Beyond Durban or saving tomorrow, tomorrow


By Ion Holban, January 2012


The United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) from Durban 2011 ended with a common decision to adopt a legally binding agreement on climate change no later than 2015, to be fully implemented by 2020. However, just a day later Canada has pull out with Russia supporting their decision.

What are we to believe from the mixed reactions given by the negotiators, their governments and the environmental groups?

Well the negotiators claimed it as a success pointing out that agreeing to nothing would have likely been the end of the Kyoto agreement and therefore agreeing on a new commitment period is an important step in the right direction. This statement is only valid however is all the parties involved actually get to sign the agreement in 2015.


But what does history tells us? Well, if the above sounds familiar it is because we have been here before.

In 2005 at COP11, the negotiators agreed (in the Montreal Action Plan) that the Kyoto Protocol was to be extended beyond its 2012 expiration date without any gaps between the first and the second commitment periods. (Decision 1 CMP 1.3). That didn’t happen.

Then again in 2007 negotiators from UNCCC adopted the “Bali Road Map” as a two-year process to finalizing a binding agreement in 2009. That didn’t happen either. The Copenhagen conference from 2009 was plagued instead by a negotiating deadlock and the resulting “Copenhagen Accord” was not legally enforceable, just a statement.

The environmentalists point out that the Durban statement to agree is again nothing more than a statement, not the actual agreement. Furthermore if the parties involved pull out of the negotiations, as the Canadians did, than the likelihood of a binding agreement by 2015 is severely impeded, especially if other industrial countries choose to follow Canada’s example.

The recent history of climate negotiations therefore tends to show that what is usually agreed is by no means guaranteed to be implemented. This is rarely the fault of the negotiators, instead it points out that there is a substantial difference between the will of the negotiators and that of their own governments at home. The latter is the one making the final decision. And it’s fairly easy to establish a government’s intention from the amount of spending they are willing to invest in a particular sector. In the UK alone the figures do not look encouraging: the 2010 budget for renewable resources was £2.1bn (down from £7.1bn in 2009), in comparison the budget for military defense was £57bn (in 2010).


The delay in agreeing to an earlier date for a second commitment period in South Africa suggests that our world representatives are not yet taking seriously the challenge of climate change, but rather are focusing instead on events such as the financial crisis, social dissatisfactions and regional conflicts, that might be better represented in the world news than the environment.

The President of COP17/CMP7, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said at the end of the Conference: “What we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today.”

But today we remain unyielding and incapable of foreseeing the obvious climatic consequences of our own actions. I’m afraid that saving tomorrow will have to wait, for another day.


Durban – is it our last chance towards an agreement?


By Ciprian Diaconita, November 2011


Nearly 200 nations will come together for the event, but what are the reactions so far? Is the outcome decided before consultations have even started?

That might be the case for some countries, such as the US, the second largest carbon dioxide emitter after China, which is still refusing to bind to any agreement as long as big developing countries are not committed. Other governments are, however, starting to see beyond the political fog. Even China released a white paper highlighting its achievements on renewables, afforestation and industrial efficiency, and set the stage for closer collaboration with Europe and developing nations. This can be seen as a pre-emptive action to minimise blame, and shift it to the US, but it does show that China is becoming more co-operative and transparent. A similar stance to the US can be found with other developed countries, for example the Russian Federation, Japan and Canada, which although initially were supporters of the Kyoto framework in 1997 are now shifting their position and publicly declared they will not support a second commitment under the Protocol. This is not a surprise as the above three along with the US belong to an alliance strong enough to put pressure on any outcome. Ironically perhaps, the alliance is called the Umbrella Group.

This has the potential to create a domino effect, with China, India and Brazil, the more powerful members of the developing world, turning their back on any legally binding targets of their own and insisting instead that the Durban conference should focus on implementing another round of the Kyoto Protocol for industrialised countries only. Taking this into consideration, and the fact that major developed countries are shifting their commitment, will an agreement covering only a small per cent of global emissions make sense? Clearly not…

On the other hand the EU will report on its good progress in delivering the help it has pledged to developing countries and underline their position on a binding agreement, as Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, said: “Let’s be clear: The EU supports the Kyoto Protocol. But a second Kyoto period with only the EU, representing 11% of global emissions, is clearly not enough for the climate. This cannot constitute success in Durban. The key question is: when will others follow? Today’s mutually interdependent world means global climate action from all. What is at stake at Durban is to go beyond Kyoto. So the EU could go for a second Kyoto period if we get reassurances from the other major emitters that they will follow. In Copenhagen leaders pledged to stay below 2°C. Now the time has come to show that they mean it.”


Background: Kyoto Protocol – a missed opportunity?


By Ion Holban, November 2011


Has the Kyoto protocol achieved its goals?

The intention behind the Kyoto Protocol (1997) was to establish a legally binding international agreement, whereby all the participating nations commit themselves to tackling the issue of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. This goal was partially achieved as 191 countries have signed and ratified the protocol. On the down side, the lack of a strict commitment required from countries not classified as Annex 1 (developed nations) has resulted in developing countries such as China, India, Brazil being allowed to let their emissions spiral. This has been aggravated by the lack of commitment from the only Annex 1 country not to have ratified the protocol, the United States.


The main objective of the UNFCCC was the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The target agreed upon for Annex 1 countries was an average reduction of 5.2% from 1990 levels by the year 2012. This objective, even if Annex I Parties will generally succeed in meeting their first-round commitments by the end of 2012, is now globally even further from being achieved. This is mostly due to the fact that the majority of the world’s emissions are now produced by countries not classified as Annex 1 or that have failed to ratify it (US). Just China, US, Indonesia and India together account for over 45% of the worlds’ emission.


The argument put forward by opponents of the current agreement is that the protocol is now out of touch when tacking global emissions by focusing just on the developed countries. Some also argue that focusing for the last 15 years on just a minority of countries has allowed developing nations to continue emitting greenhouse gasses at an unsustainable rate. Others argue that each country should develop their climate strategies separately, within their own means.

However, climate change is a global problem and it should be treated globally. Maybe rather than looking at some of the failures of the Kyoto Protocol we should be looking at the achievements, such as the clear reduction in emissions achieved by Annex 1 countries and implement some of the successful measures on a global scale, in a second commitment period.


To completely end our commitment to Kyoto without a global resolution will bring all the progress achieved to a halt or even reverse it, while the countries involved will take years to agree on a new course of action. While the politicians clearly have plenty of time to argue on emission cutbacks, the concern here is that the climate has not.


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