Delegates at Durban have reached a legally-binding agreement after the longest debate period in two decades of UN climate talks. It is the first time that leading emitters China, India and the US have jointly signed a climate agreement.
No reform targets have been agreed to, however, and negotiations towards a more explicit emissions-cutting agreement await the 2012 conference in Quatar.
“The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” is primarily “a road map” to further negotiations for another agreement in 2015, Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam has said, and differences between leading emitters remain on the table.
“What people had hoped for was to look at the Kyoto Protocol and make revisions so it would be more effectively applied, especially by those powers that didn’t ratify it initially. But that couldn’t be finalised, and differences remain among some of the world powers,” Aslam explained. Instead, the Kyoto Protocol was extended for another five years while member countries deliberate a “global, legally-binding instrument” to be voted on in 2015 and, if approved, ratified in 2020.
The agreement will aim to lower the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less, with 1.5 degrees Celsius as a target temperature.
“Those numbers will be maintained unless a scientific report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), to be released in 2014, finds that the numbers do not accurately reflect the situation,” Aslam said.
Meanwhile, the newly-founded Green Climate Fun intends to help poor nations address issues relevant to global warming such as drought, disease and erosion.
Speaking broadly about the efficiency of discussing climate change at an international level, Aslam said “further action is obviously required” and “more needs to be done internally.
“Countries have been saying that they support reformative action for climate change, and I think countries should start taking these actions.” Aslam pointed out that although the Maldives has consistently said it has “no problem with a legally binding agreement to cut emissions,” it lacks internal legislation in support of that goal.
“I plan to push for legislation to be passed through the Majlis stating our emissions targets. I believe it would be an example for the rest of the world,” Aslam said.
Aslam added that the current pledge-and-review process for evaluating climate deals bore no guarantee that reforms would be met.
Conference officials have issued positive statements about the outcome of the Durban talks, however small states and environmental groups were disappointed that the results were not bolder.
“We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come,” South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said.
Britain’s Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne said the result was “a great success for European diplomacy.”
“We’ve managed to bring the major emitters like the U.S., India and China into a roadmap which will secure an overarching global deal,” he said.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard also spoke in favor of the big picture. “The big thing is that all big economies, now all parties have to commit in the future in a legal way and that’s what we came here for.” The EU is credited for pushing China and the US to commit to a legally-binding agreement.
“In the end, it ended up quite well,” said U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern. “We got the kind of symmetry that we had been focused on since the beginning of the Obama administration. This had all the elements that we were looking for.”
India and island countries were more reluctant to hail the outcome as a success.
India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, who earlier criticised developed countries for not stepping up to the plate but asking developing countries to commit to climate reform, said her country had only reluctantly agreed to the accord.
“We’ve had very intense discussions. We were not happy with reopening the text but in the spirit of flexibility and accommodation shown by all, we have shown our flexibility… we agree to adopt it,” she said.
Local NGO BluePeace Director Ahmed Ikram said the group could not comment on the agreement because “since Copenhagen we have stopped attending these conferences, we doubt anything meaningful will come out of this.
Durban was the scene of protests during the conference, notably by young people calling the talks a “conference of polluters.” Minivan asked Minister Aslam whether the youth were the new face of climate change.
“I’ve always believed the issue of climate change cannot be resolved by politicians,” he said. “It has to be driven by the people. It is everyone’s issue and everyone should be involved. There are no better people to do this than the youth, especially since it is their future we are trying to protect.”