Durban Climate Meet's Bright and Dark Sides

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COP 17 in DurbanBy Ramesh Jaura
IDN-InDepth News Report

BERLIN (IDN) - The outcome of the Durban global climate talks, which dragged on for 14 long days, has been declared as disappointing or encouraging depending on the perceptions of beholders – some of whom are setting their sights on the half-empty glass and others who prefer to focus on the half-full glass.

The United Nations, however, is expectedly keen to provide a balanced view highlighting positive aspects and at the same time cautioning of risks involved if what has been agreed is not translated into action by all countries and institutions involved.

The 17th conference of parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which ended December 11, 2011 in Durban, South Africa's third largest city, agreed after intense negotiations a package of measures that would eventually force all the world's polluters to take legally binding action to slow the pace of global changing.

The package agreed comprises four main elements: a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, the design of a Green Climate Fund and a mandate to get all countries in 2015 to sign a deal that would force them to cut emissions no later than 2020, as well as a workplan for 2012.

"Taken together, these agreements represent an important advance in our work on climate change," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, calling on countries to "quickly implement these decisions and to continue working together in the constructive spirit evident in Durban."

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Ban said the set of measures agreed "represent a significant agreement that will define how the international community will address climate change in the coming years." The new accord, he added, is "essential for stimulating greater action and for raising the level of ambition and the mobilization of resources to respond to the challenges of climate change."

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: "The outcomes of Durban provide a welcome boost for global climate action. They reflect the growing, and in some quarters unexpected, determination of countries to act collectively. This provides a clear signal and predictability to economic planners, businesses and investors about the future of low-carbon economies. A number of specific commitments agreed in Durban also indicate that previous decisions on financing, technology and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) are moving to implementation."

Steiner added: "The big question many will ask is how this will translate into actual emission reductions and by when? Whatever answer will emerge in the coming months, Durban has kept the door open for the world to respond to climate change based on science and common sense rather than political expediency."

Explaining, UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttall said in a statement: "The 'Bridging the Emissions Gap' report, coordinated by UNEP with climate modeling centres across the globe, underlined in the run-up to Durban that the best available science indicates that greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2020."

The report also highlighted that annual global emissions need to be around 44 Gig tonnes of C02 equivalent by around that date in order to have a running chance of achieving a trajectory that halves those emissions by 2050 below 2005 levels.

The report concluded that bridging the divide is economically and technologically do-able if nations raise their emission reduction ambitions and adopt more stringent low-carbon policies across countries and sectors.

"The key question of the Durban outcome is whether what has been decided will match the science and lead to a peaking of global emissions before 2020 to maintain the world on a path to keep a temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius," Nuttall said in a statement.

By some estimates, the statement said, the cost of cutting emissions will be four times more beyond 2020 than they would cost today with the price rising over time. It is also estimated, the statement added, that the current emissions trajectories, unless urgently reversed, could lead to a global temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius or more sometime by the end of the century.

Steiner added: "The movements forward on the Cancun agreements (COP16) in respect to adaptation and climate technology institutions are welcome, as is the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund."

"But the core question of whether more than 190 nations can cooperate in order to peak and bring down emissions to the necessary level by 2020 remains open – it is a high risk strategy for the planet and its people," he cautioned.

"Nationally many governments are acting as are companies, cities and individual citizens. In 2010, over US$210 billion was invested in renewable energy, for example. But this bottom-up approach needs a top to which it can aim – and a time line for building that top is narrowing ever year," Steiner said buttressing his cautious attitude.

India and China: Critical Role

The intensity of the negotiations was highlighted by an impassioned speech by India's Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan that capped the finale of the UN climate summit which concluded with a Durban Package, after she warned that India "will never be intimidated by any threat or pressure".

"Natarajan's speech ensured that India's main concern – the inclusion of the concept of equity in the fight against climate change – became part of the package," reported the Economic Times.

The COP17 plenary session came to a halt following row between Natarajan and European Union (EU) Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard after objection over agreements reached behind closed doors.

India had wanted a "legal outcome" as the third option, but Hedegaard said this would put countries' sincerity in doubt. That set off Natarajan, who roared: "We have shown more flexibility than virtually any other country. But equity is the centrepiece, it cannot be shifted. This is not about India.

"Does fighting climate change mean we have to give up on equity? We have agreed to protocol and legal instrument. What's the problem in having one more option? India will never be intimidated by any threat or any kind of pressure. What's this legal instrument? How do I give a blank cheque?"

According to reports, as Natarajan finished her speech amid a thunderous ovation from a hall packed with thousands of delegates from 194 governments, observers and the media, some countries backed the EU but China strongly supported India.

Xie Zhenhua, the vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, who headed the Chinese delegation, pointed out that the developing countries like India and China were "already doing much more than developed countries" against global warming.

Conference president and South Africa's Foreign Minister Maite Nkoane Mashabane then halted the session and asked EU and India to go into a huddle there and then. "Unprecedented scenes followed beyond midnight as negotiators from all countries mobbed Natarajan and Hedegaard and snapped photographs, with no sign of exhaustion even at 2 in the morning," reported Economic Times.

