(Article) Durban Climate Meet: Bye Bye Kyoto - Civil Services Mentor Magazine February 2012

Durban Climate Meet: Bye Bye Kyoto

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, was held from 28 November - 11 December 2011. The conference involved a series of events, including the seventeenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 7). In support of these two main bodies, four other bodies convened: the resumed 14th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWGLCA); the resumed 16th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP); and the 35th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). The Conference drew over 12,480 participants, including over 5400 government officials, 5800 representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental  organizations and civil society organizations, and more than 1200 members of the media. The meetings resulted in the adoption of 19 COP decisions and 17 CMP decisions and the approval of a number of conclusions by the subsidiary bodies. These outcomes cover a wide range of topics, notably the establishment of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, a decision on long-term cooperative action under the Convention, the launch of a new process towards an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all parties to the Convention, and the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund.

The negotiations were driven by a series of interdependent linkages—some constructed to drive the negotiations forward, some integral to the field of climate change politics, and some based decisively on an understanding that 21st century global challenges need global solutions. This brief analysis examines some of the defining interdependencies that help tell the story of the Durban Climate Change Conference and the launch of a new phase of climate change negotiations. At the outset, expectations were modest with many countries feeling that “operationalizing” the Cancun agreements was all that could be achieved. Others wanted a balanced and interdependent package within a year that resolved the Kyoto Protocol question, moved to a new legallybinding treaty and operationalized the Green Climate Fund.

In Durban early informal consultations helped to clarify the technicalities of the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, especially the two-stage approach that defers the definition of quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs) and their adoption as amendments to Annex B to the eighth session of the Kyoto Protocol Meeting of the Parties, proved very useful in keeping prospective participants on board.This core demand drew legitimacy from Bali and helped frame the Durban negotiations. Indeed it is arguable that the EU drafted the script for the central plot in Durban by setting out their stall early in the process and offering to do the heavy lifting to save the Kyoto Protocol within the context of a roadmap that put up a challenge to other parties—developed and developing.

The package agreed comprises four main elements: a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, the design of a Green Climate Fund and a mandate to get all countries in 2015 to sign a deal that would force them to cut emissions no later than 2020, as well as a workplan for 2012. Progress on each element of the Durban Platform unlocked other elements. For example early in the second week, delegates made headway on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention; a fund expected to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020. Reports of early progress on the GCF—a priority deliverable for the South African hosts and the region, proved to be a major contributor in raising the stakes. A fragile sense of possibility emerged as Ministers arrived, although there were increasing concerns about the diplomatic management of the process by the South African Presidency.

India and China: Role redefined

The intensity of the negotiations was highlighted by an impassioned speech by India's Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan that capped the finale of the UN climate summit which concluded with a Durban Package, after she warned that India "will never be intimidated by any threat or pressure". "Natarajan's speech ensured that India's main concern – the inclusion of the concept of equity in the fight against climate change – became part of the package,".  The COP17 plenary session came to a halt following row between Natarajan and European Union (EU) Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard after objection over agreements reachedbehind closed doors. India had wanted a "legal outcome" as the third option, but Hedegaard said this would put countries' sincerity in doubt. That set off Natarajan, who roared: "We have shown more flexibility than virtually any other country. But equity is the centrepiece, it cannot be shifted. This is not about India. Xie Zhenhua, the vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, who headed the Chinese delegation, pointed out that the developing countries like India and China were "already doing much more than developed countries" against global warming. "U.S. and Chinese chief negotiators joined the huddle too. More frenzied applause indicated an agreement had finally been reached. When the session reconvened, Natarajan announced that India had agreed to a change of wording in the third option 'in a spirit of flexibility and accommodation'. Hedegaard thanked India." Commenting, the Chinese delegation said the conference had produced "progressive and balanced outcome." Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, told Xinhua that the outcome is fully in accordance with the mandate of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Roadmap. The outcome, he added, is also in line with the two-track negotiation process and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. "The conference made decisions on the arrangement of the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, which is the most concerned issue of developing countries," Xie noted. "Also, there is an important progress on the finance issue, the establishment of the Green Climate Fund," he added. However, Xie said, the Durban conference did not accomplish the completion of negotiations under the Bali Roadmap. "The implementation of the Cancun Agreements and the Durban Outcome will not be achieved in a short run," Xie said. "A heavy load of work ahead on the post-2020 arrangement needs to be done in order to enhance the implementation of the Convention." Xie also cautioned that some developed countries are reluctant to reduce emissions and support developing countries with financial and technical aid. "The lack of political will is a main element that hinders cooperation on addressing climate change in the international community," he said. "We expect political sincerity from developed countries next year in Qatar." Xie stressed that China will make further contributions to the global cause of tackling climate change by taking stronger domestic actions and continuing to play an active role in relevant international talks.