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 new ways to avoid the toughest of questions—how to drastically reduce emissions to keep the world somewhat within safe levels and how to do this while ensuring equity. With uneasy answers, the easy solution was to push the world to another round of messy negotiations for a new treaty, protocol or legal instrument or something like that. But one move of the developed world was to change the nature of the original treaty that differentiates between past polluters, responsible for the first action, and the rest. The aim at Durban was to erase equity as the basis of any global agreement to cut emissions. Ironically, the world chose the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to set the scene to build a new apartheid in climate talks. Down To Earth and the Centre for Science and Environment bring you an analysis

Published: Saturday 31 December 2011


climate change

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:

  • Second commitment period of the KP
  • Decision of the AWG-LCA
  • Green Climate Fund
  • Agreement on Durban Platform

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.

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