The Great Durban Agreement on Climate Change

Negotiators are calling it a great success.

The World Climate Change Summit in Durban, South Africa, ended up running overtime into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Here’s the stance countries were taking throughout most of the 2-week gathering.

Here are the results:

1. The EU extended the Kyoto Protocol through 2017, but Canada and Japan pulled out.

2. Next year, negotiations will begin on a new, legally binding accord that will be signed by 2015 and come into force by 2020.

3. The new accord will include ALL countries, developing and advanced. The US, China and India agreed to participate, so all the biggest polluters are now in.

4. Concrete progress was made on rules for monitoring and verifying emissions reductions, protecting forests, transferring clean technologies to developing countries and many technical issues.

Countries agreed to abide by detailed guidelines for biennial emissions reports including their actions to combat global warming. The reports will be subject to expert review and formal "consultation" among all countries, which will provide greater transparency and accountability.

The Green Climate Fund, which would provide $100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020, was launched under the aegis of the UN, but many critical decisions have yet to be made. The fund is intended to mobilize low carbon investments in developing countries, prevent deforestation, and assist the most vulnerable countries in adaptation.

A call for proposals to host a Climate Technology Centre and Network goes out in January – it will be operational by March 2012. Its purpose is to faciliate deployment of low carbon technologies, build national and international capacity, and support R&D of new clean technologies. Questions of intellectual property ownership remain.

All in all, the "Durban Platform of Enhanced Action" begins to resolve the major sticking points among the world’s nations: it shares responsibility for controlling carbon emissions and helps the world’s poorest and most climate-vulnerable nations grow through clean technology and cope with the devastating impacts of climate change.

And although India, in particular, and China, still believe it’s very unfair to be on a level playing field with countries that have polluted for 200 years (US), the distinctions between major developing nations and industrialized ones are beginning to blur when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Reactions to Durban Agreement

Industrialized nations got what they wanted – the developing world agreed, for the first time, to participate in binding emission cuts in the next accord.

China and India wanted the Kyoto Protocol to be extended and they got that.

The EU and US have also been at cross-hairs – the EU wants a binding top-down agreement and the US favors a bottom up agreement that focuses on voluntary pledges and domestic legislation. The EU opened the door for a new binding agreement, and the US got some breathing room to work on voluntary pledges until that happens.

Britain’s Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne called the negotiation, "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."

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said, "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."

The environmental community wasn’t satisfied, pointing to the obsession over the final wording of the text as a waste of valuable time, when governments should have been focused on raising emissions cuts to a level that could realistically address global warming. They also point to the many potential loopholes in the text.

"It’s better than "the worst" possible outcome, but it’s still a cowardly, unacceptable delay on global climate action — and a recipe for climate disasters," says 350.org, which led Occupy UN Climate Talks during the conference.

India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan gave an impassioned speech about what she saw as unfair pressure to compromise. India only reluctantly agreed to the accord. "We have shown our flexibility… we agree to adopt it."

Small island states who are on the front lines of climate change, say they went along with the deal, because the only other option was the collapse of the talks.

"I wanted more, but at least we have something to work with. All is not lost yet," said Selwin Hart, chief negotiator on finance for the coalition of small states.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, head of the Africa Group, said, "It’s a middle ground, and although it lacks balance, we believe it is starting to go into the right direction."

"Producing a new treaty by 2015 that is both ambitious and fair will take a mix of tough bargaining and a more collaborative spirit than we saw in the Durban conference these past two weeks," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Extension of Kyoto

Extending Kyoto ensures there will be a continued standard of emission cuts and helps bridge the gap for a new international deal by 2020.

It eases investor concerns that the EU carbon market might lose its legal basis. The extension also gives developing nations, China, India, Brazil, more time to adjust to mandatory commitments without hampering their growth.

The EU will essentially roll in its own set of binding goals, which go far beyond the 6% carbon reduction required under Kyoto.

It has mandatory targets of a 20% cut in emissions and a 20% increase in renewable energy by 2020, which the block is on track to meet. It’s only half-way on track to meet its third 20%target of increased energy efficiency, which isn’t mandatory.

"International targets do two things. They motivate and reinforce national policy and they give confidence to countries and investors that policy will last," said Michael Jacobs, visiting professor of climate change and the environment at the London School of Economics.

"In the end what drives emissions reduction is national policy, not international targets. Durban can only provide the basis for this."

In the meantime, the 90+ countries that signed voluntary pledges at the Copenhagen conference, will move ahead on those.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the world would now turn to those pledges. "It’s moving too slow, but it’s moving."

Although China prefers voluntary measures and supported them in Copenhagen and then Cancun, it agreed to take on mandatory targets after 2020.

"What is positive in Durban is that governments have reopened the door to a legally binding global agreement involving the world’s major emitters, a door which many thought had been shut at the Copenhagen conference in 2009," said Bill Hare, director at Climate Action Tracker.

"What remains to be done is to take more ambitious actions to reduce emissions, and until this is done we are still headed to over 3C warming. There are still no new pledges on the table and the process agreed in Durban towards raising the ambition and increasing emission reductions is uncertain in its outcome."

Canada Seen As Villain

During the Durban conference, the Canadian government approved a fifth tar sands mine, this one for oil giant Total SA, which took a 60% in US-based solar leader, SunPower earlier this year.

Total, which could produce 100,000 barrels a day when it starts production in 2018, hasn’t decided whether it will proceed with the massive project.

Alberta’s tar sands are behind Canada’s huge increase in emissions, rising more than 30% since it signed the Kyoto Protocol. The area hosts the world’s third-largest oil reserves, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, but are the largest that are available for private investment.

"Approving Total’s Joslyn tar sands mine during the UN climate summit in Durban is like poking the international process in the eye," said Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defense. Canada’s reputation has already been battered on the world stage because we’re siding with big polluters instead of taking action on global warming, and this new tar sands mine will reinforce that."

Since Kyoto is "binding," what happens to Canada for violating the treaty? Does it matter if there’s a binding world treaty if there are no repercusssions for blatantly ignoring it? It turns out that’s why Canada pulled out – if they had stayed through the end of 2012 – the end of the first committment period – they would have been fined about $13.6 billion for non-compliance.

"We’re not going to be overly distracted by the ongoing shell game of endless UN negotiations, says Bill McKibben of 350.org. "We know the real debate is between the bottom line of the scientists, and the bottom line of the fossil fuel companies — and we’re working hard to tip that debate towards science. Just as we took on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, we’re going to take on the subsidies that make the oil companies so rich, and the systemic corruption that makes them so politically powerful."

Many believe it will be the economics of green technologies and the business competition between countries that will drive positive outcomes on climate change, not an international treaty.

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