Durban: An Important Step Forward in Combating Global Climate Change

Posted by Todd Stern
December 19, 2011
Special Envoy Stern Speaks During Climate Conference in Durban

The 17th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded in the early morning hours of Sunday December 11, after more than two weeks of intense negotiations in Durban, South Africa. I've returned to Washington and I can report that we made some very significant progress. Though I'm steeped in the climate negotiations, I know how hard it can be to make sense of the various accords and agreements and how they can help us meet the climate challenge. So let me explain why what the Durban negotiations actually constitute an important step forward.

(1) For the first time, we agreed that by 2020, all countries will be covered under the same legal regime.

This is a breakthrough in climate negotiations. For the past 20 years, there has been a kind of firewall between developed and developing countries, most vividly embodied by the Kyoto Protocol, where all real obligations for reducing emissions apply to developed countries. If that ever made sense, it sure doesn't make sense now at a time when China is already far larger than the United States in emissions and will be more than twice our size in this decade, and where nearly all the global growth in emissions going forward will come from developing countries.

The United States has been pushing consistently, since the start of the Obama Administration, for a global accord that would cover all the major players, whether developed or developing. The so-called "Durban Platform" does that, calling for a new legal instrument "applicable to all Parties." It thus sets us on a path toward a very different kind of global agreement, whose obligations will extend to countries responsible for the vast majority of global emissions. By contrast, Kyoto in its first period (2008-2012) has applied to countries with less than 30 percent of global emissions, and in its upcoming second period will cover countries (mostly in Europe) that account for less than 15 percent of global emissions. You can't address climate change with an agreement that leaves 85 percent of global emissions on the sidelines.

The Durban Platform did not seem in the cards when the conference started. But several factors combined to make it happen. First, the European Union held strong to its position that it would agree to a second Kyoto period (something developing countries very much wanted) only if others committed to negotiate a legal instrument; second, small island states, facing what they see as an existential threat, spoke with a compelling voice in demanding ambitious action; third, the United States insisted, as it has done since 2009, that any language calling for a legal outcome had to apply to developing countries, especially the majors; and fourth, the major developing countries -- China, India, Brazil, South Africa -- showed new flexibility in accepting such language in a period from 2020 forward. The road to the "Durban Platform" was anything but smooth, but, helped by a final "huddle" on the floor of the Plenary session at 4 a.m. Sunday, with the United States proposing the language that broke the final logjam, the deal got done.

Under the Durban Platform, a new legal agreement is to be negotiated by the end of 2015, and will start to be implemented from 2020, after it has been approved in an adequate number of countries.

(2) We made good progress in carrying forward the agreements reached last year in Cancun for countries to reduce their emissions between now and 2020 and to build key institutions of an international climate regime.

Cancun wasn't a legally binding agreement, but it was enormously important nonetheless. Under it, all major players pledged to take actions to reduce their emissions, to set up a transparency regime so that all countries could have confidence that others were acting, and to set up important institutions such as a Green Climate Fund, a Climate Technology Center and Network to help disseminate green technologies, and a new Adaptation Committee. The challenge in Durban was to start making these elements operational, and this challenge was largely met. We wrote the guidelines for the new transparency regime; we approved the instrument setting up the Green Climate Fund; and we took the next steps forward on technology and adaptation, among other things. These steps will help build an international climate infrastructure, and will be crucial for driving mitigation action and supporting adaptation over the coming years.

(3) Answering a red herring: we are not putting off action until 2020.

I've heard some people question whether the dates embedded in Durban Platform mean that we've put off "real" action on climate until 2020. The answer is emphatically no. Look at what will be on our plates in the immediate term. First, under Cancun, all the major players pledged to implement targets or actions to reduce emissions between now and 2020. These are serious promises, so the first focus of pledging countries will be to take real action at home -- now.

Second, we have to do the important, on-the-ground work of setting up the Cancun institutions discussed above. Third, donor countries agreed in Copenhagen and again in Cancun to a goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020, assuming adequate mitigation and transparency by developing countries. Developing and implementing a plan to do this -- one that will inevitably depend heavily on using public measures to attract private investors -- will be a major undertaking in this decade. Fourth, while all this work to make the Cancun agreements operational is going on, we will need to get going on a parallel track of work toward negotiation of the new Durban Platform agreement by 2015. In short, the idea that Durban will result in real action being put off misconceives what we have just agreed to and the full-out effort required in the here and now.

