Durban climate talks agreement raises hopes - and fears

Posted: 11 December 2011

After 48 hours of extra talking the UN climate convention meeting in Durban finally ended in the early hours with agreement to negotiate a new and more inclusive treaty by 2015 and to establish the long-mooted Green Climate Fund.

Some commentators saw this as a positive outcome, with more attention being put on the developing world’s need to be treated with equity – and one which saves the day for future negotiations. But many pressure groups dismissed the outcome as far too little and far too late.

Welcoming the agreement, a UN spokesman said it still left the world with some serious and urgent challenges if a global temperature rise is to be kept under 2 degrees Celsius in the 21st century. By some estimates current emission trajectories, unless urgently reversed, could cause global temperature to rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century.

The Bridging the Emissions Gap report, put together by scientists across the globe, in preparation for Durban, showed that emissions need to peak before 2020. The proposed new agreement will not come into force until that year.

Carbon emissions trajectory 2010-35

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said: “The outcomes of Durban provide a welcome boost for global climate action. They reflect the growing, and in some quarters unexpected, determination of countries to act collectively… A number of specific commitments agreed in Durban also indicate that previous decisions on financing, technology and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) are moving to implementation.”

Under today’s agreement the European Union and several other countries can continue to carry on with their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 now that other governments, including major emitters from developed and developing ones, have agreed to negotiate a new treaty with some form of lega status and with ,deeper emission reductions, by 2015 [though Canada has since announced that  it will withdraw from the Kyoto Protoco].

The Durban agreements  also promises to move forward on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which aims to raise US$100 billion to support developing countries by 2020 and agreed to establish an Adaptation Committee and a process that will lead to the establishment of a Climate Technology Centre and Network.

Spirit of compromise

Migrant, Ganges Delta
In the Ganges Delta, living with varying water levels is a way of life. Migration, particularly towards coastal urban centres, has emerged as a coping mechanism when extreme events endanger life and livelihoods. With projected sea level rise, combined with the possibility of more intense flooding and storm surges, migration may become a necessity for many communities, at least for parts of the year. Photo © UNHCR

The World Conservation Union also welcomed the agreement which, said Stewart Maginnis, IUCN’s Director of Environment and Development, showed a new spirit of compromise spanning the developed and developing countries. It had “come in the nick of time, as climate change is not going to wait for the negotiations on this new deal to be finalized. The impacts on ecosystems and peoples’ lives will continue to become more and more evident and resolving these will come at an ever increasing cost in years to come.”

WWF was less impressed. "Governments have salvaged a path forward for negotiations, but we must be under no illusion - the outcome of Durban leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of 4C warming. This would be catastrophic for people and the natural world.

“Governments have spent crucial days focused on a handful of specific words in the negotiating text, but have paid little heed to repeated warnings from the scientific community that much stronger, urgent action is needed to cut emissions.

"Many countries came in good faith to seal a deal, but have been stymied by a handful of entrenched governments who have consistently resisted raising the level of ambition on climate change.

"The fight will not stop here. One crumb of comfort in Durban has been the emergence of a large coalition of high ambition countries, led by the most vulnerable nations and small island states, including many in Africa. It’s good that the UK and EU have aligned themselves with this coalition, but Europe must urgently convince the world that it is serious by increasing the ambition of its painfully weak emissions target for 2020 to at least 30 per cent below 1990 levels. By doing so, the EU would actually benefit its own economy - saving billions on imported fossil fuels and creating the springboard for green growth and new green jobs."

Turning point

From India, Sunita Narain. director general of the Centre for Science and the Environment (CSE), was encouraged by the result, “The Durban Conference is a turning point in the climate change negotiations as even though the developing countries have won victories, these have come after much acrimony and fight.

“At Durban the world has agreed to urgent action, but now it is critical that this action to reduce emissions must be based on equity. India's proposal on equity has been included in the work plan for the next conference. It is clear from this conference that the fight to reduce emissions effectively in an unequal world will be even more difficult in the years to come. But it is a conference, which has put the issue of equity back into the negotiations. It is for this reason an important move ahead."

There was less enthusiasm from Friends of the Earth International which said that "Ordinary people have once again been let down by our governments. Led by the US, developed nations have reneged on their promises, weakened the rules on climate action and strengthened those that allow their corporations to profit from the climate crisis."

"The Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding framework for emissions reductions, remains in name only, and the ambition for those emissions cuts remains terrifyingly low. The Green Climate Fund has no money and the plans to expand destructive carbon trading move ahead. Meanwhile, millions across the developing world already face devastating climate impacts, and the world catapults headlong towards climate catastrophe."