Durban “road map” points to 2020

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.”


Baby steps at Durban yield negotiating draft

The first week of the 17th UN Climate Conference closed in Durban, South Africa today with a 73-page draft negotiating text, which was issued to conference members for further discussion.

An “amalgamation” of drafts, the document includes suggestions for relevant issues such as finance, technology, cooperation and capacity building. Included in the recommendations are steps to create a $100-billion-per-year Green Fund by 2020 to help developing countries tackle the causes and impacts of global warming.

The text does not address the conference’s entrenching concern: a legally binding agreement regulating carbon emissions by developed and developing countries. Instead, a separate group has been assigned to address the issue, and will report directly to the Conference of Parties.

According to the text, India’s Economic Times observes that “the South African presidency would like the final outcome of the meeting to be a ‘party-driven’ process.

With a stated ambition to serve as a bonding agent for individual group work done at the conference the draft text “provides an overview aimed at enabling delegates to see where there are gaps or lack of balance and to find ways to address these accordingly,” reads the introduction.

A final document will be submitted to the Conference of Parties and the general assembly for review in the coming days.

Another leading concern is the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions which was not signed by the world’s leading emitters, China and the United States (US). While the European Union has voiced support for the agreement, Canada suggested withdrawal at the conference’s start and other countries dug in their heels over signing a second term.

Over the weekend, however, China indicated it would consider a “legally binding” deal to reduce emissions. The decision followed a public rally on December 3.

US National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Richard Harris, reporting from Durban, said Kyoto alternatives do exist.

“For example, it might be possible to reach an agreement to set a global limit for emissions from energy-intensive industries such as steelmaking. Or, if the world agreed to put a price on carbon (not likely at the moment), that would encourage a shift away from carbon dioxide emissions without requiring a treaty that spells out national emissions limits. A gloomier possibility is the world will not act until and unless there’s a catastrophic event that’s clearly triggered by climate change.”

His conclusion echoes the Maldivian delegation’s message, articulated by Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam: “Our survival will be our top priority.”

Upon his departure for the conference, Aslam said the Maldives would lobby for a new international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent a rise in sea level, and would not relent to any country.

“We can’t go on without finding a conclusion to this. The Maldives will lobby for and say whatever we have to say to any country it is that we will not be able to move forward without endorsing this agreement.”

Officials at the ministry had not received sufficient updates from the Durban delegation to comment. Minivan was unable to reach the delegation abroad at time of press.

Meanwhile, former UN climate chief Yvo de Boer told the Associated Press (AP) that although he believes world leaders want an agreement, a failed negotiation process for a climate agreement had been a factor in his decision to leave his post 18 months ago.

“I do not see the negotiating process being able to rise to that challenge, being capable of delivering on that,” he told AP. “I believe the sincerity on the part of world leaders is there, but it’s almost as though they do not have control of the process that’s suppose to take them there.”

Do Boer, who refers to annual 194-nation summit as “a bit of a mouse wheel”, termed the current talks and their predecessors “a log that’s drifted away.” However, he recognises a group fear of leadership.”There is understandably a reluctance to be the first one to jump,” he said.

Meanwhile, the public is urging a plunge. “Occupy Durban”, a movement inspired by the ongoing “Occupy Wallstreet” protest in New York City, has assembled South African and foreign citizens protesting the “conference of polluters” which many claim does not represent the people.

Responding to Canada’s souring relationship with the Kyoto Protocol, indigenous citizens of Canada’s northern territories arrived in Durban “to act as a witness and to bring back the message of what Canada is saying so that we all understand where the Canadian government is at,” one protestor told CBC News Canada.

“We know that as indigenous people we have a lot of knowledge that is relevant to ecosystem, and that knowledge needs to be used when working on climate change adaptation,” said Daniel T’selei, a member of the indigenous youth delegation.