The 17th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Durban in December 2011. Negotiations were heated and acrimonious, as the world desperately searched for …
At Durban, the European Union (EU) pushed hard for a legally binding agreement for all. The aim, it said, was that this legal instrument would bring the US on board, as it would include China, India and other big developing countries to commit to cut emissions.
The world needed a new legal deal because under the Framework Convention on Climate Change there is a firewall—differentiating the actions of the industrialised countries, responsible for the bulk of the stock of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, and the rest, who need space to grow. The EU and its coalition had pushed for the launch of a process to develop a protocol or another legal instrument. The blackmail—counter deal—it held out was that it would not accept a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (KP) unless this new deal was negotiated. But India had insisted on the inclusion of “legal outcome” as an option to this menu. It wanted flexibility to being bound to legal arrangements when it knew nothing of its contents. Indian minister Jayanthi Natarajan had made it clear, “My biggest concern with reference to the texts is there is no reference to the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR).”
But this two-word inclusion was the deal-breaker—it led the COP to go into extra-time to resolve the matter. The informal plenary began at 3 am and ended in the wee hours of the morning of December 11. Excerpts:
President: The package before us is a bridge that will join us together. Let’s make history tonight.
EU: We are happy with the words protocol and legal instrument. However, adding the word legal outcome puts a doubt in the sincerity. We need clarity. We need to commit. The EU has shown patience for many years. We are still ready to be almost alone in a second commitment period for five years. We don’t think we ask too much of the world. Those who will not commit to the second commitment period of KP will be legally bound. Let’s strive for a protocol or a legal instrument by 2018.
Colombia: We cannot accept “legal outcome”. It’s weak wording. It’s not enough.
India: We have shown more flexibility than any other party. The centrepiece of a climate change debate is and has to be equity and the equity of burden sharing cannot be shifted. Is it that certain parties have to say something and the entire world goes with it? Otherwise, the entire Convention will collapse, and India will be blamed? India will never be intimidated by threats or intimidation or any kind of pressure. How do I give a blank cheque and give a legally binding agreement to sign away the rights of 1.2 billion people and many other people in the developing world? Is that equity, madam?
Grenada (Alliance of Small Island States’ chair): We have protocol, legal instrument and legal outcome—this is climbing down the ladder of ambition. One hurricane devastated our economy in a few hours. The sense we get is let them develop and let us die.
China: We support India. We need to develop. We need to reduce poverty, protect our environment and deal with climate change. We are doing whatever we should; we are doing things you (developed countries) are not doing. We are taking actions. We want to see you take actions.
Bolivia: What a paradox that the country that has used 40 per cent of emissions never made a commitment under KP. Today it is a rich country, while there are other poor countries where there is a great deal of misery that need the right to develop. This is what the Indian minister is putting to us as an argument. The document must establish CBDR.
Philippines: I have here in my hands hard copies of our Convention and the KP, circa 1998. These booklets are in danger of being relegated as relics of a lost era. Equity must take the central focus in our negotiations.
Brazil: We come from countries that have huge challenges. We need others to act as well. We must leave Durban with a legally binding deal. Let’s not lose sight of the political importance of this moment. Let’s seize this opportunity to make history. Let’s not reopen documents.
Egypt: I see the passion in the support for a new legally binding instrument. I wish the same passion existed for the current one.
Gambia (Least Developed Countries’ chair): We call for the same legally binding instrument that must provide a strong basis for an adequate, binding, enforceable commitments with respect to all pillars of the Bali Action Plan, particularly quantified emissions reduction commitments of developed countries that are not party to the KP and financial obligation for developed countries.
Norway: There is absolutely no disagreement over equity. Many developing nations have taken great strides to combat climate change, even doing more than developed nations. Everything rests on two simple words—legal outcome. I believe these two words are unnecessary … I appeal to the Chair to find a compromise.
EU: The EU can support the suggestion that we just heard from Norway. We heard some interesting proposal from India on equity. We endorse that you facilitate a conversation between some of us who have divergent views.
US: The Durban package is very powerful and the US supports it.
President: I have listened attentively to all the interventions. I can allow the EU and India and other delegations who would want to find a corner here for 10 minutes to do a huddle.
Huddle happens: The EU and others come to Indian table. Intense discussions bring a breakthrough. It is agreed that the word legal outcome will be changed to “agreed outcome with legal force”. This is acceptable to all.
Parties resume meet at 5.30 am
President: We agree on four elements of the package:
India: In a spirit of flexibility and accommodation shown by all, we have agreed to this.
EU: Thank you in particular to India for showing this flexibility. We think this is a strong result.
Russian Federation: The art of achieving results in negotiations is the art of attaining results around the negotiating table and not on the negotiating table. It is difficult to understand what happened in the room, who was talking to whom or who was agreeing with whom. I have no option but to ask for further explanations and see the document in writing.
President closes meeting.
