There is a wide range of opinion about the Durban climate change summit which is officially known as the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For the die hard believers in talks, it implied a “Historic Breakthrough: The Planet Is Saved” and for the doomsayers the summit meant a “Tragic Failure: The Planet Is Doomed.”
Extending the Kyoto Protocol
Regardless of the subjective statements what really came out from Durban was the extension of what is the only existing climate treaty – the 1997’s Kyoto Protocol to 2017. The world was much different when it was approved. The Kyoto Agreement only put emission cuts on developed nations – calling it unfair the US boycotted Kyoto since 2001. The other big polluters, such as Russia, Japan, and Canada did not agree to stick to the Kyoto Accord. Developing countries and rapidly industrializing nations – such as China, India, and Brazil– are not covered by it.
The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012 and it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Union to slash carbon emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Developing countries were exempt from any control, because they were not then emitting very much. It was a key demand of developing nations, who always argued that developed nations are primarily responsible for the global warming problem due to their leading roles in the Industrial Revolution. At Durban, it was agreed that the Kyoto targets for the developed countries will be maintained for another term between five and eight years; the final decision to be taken in the next climate talks atQatarin 2012 (and then no more cuts).
Since the Kyoto treaty, developing nations’ emissions have grown very fast. Now China emits more greenhouse gases than the US and India recently overtook Russia and is the third highest emitter. China alone is responsible for fully 23 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. “Developing countries” as defined by the Kyoto treaty now emit 58% of the greenhouse gases.
All Countries to Cut Emission
The Durban negotiations may be called “historic” in the sense that it lays the groundwork for an all-inclusive, legally binding emission-cut on all countries – rich and poor alike. For first time the biggest carbon emitters – China, the US and India–agreed to negotiate legally binding restrictions. The US came forward because China and India first agreed. So now all countries are committed to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. In order to achieve this they have agreed to negotiate “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” by 2015 which will then be ratified in next five years and come into force by 2020.
Wealthy nations persuaded developing countries to join them in a legally binding pact to undertake emission cuts – at a future date. In return, they agreed to a second round of Kyoto emission cuts but left the details vague. Many see it as a loss for the developing nations. Any way it is another step forward from the voluntary pledges of the Copenhagen Accord two years ago. It was something no one took seriously.
Green Climate Fund
The third significant development at Durban is a new Green Climate Fund aimed at channeling up to $100bn a year to poorer countries, to help them cut emissions and adapt to climate change, by 2020. The details of financing of the climate fund will be discussed at next year’s climate meeting in Qatar. Also agreed upon in Durban was that the developing countries should report on their emissions and reductions by 2014. However, the problem is that no means to measure emissions that are binding to all have been approved.
EU – The Deal Maker
It is fair to say that the EU brokered the deal. It came with a clear agenda: another period of Kyoto treaty commitment in return for a “roadmap” to a binding agreement for all nations – both developed and developing. The exact nature of the future regime will be decided by 2015. However, the new deal is not to be “legal binding”. It could be another international legal-binding agreement on the line of Kyoto Protocol, “another legal instrument” like the Copenhagen Accord, or “an agreed outcome with legal force” in the form of domestic legislations and pledge coupled with review and transparency mechanisms. These options were put forth by major emitters: The EU, the US, and China plus India.
The Kyoto protocol actually is legally binding, but contains no provisions to enforce penalties for failure to meet the targeted cut. This has allowed, for example, Canada to miss its emission cut target with impunity. Soon after the Durban meeting Canada announced that it wants to walk away from the Kyoto treaty altogether. Penalties are hard to impose because development is the underlying issue that no major country would forgo. Therefore, it is hard to imagine how any future treaty would have any greater force.