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The Durban Deal - An initial analysis of the outcomes

Posted Dec. 12, 2011 / Posted by: Kate Horner

If I looked up the accepted UN policies and procedure, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t find a “huddle” anywhere in there as a usual means to craft international law, but sure enough, in the wee hours of the Durban climate talks that had run late by nearly 36 hours, perhaps the most important negotiation shaping the future of the UN climate talks happened in large scrum in the middle of main plenary hall.  Developed countries were insisting on establishing a new mandate to launch a new round of negotiations (despite already having an existing climate regime built up over the last fifteen years).  India insisted on one word, one small word. Equity.  As per usual, the US blocked it.   

When I look back on those hazy sleepless nights, it is that moment that will haunt me and likely the world for years to come.  As my friend and colleague, Dr. Sivan Kartha, reminded me in Durban, “Adequacy without equity is tyranny.”  The future climate regime risks not only being a weak one, with its low ambition and clear trajectory towards a voluntary system of emissions reduction pledges, but a regime that is fundamentally inequitable and unfair.  The tyranny is not just the extraordinary and devastating impacts of a current and increasingly warming world. It is the tyranny of keeping the poor, poor, while the rich grow wealthier.  

The Indian Minister of Environment, Jayanthi Natarajan said, "India is asking for space for basic development for its people and poverty eradication. Is this an unreasonable demand? Former Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi said that poverty is the greatest polluter and development is the greatest healer. Equity has to be the centerpiece of the climate discussion and our negotiations should be built on it."

Many developed countries have said repeatedly that they can only do more, once the so-called major emitters take greater action.  The refrain is well-known and repeated often: “The world is not what it was in 1997.” “China is now the world’s biggest emitter.”

China has one of the most ambitious domestic positions on climate change of any developing country (and better than most developed countries. Its current pledge is domestically binding, and it is not conditioned on receiving finance, or the level of ambition by developed countries. Even still, China remains a developing country. While it may have an advanced industrial manufacturing base (for products largely destined for American consumption), it also has among the most bi-furcated economy in the world, with millions of people still languishing in poverty. 

India is even poorer, with 1.2 billion people and one tenth the emissions reductions of the United States. 400 million people still live without basic access to electricity.  Sixteen Indians live on the income of one American. Its per capita emissions are 1.48 tons compared to 17.52 tons for the US.  Its water supply – the Himalayan glaciers – are under serious threat from climate change.  Monsoons have and will continue to ravage the country. Without equity, the tyranny of climate change means subjecting the millions – literally millions – of people in India who remain very poor to take on the burden of solving a problem they didn’t create. 

Durban was, unfortunately, not the important milestone in building a new climate regime that many have said it is. Instead, these talks represent a dismantling of the existing climate regime and one further milestone in a long history of rich countries backtracking on their promises and reneging on inconvenient obligations at the expense of people and the planet.  The ambition is shockingly low, relying on future scientific review processes to raise the level of ambition, as though the science was not yet frighteningly clear, so starkly obvious, that we must wait another decade to deal with this problem seriously.  If we ever listened to the science, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. 

And now on to the wonkery.  Here’s what was actually agreed in Durban:

The “Durban Platform”

Instead of implementing the ambitious and equitable negotiating roadmap that was agreed in Bali four years ago, a new process to launch negotiations for a new treaty was agreed. The “Durban Platform” will delay much needed climate action, lock in low ambition, and possibly shift the burden of addressing climate change on to developing countries. 

The Durban Platform will conclude in 2015 and come in to force by 2020, delaying action by nearly ten years, even as scientists continue to warn that action is needed yesterday, not tomorrow, and certainly not in ten years.  The new mandate for negotiations will supposedly raise the level of ambition by drawing on new reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If governments responded adequately to scientific consensus on the severity of the climate crisis, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.  Notably, the new work program on raising the level of ambition applies only to mitigation and not to technology, finance or any other of the core areas of concern to developing countries.

The new Durban Platform essentially gives a “blank cheque” for the wealthy world to extract new concessions from developing countries, as they have in the past. The issues it would address are similar to those contained in the Bali Action Plan (which was supposed to have produced a binding agreement years ago) but not exactly the same. It is not clear what good a new mandate does, except to weaken the Bali roadmap, delay action, and shift the burden onto developing countries.

The Durban Platform will apply to all countries but makes no distinction between developed and developing countries. The text ignores longstanding principles crucial to ensuring that climate change is tackled in a manner that is fair and just. The principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the pillars on which any new efforts to address climate change - including common but differentiated responsibilities, equity and historical responsibility are conspicuously absent. The many and forceful demands for these principles were ignored.  The United States, in particular, blocked any reference to equity.  

The new mandate risks creating a weaker system that fails to recognize the historic responsibility of developed countries due to the pollution they have created, but it creates new obligations for developing countries, further shifting the burden on to those least responsible for this problem but who have even so pledged to do more to solve this crisis.

The Kyoto Protocol – An Empty, Crumbling Shell

The Kyoto Protocol continues only as an empty – indeed crumbling – shell.  Canada, Japan and Russia will not include any targets under the second commitment period. Australia and New Zealand will only consider it, possibly, depending on what happens at home, at some point in the future.  Even the countries that have signed up only offer shockingly low levels of ambition that will not keep the world safe. 