India, which opposed the legally binding option, was marked out as the deal-breaker. In the second week, the Chinese put an offer on the table that was supported by BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). They did not oppose the new arrangement, but suggested a different schedule: negotiations to begin after the scientific review in 2015 and deal to be operationalised in 2020. They also set conditions that the existing commitments of industrialised countries, including funding, should be implemented. They also stressed that the basis of the new agreement had to be equity. But there was no appetite for these ideas. In the week that followed, shrill pressure grew on all countries to take up the offer on the table. It was a no-choice deal.
Equity: embedded or lost?
The most crucial phrase of the Durban Platform is the fact that the new agreement, legal or not, will be under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention is based on the principle that the world has to accept the differentiation between countries, based on their contribution to the problem. However, the Durban Platform does ask that the mitigation efforts must involve all parties. This does weaken the position of developing countries in taking on such binding cuts. But how much emissions will each country be asked to reduce? What will the target be based on? Clearly, the challenge will be to ensure that the next round of negotiations, moving towards the new treaty accepts the principle and premise of equity. The battle is ahead.
At Durban, the second period of KP had to be negotiated. The EU held it up as its bargaining chip: KP-2 only when the world would accept a legally binding agreement for all. After holding out for days, a draft decision on “Further commitments for Annex 1 parties under the Kyoto Protocol” was issued. The draft decision says little, leaves much to be worked out and provides opportunity for Kyoto Parties to not walk the talk.
The decision says aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases of Kyoto Parties would need to be reduced by 25-40 per cent below the 1990 levels by 2020. But it does not set individual country targets—quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives (QELROs)—without which the Protocol cannot be implemented. It invites these parties to submit information regarding their QELROs at the next meeting.
The second commitment period would begin on January 1, 2013, and end either on December 31, 2017, or December 31, 2020, says the decision.
Just hours after this decision was gaveled by the chair as adopted by the COP, one key KP party walked out. The Canadian minister announced, as his plane landed in his country, that Canada could not take on the “economic burden” of meeting the legal commitment they had signed on. They junked the protocol.
Clearly, this is the big challenge for KP-2 as well. Will developed (Annex 1) parties take on legal commitments that measure up to the drastic emission reduction required? And even if they do, will they stick to it?
Green Climate Fund
In Copenhagen 2009, the world decided to create a Green Climate Fund (GCF). In Cancun 2010, the “pledge” was repeated. In Durban 2011, the governing instrument for GCF was agreed upon. Now all that the world is waiting for is money.
The questions before the fund were: who will manage and disburse the money. The proposal to get the World Bank as the fund’s manager ran into trouble. The Durban decision skirts this issue to say that the fund will be accountable to and function under the guidance of the Conference of Parties. It has been decided that the fund will have a board of 12 seats for developing countries—equal to representation by the Annex 1 countries.
These 12 developing country seats will be distributed between Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America, small island states and least developed countries. Once the Board is appointed, it will, in turn, appoint an interim secretariat.
The other big issue was how the fund would balance the needs of mitigation and adaptation. Clearly, both challenges will require investment in the developing world and there is concern that financing priorities could be distorted and add to vulnerabilities of the poorest. The decision once again avoids this, saying it will request the Board of the fund to balance allocation between these two sets of activities.
But the issue that remains unresolved is where the money will come from. The fund is expected (not committed) to mobilise US $100 billion a year by 2020. But there was little clarity on its capitalisation and parties only emphasised once again the need for long-term financing. But even as discussions progressed, developed countries were quick to point out that funding was difficult in times of looming recession and economic downturn.
They wanted money to be either accessed through the private sector—the fund provides for a private sector window—or wanted the world to look for “innovative sources” of long-term financing. But as yet there is little idea where this money will come from.
A connected issue was to decipher whether the funding for GCF was indeed either new or additional, or repackaged development assistance or even private sector investment.
At the end, Durban has the dubious distinction of creating an empty shell—a fund with no money.
REDD and REDD+
Last year, at COP16 in Cancun, the Parties to the UNFCCC had agreed to a set of social and environmental safeguards to ensure that REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, sustainable management of forests and enhancing forest carbon stocks in developing countries) activities do not adversely impact biodiversity or local communities. Additionally, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was given the charge of helping establish a Safeguards Information System (SIS) to ensure that the implementation of the REDD+ safeguards is monitored and reported.
With most countries supporting REDD+, the expectations from the COP17 were that it would smoothen the technicalities. These included a mechanism for review of safeguards, forest carbon monitoring techniques and guidelines on setting forest sector emissions baselines. Among the trickier issues which needed resolution were whether REDD+ projects would be used as offsets by developed countries, and what role markets would play in financing of these projects.
The final decision was to agree to decide on little substantially or best to leave it to governments to decide nationally. Non-governmental organisations following these negotiations criticised the Durban “outcomes” on REDD and REDD+. The Accra Caucus on Forests and Climate Change, a coalition of 100 organisations from 38 countries, point out the Durban decisions would put forests and forest-dependent people across the world at a “huge risk”, as they would allow governments to set their own reporting guidelines for social and environmental safeguards.