So -- this coming year promises to be an important one, as we continue moving aggressively to set up the Cancun institutions and as we begin to grapple with what a new legal instrument, genuinely applying to all parties, should look like. We're in a much better place right now than most people thought possible two weeks ago.

Editor's Note: This entry appeared first on the The Huffington Post.



December 20, 2011

John in Canada writes:

What will happen between now and 2012?

Have people around the world not watched many dates come and go for a wide variety of agreements, protocols etc....only for them to collapse?

What about the countries that have not undergone growth like China, Russia and the west in general. What will happen to their progress - their societies?

In 2019 when many countries are facing the impossibility and perhaps the futility of this framework - what happens then?

Honestly and perhaps someone with a shred of common sense can chime in on this. If we all became bleeding edge enviro fundamentalists - would are planet become some static place of bliss? Would are planet stop the change it has been doing long before our arrival onto this planet? Would volcanoes stop? Would ice ages not occur? Would earthquakes stop? Will the sun stop its cycles? Will hurricanes disappear? Would drought be just a distant memory? Will asteroids never hit our planet? Would mass pandemics altogether stop?

What would the scientist say when in the future all the fear mongering, wasted resources and time on so called global warming- will mean nothing.

it is sad to see so many people run around crying the sky is falling - when they don't understand the sky. Some things in life are complex but at the same time very simple - other times things are quite simple, we just make them complex.

When so many intelligent people miss the mark i find it disturbing. Then again for decades we are taught what to think not how to think - its not surprising we act like the proverbial lemurs following one another over the cliff.

Dont get me wrong we must do an exceedingly better job at cleaning up our act but the notion that we will somehow overt some global catastrophe is false - one way or another catastrophe will come and when it does their will be not a damn thing we can do about it except hold onto our @sses. And it wont be anything we have done to cause it- has our history and limited knowledge of our world taught us nothing - mass extinction, flooding, ice ages...on and on it goes. It will happen again - its natural to understand this - foolish to ignore. More foolish is to think we are totally in control of something that really controls us. In many ways some people mirror or parallel the old belief that everything revolves around the earth - this was wrong. Today we think that we actually hold the key to prevent events that have been happening long before a human being set foot here - not only that - some people seem to think that we actually will be responsible for some events that would happen anyway.

Our ability to adapt, thrive and succeed is what is paramount - no matter what is thrown at us as a species - we have not even begun to address this - instead we think if we all just do this or that things will be all right - why not tell people to put their tin hats on and dream of nice warm fuzzy places and it will be - if only it was that easy.

Take a step back for a moment and think about what should make sense to anyone. Right now if a major cataclysmic event happened regardless of it being man made or not - how or could are societies cope and thrive? At the moment we cant. I call that failure. All the time wasted over climate issues and such - we could have handled this problem in a much better way - instead we think that we can recycle our societies to safety.(laugh)

Who will the environmentalists protest if a 12 Volcanoes were to erupt or a mini ice age were to befallen us along with a couple a dozen earthquakes for good measure? Im sure climate scientist would dash out and concoct a seemingly sensible story to make the simpletons believe it is all our fault - somehow. Scientist that are motivated by fear of being proven wrong or the desire at all costs to be right - and they are out there - are not very good scientists. How many scientist stated smoking was good? Most of the industry, pollutants, nuclear waste - was it not science that made all these possible? Now they want you to believe that its all evil and will doom us all without fail.

If we were pummeled by 1000 meteors some scientists could spin a story blaming DuPont for it - some fool somewhere would believe it.

we are not prepared and this 2020 business still does nothing to prepare us. Wasted opportunity and time.

Think about how we might not only thrive and survive any problem that comes our way and you will naturally solve global warming concerns while at the same time it will prepare us for the crap we cant control.

Man made or not catastrophe is bad for business, people and ultimately the stability of nations - sadly pollution is a very small part of a much bigger picture.

Some of these environmentalists care more for the planet than they do people. We have organizations led by geriatric people telling the young of this world to stop having children- some science has become a cult or a religion.


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