In Durban, South Africa, world officials and diplomats decided to do nothing about climate change. Although China produces per capita emissions that are four times lower than those of the United States, it should not ignore the fact that these emissions are already above the world average. Meanwhile, the US blames China for the rise in its aggregate emissions and refuses to make any commitments to reduce its own emissions. In Durban, rich countries pledged money, but also more carbon dioxide. Latin American countries took a variety of positions.
The Seventeenth International Climate Change Summit (Conference of Parties (COP-17)), which ended last month in Durban, should have forged a strong international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire in 2012.
Triple Crisis blogger Patrick Bond was recently interviewed by the Real News Network on why market-based mechanisms combating climate change, like carbon markets and the Green Climate Fund, are failing.
In 1992, when the world met to discuss an agreement on climate change, equity was a simple concept: sharing the global commons—the atmosphere in this case—equally among all. It did not provoke much anxiety, for there were no real claimants. However, this does not mean the concept was readily accepted. A small group of industrialised countries had burnt fossil fuels for 100 years and built up enormous wealth. This club had to decide what to do to cut emissions, and it claimed all countries were equally responsible for the problem. In 1991, just as the climate convention was being finalised, a report, released by an influential Washington think tank, broke the news that its analysis showed India, China and other developing countries were equally responsible for greenhouse gases. Anil Agarwal and I rebutted this and brought in the issue of equitable access to the global commons. We also showed, beyond doubt, that the industrialised countries were singularly responsible for the increased greenhouse gases.
Looking back now that the dust has settled, South Africa’s COP17 presidency appears disastrous. This was confirmed not only by Durban’s delayed, diplomatically-decrepit denouement, but by plummeting carbon markets in the days immediately following the conference’s ignoble end last Sunday.
Of course it is tempting to ignore the stench of failure and declare Durban “an outstanding success,” as did South African environment minister Edna Molewa. “We have significantly strengthened the international adaptation agenda,” she explained about the near-empty Green Climate Fund. “The design of the fund includes innovative mechanisms for bringing private sector and market mechanisms into play to increase the potential flow of funding into climate change responses.”
Following the conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference of COP 17 & CMP 7 in Durban, South Africa, and as part of our Spotlight Durban series, Triple Crisis recommends the following analyses on the package of decisions adopted at Durban and what they mean for the Kyoto Protocol and the 2020 successor agreement.
Durban, December 9: The halls outside are full of people who are now waiting for some action. But strangely enough, there is no sense of anticipation or excitement. Strange in a world, which is increasingly seeing the pain of climate change impacts, and which knows that time is running out.
So what was the agenda for this conference, and what is the expected outcome?
To the climate uninitiated, Durban has been portrayed as a fight between the ‘good’ – namely, the European Union (EU) – and the ‘bad’ – in this case, India in specific and China in general. The EU wants to move the world, and urgently; it has set a target for the completion of a new agreement by 2015 at the latest. It expects that this agreement will be legally binding and will include all countries to take commitments to reduce emissions in the future. This is necessary because the existing agreement, Kyoto Protocol, only sets emission reduction targets for the industrialised countries. Now with the world changing – China’s annual emissions have overtaken the US and India’s are growing as well – the new agreement must have all these countries on board. This is all good and necessary. The world indeed needs urgent action and the emerging world’s emissions have increased: therefore, new kinds of agreements are necessary.
United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban ended on Sunday morning with the launch of negotiations for a new global climate deal to be completed in 2015.
The new deal aims to ensure “the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties”, meaning that the countries should undertake deep Greenhouse Gas emissions cuts, or lower the growth rates of their emissions.
It will take the form of either “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”.
In a night of high drama, the European Union tried to pressurize India and China to agree to commit to a legally binding treaty such as a protocol, and to agree to cancel the term “legal outcome” from the list of three possible results, as they said this was too weak an option.
The UN Climate Conference is reaching its climax. Perhaps the most important decision being made is on the future of the global climate regime, and whether it will be as fair as the present one, or less so. And also whether what is decided is enough to tackle the worsening climate situation on the ground.
The hottest topic is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. Japan, Canada and Russia have announced they do not want to undertake a second period of commitment, when the first period expires in 2012.
The developing countries have been fighting for the protocol’s survival and vowed that Durban shall not be the protocol’s burial ground. All developed countries except the United States had committed to reduce their emissions by a certain percentage under this protocol.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the world is again conferring about what to do about climate change, and again deciding to do very little. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny. The satirical publication The Onion greeted the COP17 conference in Durban, South Africa by announcing the release of a new report showing that global warming may be irreversible if no action is taken to prevent it before 2006; in an example of fair and balanced reporting, they also interviewed a critic who put the point of no return as late as 2010.
The real debate in Durban seems less realistic than The Onion’s satire. Should the Kyoto Protocol, currently scheduled to expire next year, be extended or replaced by a better agreement to limit emissions? Will the promised $100 billion funding for climate adaptation – let alone the larger sums that will actually be needed – somehow materialize? Or should we just agree to keep talking?
While others are not blameless, the United States is the leader of the do-nothings, the country whose inaction ensures a global climate stalemate. As long as the world’s largest economy, with the largest cumulative emissions and the greatest resources to tackle the climate crisis, refuses to act, others are not likely to move forward on their own. Yet there is not a snowball’s chance in Texas that any significant climate policy will survive the current U.S. Congress.
From November 28th through December 9th, the world’s nations are meeting again to discuss solutions to the urgent threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions, this time in Durban, South Africa. This meeting, the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has been much less widely anticipated than the meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, two years ago. At that time, expectations were high, President Obama had just taken office, and for the first time ever literally dozens of heads of state were scheduled to attend a climate convention. Yet the result – a non-binding agreement called the “Copenhagen Accord” – was widely disappointing, and since then, the prospects for strengthening that agreement have only grown more remote. Indeed, even the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol (which the US did not ratify) is in serious doubt at this point.