On financing REDD+, India was clear it did not want private players to enter the arena. The Cancun COP had pointed towards the roadmap of exploring further financial options—and that was exactly what the Parties were doing at Durban, said Indian negotiators. However, this optimism was missing from the NGO community. FERN, a Dutch NGO which works on forests and climate change, felt the developed world’s insistence on being allowed to trade in carbon offsets to finance REDD was essentially self-serving and aimed at using it to meet its own emission reduction obligations. With carbon markets being touted as the main source of finance, REDD+, said FERN, will end up with no finance in the long-term as there was no money in carbon markets.
Equity’s slippery history1992: UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Recognises the concept of historical and per capita emissions
“That the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.”
Recognises the need for action based on common but differentiated responsibilities
“That the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions.”
Categorises developed country parties as Annex 1 and charges them with first action
1998: Kyoto Protocol
Provides that those parties listed as Annex 1 in the Framework Convention shall be taking on legally binding emissions reduction “with a view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012.”
2007: Bali Action Plan
Provides for a global goal for emissions reduction, but based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. For the first time, provides that parties, not listed in Annex 1 (industrialised) would also take action, but this action would be based on nationally appropriate mitigation actions, which would be enabled with money and technology.
2010: Cancun Agreements
While accepting that developed country parties have to take the lead in combating climate change because they have contributed the largest share of historical global emissions, the agreement makes a strategic shift. It also includes the nationally appropriate mitigation actions being implemented by developing country parties (those not included in Annex 1 of the Convention). So for the first time, developing countries were also required to take on mitigation actions. More importantly, because actions— either by developed or developing country parties—were no longer based on countries’ contribution to the historical or current emissions, the principle of equity was given a go-by. In other words, all countries, irrespective of their responsibility, were now required to take action and it would no longer be based on targets set globally, but would be based on contributions.
The principle of equity had been successfully erased. Now the noose in Durban was tightened with the proposal that there would be a global legal agreement, removing the differentiation once and for all. The outcome at Durban only partially recovers the space that developing countries have lost. It is now accepted that all will take mitigation actions (like in Bali), but the targets—who will cut how much emissions—will be set under the principles of the Convention.
Where was the US in Durban?The impending elections in the US seemed to have affected the country’s delegation. While vocal and aggressive in the Copenhagen COP, President Barack Obama made the trip to the conference and helped broker the deal to change the nature of the agreement. In Cancun, the US demanded that countries like India should be flexible in agreeing to voluntary targets and that these domestic targets would be open to global scrutiny through a regime of measuring, reporting and verification.
The US also put on record its own voluntary target of reducing emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, but over its 2005 emission levels. The baseline was strategically given as US emissions actually peaked by 2005—increased one billion tonne over 1990 levels. In this way, the country needed to reduce emissions by only 3 per cent below its 1990 levels, when it needs to cut by 40 per cent in this period, based on past, present and future dangers.
But in Durban, the big emitter was surprisingly a non-player. Its opposition to a global legally binding deal is well known. The Kyoto Protocol had been dumped by the US on these grounds. So, there is little chance that the US will now bow to a deal which is legally binding. At a press briefing, when asked this question, Alden Meyer from the US NGO, Union of Concerned Scientists, said they would hope that the US would accept these terms because of civil society pressure. But this is when the same civil society is struggling to get its country to take even the minimum emission reduction targets and make them happen.
The US delegation in its press conferences made its preference for a non-legally binding deal obvious. But what it did not do strenuously enough was to oppose the EU push for the new deal. The Durban design, it seems, was to make China and India join a legally binding deal. This is because the US has made it clear that it wants to bring down the famous firewall—the differentiation between the developed and developing countries—which separates the countries historically responsible for climate change from the rest. It may be for this reason that the US gave a tepid, but unconditional assent to the final outcome at Durban.
The high point of US delegation’s interaction was the statement by its top negotiator Todd Stern that the 2°C target was just a guidepost. In other words, the US made it clear that it had no intention of cutting its emissions so that the world can definitely stay below the guardrail of future security. At Durban, the US was perhaps the biggest winner. It staved off any discussion on its abysmal emission reduction target; won time till the next scientific review for this to be revised upwards, as it must. Most importantly, it got what it most wanted: no action unless India and China would take similar steps.
The next round of hard negotiations will determine how much it has won.
India blamed, US culprit
Global emissions increased by 5.8 per cent in 2010 over 2009, the report said. It blamed India and China for emitting 9 per cent and 10 per cent greenhouse gases in 2010 over the 2009 levels. But it did not say the US’s emissions increased by 4 per cent and EU’s by 3 per cent (see: Graph II). India’s 9 per cent increase is less than the US’s 4 per cent increase in absolute terms (see: Graph III). It is the same story for per capita emissions (see: Graph IV). US’s per capita emissions in 2010 was 16.9 tonnes; India’s was 1.51 tonnes. The per capita emissions between 2009 and 2010 increased by 0.5 tonnes in the US, 0.6 tonnes in Japan, 0.2 tonnes in EU-15, 0.6 tonnes in China and 0.2 tonnes in Russia. In comparison, India’s increase was 0.1 tonne.
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