Thursday, May 7, 2015

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The Durban Package: Agreeing to Disagree

Hastily ratified in the final hours of COP17, the Durban Package will dictate the future of climate change efforts.
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Negotiators at COP17

Durban, South Africa:

After two weeks of gruelling negotiations, the final session of Durban’s COP 17 came to a close over a day-and-a-half behind schedule, with some delegates not having slept for close to 40 hours. The subsequent agreement, labelled “the Durban Package”, makes a number of rather controversial decisions on many of the major issues carried over from the Cancun Agreements, and many other important elements have also been postponed and unfulfilled. There is an air of confusion around the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC), as many parties are not sure what they have signed onto, and many of the final decisions involved relatively new texts being rushed through before they could be fully comprehended by stakeholders.

The Durban Package: a rushed process

I was assured by the South African lead negotiator, Alf Wills, that the Durban Package is a comprehensive deal, which will bring about necessary compromise and represents a credible change in environmental policy. Despite the COP president’s constant insistency that the summit has been transparent and inclusive, the process that lead to the Durban Package was decried by numerous parties as being one of backdoor intimidation and marginalisation guided by the interests of a few parties, particularly the US. In the final plenary discussions on both the Kyoto Protocol and Long Term Cooperative Action, disagreements were brushed over and disputed texts were forwarded to the main COP plenary despite objections. At one stage the Russian ambassador declared, that although he did not know what was going on, or what legislation was being passed, he would nevertheless not block the process. It remains to be seen how many other parties were similarly confused by this rushed process. So what has actually been decided and how will the Durban Package affect our future?

Developments in the Kyoto Protocol agreement

One of the major objectives of the conference was to secure a second commitment period after the Kyoto Protocol (KP), branded KP2C. While this was successful, the KP2C is weak, lacking in ambition and does not include many of the major polluters. As far as the legal structure of the emission reduction targets is concerned, it was decided that quantifiable emission reductions targets will be the result of “an agreed outcome with legal force”. This statement seems politically potent but does not necessarily mean that the targets will be legally binding. It has a varied meaning depending on the context. According to Wills, some ambivalence and ambiguity in the text is necessary in order to ensure agreement among divergent parties, but this means that parties might simply be agreeing now to disagree at a later stage. There will almost certainly be dispute when concrete reduction targets come to be decided in May 2012.

Furthermore, the USA, Canada, Japan and Russia are not party to KP2C and a lack of ambition in emission reduction targets means that KP2C is concerned with less than 15% of global emissions. Unless these targets are increased drastically then KP2C could potentially lock us onto a pathway towards a temperature hike of 3.5 degrees, as opposed to the 2 degrees currently aimed for, and the 1.5 degrees many claim is necessary for a safe environmental future. This, however, is where the establishment at Durban of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (AWG-DPEA) comes in to play. According to the Durban Package, the results of a review set to take place between 2013 and 2015 will inform a work plan to improve the target reductions. Given the resistance of many nations to increase their reduction targets, the AWG-DPEA will have its hands full trying to raise interest to the necessary level.

A weak KP2C places a lot of pressure on any agreement made after the Kyoto Protocol finishes its second commitment stage. Discussions on this rather controversial topic, however, have been postponed until COP 18, which is set to take place in Qatar. Throughout COP 17 there has been a stand-off between most developing countries and the EU, who want the new regime to come into place as early as 2015, and developed countries plus China and India, who would like it to only come into force in 2020. The new regime, it is hoped, will bring all parties into a legally binding framework that aims to bridge the ever-increasing gigatonne gap. One thing is clear, if we stick with the low reduction targets of the KP2C until 2020, the possibility of halting climate change below 2 degrees becomes increasingly difficult.

The Green Climate Fund

One of the other major outcomes expected from COP 17, was a plan to find more donators for the Green Climate Fund (GCF). While there has been progress on this front, the target reached is nowhere close to the target estimated before COP17. Some developing nations have expressed vehement opposition to the Global Environment Fund, because it falls under the mandate of the World Bank, which is often accused of using climate change legislation to further other agendas. Other countries within the developed world, in particular America, are more in favour of the proposal. Another disappointment is that reliable sources of long-term finance for the GCF are yet to be secured. The much-called for financial transactions tax and maritime and aviation tax were cited as potential sources, but all that is secured is a reference for a working group that will try and secure innovative sources of finance from both the public and private sectors. Apart from a few noble pledges from Germany and Norway, the GCF remains largely an empty shell, and it’s not clear how funds are going to be raised to provide the agreed target of $100 Billion by 2020.

Assessing the progress

How do we go about assessing the progress that was made? Alden Meyer from the Union from Concerned Scientists had the following to say:

“While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. The decisions adopted here fell well short of what is needed. Its high time governments stopped catering to the needs of corporate polluters, and started acting to protect its people.”

The decisions made under the Durban Package lack realistic foresight, and the gap between political will and scientific dictate is massive. Legal ambiguities abound, which will provide room for disagreement and the potential for stakeholders to duck political and ethical responsibilities in the future. What we have in Durban is a roadmap, but if the Bali Road Map is something to learn from, we need strict rules and guidance to ensure that we get to the end of the road. The Durban Package so far lacks most of that, and if we are to salvage anything from this agreement we are going to have to work hard to ensure that the correct alterations are made quickly.

As Faith Biriol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, points out, “delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent to compensate for the increased emissions”. The Durban Package will not force much immediate action, and unless we can drastically alter its guidelines, we may be heavily locked into Biriol’s false economy, complete with the suffering, food insecurity, displacement and global instability that would be caused by a temperature increase of above 2 degrees celsius.

Looking ahead after COP17

The Durban Package for the moment has created a very loosely bound climate regime, which will allow many nations to contribute less than their fair share towards climate change. Our climate change regime is far from a just one and the major polluters with the greatest historical responsibility as well as some of the major emerging polluters are under little pressure to change that.

Having arrived at this point, the role of domestic pressures in establishing a truly just climate change regime is of utmost importance, for we cannot deliver a more ambitious package unless civil society puts more pressure on their governments to develop more meaningful climate action. An important step is the increased recognition of the inextricable link between environmental and social justice, which is fuelling movements all over the world. It’s time to reinvent and redefine the global climate movement and increase cooperation, globally and locally to ensure that the Durban Package does not lead to disaster.

It is flexible enough to allow governments to ignore several important climate change issues, but it is also ambiguous enough to provide the climate movement with a few grapples upon which to hoist their movement to the next level. Durban has shown us that we cannot rely solely on international governance to answer our calls for climate justice, we need to take a more active role in doing so ourselves in order to avoid looking back and blaming a faulty international governance system for runaway climate change, when true power for change lies within our own hands.

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