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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Actual Progress on Climate at Durban?

In the early hours of this morning, the United Nations climate negotiations COP17 got behind the EU plan for a binding roadmap for the second period of the Kyoto Protocol. Over 120 countries (out of 194 present) agreed a legally-binding deal. After three all-nighters and going 36 hours over deadline, the talks concluded. The additional time is a classic COP tactic to wear people down until they agree. I remember journalists crashed out in the press room in Bonn ten years ago as the discussions went through the night*.

In Durban, some felt the agreement reached at COP17 was better than many had expected going in which sounds something like progress. Claims that “we saved Kyoto” are flying around now in the hours after the agreement. Not all the official statements are out yet but I've done a run round of some of the coverage to try to make sense of the decisions reached this morning.

The 'Durban Platform for Enhanced Action' apparently agrees to the following:

  • Developing countries will come into the legally-binding reduction targets, or at least an "outcome with legal force" in a new protocol
  • Negotiations on a new treaty will start in 2015 with targets in place by 2020
  • There will be a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries comply
  • The goal of holding global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius has been reaffirmed (3.6 Fahrenheit)
  • The statement notes with "grave concern" that the pledges listed won't meet that goal, and launches a "work plan" to consider improving those targets

Significant progress on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) was also made according to reports. Environmentalists remain critical with Greenpeace International calling it Deja Vu, saying the talks ended in failure and blaming the US. They say the agreement is not enough to limit climate change to a 2 degree rise in temperature. We’re currently on track for a dangerous 4 degree rise and some countries are still continuing pledges that put the world on a path toward 4 degrees C warming (7 degrees F).  

The finger was pointed at the EU and other developed countries by developing countries who claim we are not keeping our promises. According to the BBC's Richard Black, Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, berated the developed countries saying "We are doing things you are not doing... we want to see your real actions".  India was a real sticking point throughout the negotiations as they do not want to impact their economic development by signing up to carbon reduction targets.  

According to the BBC, Indian environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said “Western nations have not cut their own emissions as they had pledged; so why should poorer countries have to do it for them?”. All this goes to show that we have to be serious about leading by example.  Otherwise we are not credible. The economic crisis, which should incidentally result in reduced emissions as production and consumer spending decreases, is impacting developed and developing countries and cannot be used as an excuse to put off the inevitable.

UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne called the agreement “a significant step forward in curbing emissions to tackle global climate change. For the first time we’ve seen major economies, normally cautious, commit to take the action demanded by the science,” he said. The former Liberal MEP added “There are still many details to be hammered out, but we now need to start negotiating the new legal agreement as soon as possible.”

It seems like we are on the way to a new treaty, or an extended Kyoto Protocol, but time is ticking on relentlessly as negotiate. The international process is important but painfully slow.  We need to have all countries on board but in the meantime, there is room for pioneers to set an example and do more than spout rhetoric. As small businesses and individuals, we can all do our bit and keep the pressure on government and big business to make sure climate and other environmental issues stay high on their agendas. 

I've not been able to go 100% to the source on this as all the official statements aren't out yet so this blog is a patchwork of second-hand accounts including write-ups on Mother JonesBBC and The Guardian and the statement on the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change. Still, I hope this is a fair representation of what happened. *And yes, on days like this, I really miss environment journalism.  When I can get my hands on the text, I’ll update as necessary.  Thanks to all for the excellent twitter feeds from Durban. 

Blog by Kathryn Sheridan
Photo credit Joshua Wiese http://www.joshuawiese.com/

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