"U.S. and Chinese chief negotiators joined the huddle too. More frenzied applause indicated an agreement had finally been reached. When the session reconvened, Natarajan announced that India had agreed to a change of wording in the third option 'in a spirit of flexibility and accommodation'. Hedegaard thanked India."

Commenting, the Chinese delegation said the conference had produced "progressive and balanced outcome." Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, told Xinhua that the outcome is fully in accordance with the mandate of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Roadmap.

The outcome, he added, is also in line with the two-track negotiation process and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. "The conference made decisions on the arrangement of the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, which is the most concerned issue of developing countries," Xie noted.

"Also, there is an important progress on the finance issue, the establishment of the Green Climate Fund," he added. However, Xie said, the Durban conference did not accomplish the completion of negotiations under the Bali Roadmap.

"The implementation of the Cancun Agreements and the Durban Outcome will not be achieved in a short run," Xie said. "A heavy load of work ahead on the post-2020 arrangement needs to be done in order to enhance the implementation of the Convention."

Xie also cautioned that some developed countries are reluctant to reduce emissions and support developing countries with financial and technical aid. "The lack of political will is a main element that hinders cooperation on addressing climate change in the international community," he said. "We expect political sincerity from developed countries next year in Qatar."

Xie stressed that China will make further contributions to the global cause of tackling climate change by taking stronger domestic actions and continuing to play an active role in relevant international talks.

New life

Agreeing with the UN, IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, said the package agreed in Durban would "sustain current global efforts to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and to conclude a new agreement with legal force that would involve all countries in averting the threat of dangerous global climate change."

The agreement on a Green Climate Fund, which is expected to mobilise US$100 a year by 2020, and initial financial pledges offer hope that sufficient finance will flow to deal with climate change impacts, IUCN said.

"We had anticipated that Durban would be where the developed world would raise the bar on their current ambitions and all countries would purposefully commit to the development of a credible roadmap for deep and wide ranging targets for the comprehensive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," said Stewart Maginnis, IUCN's Director of Environment and Development.

"This has been achieved, and steps have been laid out for a new agreement to be put in place by 2015. A new spirit of compromise spanning the developed and developing countries is an encouraging step forward," IUCN said.

"This comes in the nick of time, as climate change is not going to wait for the negotiations on this new deal to be finalized. The impacts on ecosystems and peoples' lives will continue to become more and more evident and resolving these will come at an ever increasing cost in years to come," IUCN argued.

The Durban Package, according to IUCN, signals "recognition that the world's governments will purposely and comprehensively address the causes of climate change." The final agreement that will involve all countries will have to ensure that climate change mitigation measures are sufficient to meet the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C.

The package also makes it clear that national governments will step up their own efforts both to reduce emissions and to adapt to climate change, and to apply "no regrets" solutions while the final architecture of the agreements are hammered out.

There is growing bottom-up demand to manage natural systems better to buy the world's vulnerable communities some much needed breathing space in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

"In this respect it is imperative that national governments continue to take early, no regrets actions, as seen in countries like Rwanda, which earlier this year (2011) committed to a comprehensive border to border restoration of its degraded soils, wetlands and forests," IUCN statement said.

IUCN applauded the momentum that has resulted in a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol and strongly urges Parties to the UNFCCC to move swiftly towards putting in place a new global agreement that has legal force, aiming to stabilize the world’s climate.

Investments in the Green Climate Fund should provide the necessary resources for countries to move ahead with their own efforts. Among these there should be an increased emphasis on building on what already works: the power of intact natural ecosystems, IUCN said.

"Ecosystem- based approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation are cost effective, no-regrets solutions that governments ought to incorporate proactively into national policies and take immediate action to implement on the ground,” added Maginnis, IUCN's Director of Environment and Development.

"Improving the management of river systems, coastal ecosystems, coral reefs, mangroves and forests, and dryland systems can conserve carbon and improve the resilience of communities to deal with both the sudden and long-term consequences of climate change," he said.

Commenting the outcome, Chetan Chauhan wrote in the Hindustan Times on December 2011: "The rich nations used the Green Climate Fund and long-term finance commitment of US$100 billion to push big emitters China, Brazil and India against the wall and woo poorer nations to come out with an agreement having majority of elements they wanted."

Let down

In a rather critical reaction, Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Climate Justice Coordinator of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), said: "Ordinary people have once again been let down by our governments. Led by the U.S., developed nations have reneged on their promises, weakened the rules on climate action and strengthened those that allow their corporations to profit from the climate crisis."

The Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding framework for emissions reductions, she added, "remains in name only, and the ambition for those emissions cuts remains terrifyingly low." "The Green Climate Fund," which is intended to facilitate developing countries' efforts towards mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, "has no money and the plans to expand destructive carbon trading move ahead, said Clifton.

"Meanwhile," she added," millions across the developing world already face devastating climate impacts, and the world catapults headlong towards climate catastrophe."

For FoEI's climate justice coordinator, "It is clear in whose interests this deal has been advanced, and it isn't the 99% of people around the world." The noise of corporate polluters has drowned out the voices of ordinary people in the ears of our leaders, she added. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 11, 2011]

Picture: COP17 in Durban | Credit: UN

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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