F).

While it's notable that the US, China, and India agreed to
creating a legal pathway, there was still concern from developing
countries that too much burden had been shifted to them. China
expressed concern that the developed nations were not doing
enough. "It is not what is said by countries it is what is done
by countries, and many are not realizing their commitments," said
Xie Zhenhua, China's lead negotiators. "We've been talking about
this for 20 years, they're still not being acted upon … We want
to see your real actions."

Nor was there a clear decision on the existing Kyoto Protocol,
the first commitment period of the treaty ends in Dec. 2012. The
text calls for an extension until either 2017 or 2020, but leaves
a decision on the date for next year. And while it moves the
creation of a Green Climate Fund to help poor nations both cut
emissions and adapt to climate change forward, it does not
include any decisions about how to put money in the fund. Several
countries, including Russia and Nicaragua, lodged complaints
about the last-minute decisions and that their concerns with the
text had not been addressed.

"Over the past 17 years, they've kicked the big issues down the
road," said Samantha Smith, leader of the global climate and
energy initiative at the World Wildlife Fund International. "The
hardest issues are still on the table."

UN climate talks near chaotic end

By Richard Black, Environment correspondent, BBC News, Durban

UN climate talks have closed with agreement on a package of
measures described by the chair as "balanced".

The European Union will place its current emission-cutting
pledges inside the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol, a key demand
of developing countries.

Talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will begin next
year and end by 2015, coming into effect by 2020.

Management of a fund for climate aid to poor countries has also
been agreed, though how to raise the money has not.

Talks ran nearly 36 hours beyond their scheduled close, with many
delegates saying the host government lacked urgency and strategy.

Nevertheless, there was applause in the main conference hall when
South Africa's International Relations Minister, Maite Nkoana-
Mashabane, brought down the long-awaited final gavel.

Impassioned arguments

The conclusion was delayed by a dispute between the EU and India
over the precise wording of the "roadmap" for a new global deal.

India did not want to specify that it must be legally binding.

Eventually, it was agreed that the deal must "have legal force".

The roadmap originated with the EU, the Alliance of Small Island
States (Aosis) and the Least Developed Countries bloc (LDCs).

They are concerned that without a new legal agreement eventually
covering emissions from all countries - particularly fast-growing
major emitters such as China - the global average temperature
since pre-industrial times will rise by more than 2C, the
internationally-agreed threshold.

"If there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries
responsible for their actions, then we are relegating countries
to the fancies of beautiful words," said Karl Hood, Grenada's
Foreign Minister, speaking for Aosis.

"While they develop, we die; and why should we accept this?"

UK Climate Secretary Chris Huhne agreed the weaker text and the
longer timeline were not acceptable.

"The UK, as part of the EU, will continue to push for the most
credible deal that meets the needs of the science," he said.

Green fund

The tight timescale and legally-binding ambitions were criticised
by the Basic group - Brazil, South Africa, India and China - and
the US.

"I stand firm on my position of equity," said an impassioned
Jayanthi Natarajan, India's Environment Minister.

"This is not about India, it is about the entire world."

India believes in maintaining the current stark division where
only countries labelled "developed" have to cut their greenhouse
gas emissions.

Western nations, she said, have not cut their own emissions as
they had pledged; and China's Xie Zhenhua agreed.

Apparently trembling with rage, he berated the established
developed world: "We are doing things you are not doing... we
want to see your real actions".

However, Bangladesh and some other developing countries weighed
in on the side of Aosis, saying a new legally-binding deal was

Aosis and the LDCs agree that rich countries need to do more.

But they also accept analyses concluding that fast-developing
countries such as China will need to cut their emissions several
years in the future if governments are to meet their goal of
keeping the rise in global average temperature since pre-
industrial times below 2C.

The final agreement sets out a management framework for the Green
Climate Fund, which will eventually gather and disburse finance
amounting to $100bn (£63.8bn) per year to help poor countries
develop cleanly and adapt to climate impacts.

There has also been significant progress on a Reducing Emissions
from Deforestation and forest Degradation (Redd).

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