Durban climate talks: toward a “Durban accord”?

Updated On: Dec 05, 2011

Halfway through the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Durban, both pessimism and optimism abound as old problems persist and new alternatives are considered. Thousands marched in Durban over the weekend calling for “climate justice.” Meanwhile, inside the convention, a new arrangement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol seems to be beginning to take shape.

In a peaceful demonstration, thousands filled the streets of Durban calling for “climate justice” and pushing for the convention to produce real solutions that rely less on markets, and which will answer the urgent need of the global poor who are most exposed to heat waves, droughts and floods intensified by global warming. Despite some remaining pessimism, the convention may in fact deliver a workable, legally binding agreement on climate change measures.

Report: Thousands march in Durban calling for “climate justice” (AFP, 3 December 2011)

The fate of the Kyoto Protocol: A “Durban accord”?

Much depends upon the outcome of the Durban talks. The contentious issue of the Kyoto protocol, which was deferred at Cancun, can no longer be delayed, as it is set to expire by the end of next year. Until recently, developed countries like the United States, Japan and Canada have flatly refused to adopt new obligations, while developing countries refuse to accept commitments equal to those of the developed in order to get them to maintain their present commitments.

In the middle of this debate, European countries have left open the possibility of a new set of Kyoto commitments, on the condition that all major countries agree to seek a new legally binding agreement by 2020, when current voluntary pledges run out. China, in particular, had long insisted it would not take on legally binding commitments to cut emissions.

In a surprising, and promising turn of events, China’s top climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua has laid out conditions under which Beijing would accept a legally binding climate deal. These conditions include the renewal of carbon-cutting pledges under the Kyoto protocol, along with hundreds of billions of dollars in climate-financing for poorer countries.

The 194-nation talks are now abuzz with hopes for a “Durban accord”, despite some continued pessimism, such as that on the part of ex-UN climate chief Yvo de Boer, who is of the opinion that the process of climate talks is to blame for the lack of solutions so far, and that Durban is unlikely to produce a meaningful accord.

“I believe the sincerity on the part of the world leaders is there, but it is almost as though they do not have control of the process that’s supposed to take them there.” De Boer’s pessimism is informed by a long view of the three years he spent as the leading voice on global warming on the world stage, which produced very little in the way of change.

At the outset of Durban, it seemed that developing countries would have to fight simply to ensure they are back on the agenda, but the new move by China, which is likely to significantly move talks forward, signals a victory of sorts for developing countries, some of which are the hardest hit by climate changes.

Report: China lays out conditions for legally-binding climate deal (Channel News Asia, 5 December 2011)

Report: Ex-UN climate chief to AP: talks are rudderless (Associated Press, 4 December 2011)

Report: Gloomy outlook in Durban (Malaysia Star, 5 December 2011)  

Commentary: Durban’s UN climate stakes (CNN, 30 November 2011) 

Working out the details: the Green Climate Fund

As the situation with the Kyoto Protocol develops, progress is being made on another front: Pakistan seems to have arrived at a winning formula for financing the Green Climate Fund. In the informal meeting on finance at COP17 last week, Pakistan suggested the use of a financial transaction tax (FTT), which could potentially gather between $176 billion to $650 billion a year.

Dubbed the “Robin Hood tax”, the FTT imposes a small levy of 0.01%-0.05% on the trade of various financial instruments. It has so far gathered support from many countries, although discussion about long-term financing options for the GCF seems to be pending.

The Green Climate Fund is intended to help developing countries tackle poverty and climate change.

Report: UN climate conference: In Durban, Pakistan wins the “Robin Hood” award (The Express Tribune, Pakistan, 4 December 2011)

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