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The Durban Platform and what it means

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Protester at the Durban climate summit

TOI reported the main contours of the agreement reached at Durban:

The Durban climate talks finally ended more than 36 hours after the scheduled closure on Sunday early morning. The world agreed to a new global climate change regime that will come in to force starting 2020.

The principle of equity founds its place back on the table at the climate talks. Life was resuscitated back into Kyoto Protocol, which will continue to be in force beyond 2012.

Beginning next year the 195 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change shall start negotiating a new global regime that will be finalised by 2015 and become operational from 2020.

Sunita Narain has a very perceptive take on the final Durban accord. I quote the first half of her article in Business Standard:

The Durban climate change conference — the 17th conference of parties — has ended, after grueling and acrimonious negotiations on how the world would cut carbon dioxide emissions that are linked to growth, but are also now jeopardising its future because of catastrophic weather changes. It ended with a package of decisions called the Durban Platform, which includes the mandate to start negotiations on a future agreement with more aggressive emission reduction targets to keep the world’s average temperature increase below 2°C or 1.5°C — a critical threshold if we are to keep the world from catastrophic climate changes.

The big fight — and a nasty one — was on the matter of whether this agreement would be legally binding on all countries or not. India, which opposed a legally binding agreement, was put into the dock. The Western media singled out India as the deal-breaker and condemned it as a country wanting its right to pollute.

But was the issue as simple as it was made out to be? When negotiations on climate change began over 20 years ago, it was well understood that the industrialised world — contributor to 70-80 per cent of the stock of emissions in the atmosphere — had to vacate space for the emerging world to grow. The deal also was that money and technology transfer would enable emerging countries to avoid future emissions growth. But none of this happened. Meagre targets were set; the US and other big polluters walked out of the agreement. The funds never came.

This deal was critical because if the already rich emitted in the past, the emerging rich will emit in the future. We know carbon dioxide emissions are linked to economic growth as the world imagines it today. We also know the road to a low-carbon economy is bumpy and costly. If the world is indeed serious about an agreement to cut emissions, it has to accept there will be limits for all — past polluters and future contributors. This agreement will only work if it is based on equal entitlements to atmospheric space. But at Durban, rich countries wanted to brush aside this principle.

Therefore, the move was to surreptitiously change the nature of the agreement itself: to create a single legally binding agreement for all countries, which would remove the differentiation between the contributors to the problem of climate change and the rest. It would wipe out countries’ historical contribution, and be based only on the remaining carbon budget if the world has to keep the 2°C temperature cap. This would freeze inequity in the world, and compromise the right to development of the emerging countries.

This was the battle of Durban. The final outcome is mixed; there is hope, as well as a mirror to the challenge ahead. Because of the fight-back by countries like India (backed by China, South Africa and even a hesitant Brazil), the final decision is that instead of a legally binding agreement, the future outcome could be a range of options. These include a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force.

The conference has agreed to fast-track these negotiations, saying that work should be completed by 2015, so that this new agreement or outcome can be implemented from 2020. Now the challenge will be to ensure that this future agreement accounts for the historical and current emissions of countries in setting targets. The conference has also included, in its future work programme, the Indian submission to re-focus on the issue of equity and burden sharing. So the fight for an effective and equitable climate agreement has only just begun.

This is squarely based on the twin facts presented in Der Spiegel just before the talks began (on the growth of emissions and the extent to which various countries are responsible for it).

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 11, 2011 at 7:04 pm

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