Equally importantly, countries did not agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in Durban.  A legal second commitment period requires a full amendment of all Annexes (related to new emissions reductions targets and any changes in the rules, like accounting for land use emissions or market mechanisms) and a ratification process. This did not happen in Durban.

Instead, this text simply invites Kyoto Protocol parties to offer their pledges in an annex to the decision.  While the words are used similarly, the annex referred to this text is not the same Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol which must be amended and ratified to secure a legally binding second commitment period.    This text agrees on the rules as simply CMP decisions and merely proposes amendments. There is no guarantee that a legal second commitment period will be adopted next year. 

Countries have been negotiating a second commitment period for nearly seven years. After being on life support for the last two, the Kyoto Protocol that continues after Durban will be merely a ghost haunting the world, a reminder to the world of the great escape led by the United States, and while not quickly, but altogether enthusiastically, followed by Canada, Japan and Russia.

Bali Action Plan – All But Abandoned

The Bali Action Plan, a roadmap agreed four years ago in Bali, to bring the United States on board and scale up much needed financing for developing country climate needs has been all but abandoned, with negotiations set to end next year.  The United States has weaseled out of every important promise it was supposed to keep, including its moral and legal obligation take action comparable to other developed countries in line with its own historic responsibility as well as its promise to provide scaled up finance.    

More importantly, the new Durban Platform essentially scraps the Bali Action Plan. The AWG-LCA – the negotiating forum for the Bali Action Plan – will end next year at the 18th COP in Qatar, even though the Bali Action Plan, agreed four years ago, has not yet been fully implemented.

The specifics of the text are less than encouraging in and of themselves, but even more alarming when viewed as a precursor of future negotiations on the Durban Platform. 

Shared Vision: The shared vision section largely restates what was agreed in Cancun. Many developed countries expressed frustration that the there was not agreement on the timeline for a global peaking year (when emissions must reach their peak and then decine).  A global peaking year establishes the remaining carbon budget.  Without ensuring fair burden sharing among those with historic responsibility for causing climate change and those less responsible, establishing a peaking year creates, by default, an unjust system to reduce emissions. The peaking year should not be de-linked from the technology and finance that will enable developing country action.  As there was no agreement on burden sharing or long-term finance, it was better that this was not agreed in Durban.

Developed Country Mitigation: This text makes no progress towards increasing the emissions cuts of developed countries.  It merely decides on further work to ‘clarify’ the pledges made in Cancun. The current pledges are unacceptably weak and could risk up to 5C of warming.  Perhaps even more importantly, there is no reference to historic responsibility and comparability.  The whole point of including developed country emissions reductions cuts in the Bali Action Plan was meant to capture the United States without compelling the United States to join the Kyoto Protocol. Without the reference to historic responsibility and comparability, there is no assurance that the United States will do its fair share.  This is particularly damaging as several developed countries jump ship from the Kyoto Protocol to a new agreement. 

Long term finance: There is no commitment to provide financing for much needed climate action after 2013, no country pledges and nothing of substance in the text about how climate finance will be raised or disbursed. There is no reference to public government contributions or innovative sources of finance, such as a financial transaction tax. Also, there is no connection between long term finance and the Green Climate Fund.

The most concrete the LCA text gets on long term finance was to call for a “work programme” to analyze options for mobilizing climate finance after 2012. The analysis will draw on reports that were developed outside of the UNFCCC process – like a World Bank/IMF report to the G20 and the Advisory Group on Climate Finance. There is no indication that the work programme would result in a decision to commit to or implement any specific sources of long term finance at COP 18. ,

Market Mechanisms: This text does not formally create new market mechanisms but establishes a process to develop them for next year.  This is a dangerous back door attempt to create ineffective new carbon trading systems. Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the US want to see offset credits generated from markets outside the UNFCCC eligible toward their mitigation commitments. These bilateral or unilateral market mechanisms have not been established here in Durban but remain a real danger, as they will be considered over the course of the next year.

REDD:. Like the overall text on market mechanisms, the REDD text says that forest offsets may be developed at some point in the future.  This opens the door to develop dangerous forest offset credits. The methodological guidance agreed on REDD is a dangerous step backwards, igniting many’s worst fears that REDD would become an incentive to deforest, while infringing on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.  The text on reference levels allow countries to inflate their baselines to allow for future forest destruction, meaning that countries could receive credits still for road building and timber extraction.  The safeguards implementation and reporting text is weak and vague.    

Green Climate Fund

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) runs a high risk of being at best an empty shell with no long term financing. A GCF was established in Durban, but there was no agreement - no real discussion even - of sources of finance to fill the fund. 

The wealthy world used the creation of a new fund to extract new concessions from developing countries. Many poor countries said in Plenary that they were told they would get nothing if they did not agree to this new “Durban platform” to launch negotiations.  This kind of manipulative negotiating strategy, where the wealthy world holds the world withholds even its own existing obligations in an attempt coerces poorer countries to concede time and again, has left in a perilous state of near runaway climate change and shatters the trust that is so vital to these negotiations.

A private sector facility was also established within the GCF to give multinational corporations and financiers direct access to the fund. However, the “transparent no-objection procedure” for national designated authorities (NDAs) could potentially give last say on private sector subsidies to national governments. However, there is a real danger that the GCF will mirror development finance at the World Bank, where multinational corporations receive the majority of financing while small and medium enterprises are consistently passed over.

Once again, governments came to the table representing dirty interests and the financial elite, not the poor or the planet. 

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