Blogging Durban: Day 1 (Nov 28)

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, International Relations

Climate Change Negotiations at COP-17 of the UNFCCC


Because I have a taste for masochism, I’ve decided to blog the entire Durban conference, and discuss it here.  Good times!  Well, I teach environmental politics, so I suppose there is no way to avoid being on top of this…

So, this day marks the period in which the participants lay out their general policy positions.  In the interest of time and space (I still have my own work to take care of), I’ll only cover a few countries each day.  Overview: nothing really unexpected, when looking at the statements of some of the big players.  The US wants a binding agreement to apply to the LDCs; Brazil and the G-77 want the HICs to pay for most of the action, and the EU is somewhere, comparatively speaking, in the middle.  The major surprise was Canada, which is actually a pretty poor country, in terms of climate change.  Not only are they laggards in regime negotiations, they are also one of the top emitters of GHGs per capita, barely below that of the United States (PDF).  Bad, Canada!  Bad!  And now for more detail:

Oh, Canada

Yesterday, the Canadian government made a pretty interesting statement: the government will pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, in part because of the lack of binding agreements applied to LDCs.  This certainly strikes a significant blow to the already fleeting hopes that a new agreement would be signed.  Again, it seems very unlikely that anything new will be created before 2020 (so, one wonders what the scope of this COP is – at best, some new framework, or perhaps an elaboration of the Copenhagen Accord?).

Brazilian Press Briefing

The Brazilian representative seemed very interested in linking the current climate change COP with other environmental treaties: the ambassador mentioned Rio+20 and the upcoming COPs on the Convention on Biological Diversity, indicating perhaps, a comprehensive look at global environmental problems.

In response to a question about whether Brazil would be interested in committing to a binding regime (one that would apply to LDCs), the ambassador deferred, stating instead that his government would try to come to some consensus within the G-77 + China about LDC commitments in any future period.  At the same time, he called for increased attention to climate change, even in the face of the global credit crisis.  To be sure, his call for attention and action emphasize that the primary responsibility will have to come from the HICs.  In short, the ambassador states “…the Annex I countries are the ones that have created the patterns that now tend to be followed by most of the persons.  So, the Annex I countries have to take the lead in the sense, also, of showing that there is a sustainable way to go ahead…”

It sounds in particular, that he is linking the solutions to the global credit crisis with solutions to climate change – calling for Northern support for “sustainable development” in LDCs certainly invokes some of the unfulfilled promises made at UNCED in 1992 for financial support for environmentally friendly economic growth among the poor nations of the world.

USA Press Briefing

The Deputy Special Envoy of Climate Change, Jon Pershing from the US State Department invoked the Cancún statement in pledging to create a Green Climate Fund, and support for adaptation funds.  Moreover, despite the vagueness of (or, perhaps because of) the commitments in the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancún Agreements, the US pledges to fully implement the goals stated therein.  However, right off the bat, he asserted that there must be binding obligations assessed to LDCs, affirming that it must apply to “…all significant emitters,” obviously code for India, China, and Brazil (among others), invoking the Byrd-Hagel Resolution.

While not necessarily rejecting binding agreements per se, he seemed leery of the push towards a hard law regime.  Some of this, it should be noted, is based on the US delegation’s analysis that it will be very difficult to get meaningful commitment to a binding regime, and an argument that non-binding regimes may be a better way of generating political will among states.  Shades of Underdal and Victor!

In a positive direction, however, the US administration is now explicitly recognizing the science behind climate change (which may be news to domestic policymakers), and in a question from the audience about US resistance to science, the Special Envoy sounded a little testy.  Moreover, he made an explicit argument that, while much of the current dialogue focuses on attaining action up until 2020, there must be long term commitment (including financial support in the figure of at least $100 billion) to combating climate change.

EU Press Briefing

Tomasz Chruszczow, head of the Polish delegation, sounds really hoarse.  At the same time, he sounds adamant that what are needed are “…immediate actions on the ground…” to hold the increase in global climate temperatures to 2degrees Celsius above the global norm.  Again, invoking Cancún, he called for operationalizing financial commitments to LDCs.

He takes a slightly different tack from the USA: emphasizing the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility,” he asserts that what is needed is a binding framework that incorporates all actors, but treats some (developing countries) differently from the HICs.  Renge-Metzer also notes that we need to cut emissions by 50% from 1990 levels by 2020 (bringing to mind the First Assessment Report of the IPCC).  Echoing the USA however, Chruszczow notes that the Kyoto Protocol is a pretty poor model for an agreement – since it only applies binding obligations on Annex I countries (exempting the USA, Russia, China and India), it governs only 25% of the world’s emissions, of which 11% are in the EU.  Thus, 75% of global emissions are not regulated by the Kyoto Protocol.  In his words: “…Kyoto alone cannot save the planet,” but it is clear that a binding commitment is sought for.

In a move that overlaps with the Brazilian delegate’s position, he invokes the EU’s involvement in providing Official Development Assistance (ODA) as a means to support environmentally friendly sustainable development.  Artur Runge-Metzer, his co-presenter, takes up this point, illustrating that “fast-start finance” is particularly necessary to change short-term practices, talking up the EU’s provision of about $4billion to LDCs under the aegis of climate change to reduce emissions from industry and deforestation.  Africa, in particular, is targeted for bilateral aid.  Notably, however, the EU delegates are stressing that aid must be in loans and support private sector investments and the free market.

In a question asked about Canada’s abdication from the Kyoto Protocol, the EU delegates are similarly sanguine about this event, noting that Canada was not particularly interested in committing to anything after Kyoto at this point.  Nevertheless, the EU is expressing confidence in the political process.

To close it out, here’s a clip of highlights from the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, as of yesterday:

(Addendum: one of my students, in response to the notification that I will be covering this, wrote: “Warning warning UNFCCC jargon/nearsightedness/intrinsic Northern hegemony guaranteed to harm your health, crush your soul and undermine your spirit. Previous attendees and followers of conferences recommend taking up martial arts or hibernating instead.” This may yet prove prophetic.)

About Kemi Fuentes-George

I am a professor in environmental studies and political science at Middlebury College.