Blogging Durban: Day 2 (Nov 29)


Durban, South Africa

Now I’m beginning to regret this.  Sorting through the various press releases is consuming far more time than initially planned – combined with what looks like a thorough lack of political will for meaningful progress, this may be a bad week.  In any case, here’s a summary of some of the highlights of Day 2 in Durban.

A Reminder: The Emissions Gap

Six days ago, Achim Steiner (current Executive Director of UNEP) reiterated a concern that the international society is moving insufficiently slowly towards ameliorating the climate problem.  In particular, Steiner illustrated that, if we don’t commit to meaningful action, we are likely to experience an Emissions Gap in 2020.

To recall, the goal of the current round of climate debates is to hold the increase in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above average.  One way to think about this figure can be summarized in an Emissions Gap Report (included downloadable PDF files) published by UNEP earlier this year: in short, the most likely way we will attain a manageable climate is by restricting the total atmospheric emissions of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) to 44 Gigatonnes (Gt) in 2020.  At present, business-as-usual will mean a total accumulation of possibly 56 Gt.  Alarmingly, even if states complied with the current most optimistic interpretations of the Copenhagen and Cancún Agreements, we will still have an Emissions Gap of about 5 Gt of CO2e, torpedoing the goal of stabilizing the climate.  You can get a look at a nifty interactive map tracking country pledges, including the optimistic scenarios here.

So, what are the delegates and participants saying?

Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol

The AWG-KP, established in 2005 by Decision 1/CMP.1 (PDF) of the Kyoto Protocol – explicitly to promote a binding agreement and avoid an implementation gap among commitments from Annex I Parties – met for the first time in this COP today.  Their mission seems doomed from the outset, given (as mentioned yesterday and several times before), the demonstrated lack of interest among many Parties in creating a binding agreement to begin immediately after 2012.  In fact, given the timeframe it takes for a treaty to be negotiated, signed, ratified, and entered into force, the AWG-KP has quite a Quixotic task at the moment.  However, despair is not evident in their eyes.

The Chair of the AWG-KP starts off stating that he is still committed to the idea of creating a binding agreement in fact.  What do the delegates at the AWG-KP have to say about this?

The Argentinian delegate, speaking on behalf of the G-77 + China reaffirms the position of the bloc: “The political commitment of the G-77 + China to a second commitment period after the Kyoto Protocol remains firm.”  Not surprisingly, while asserting that developing countries are interested in doing something to address climate change, the commitment period will/should focus on the HICs, in the interest of “…science, equity, and historical responsibilities.”  In short, invoking the possibility of an Amendment to Annex B, which applies emissions reductions only to Annex I- namely developing countries – the stated goal of the G-77 is to focus on the contribution, and hence responsibility, of the Global North to the current crisis.

Australia, speaking for the Umbrella Group, notes that collectively, Annex I Parties are on target to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.  Hysterical.  This is true technically, but only because the target (a collective cut in emissions of 5% below 1990 levels), was achieved primarily by the collapse of the post-Soviet economies (see earlier post).  In any case, speaking for the Umbrella Group, Australia asserts that the work of the AWG-KP should be concluded, but in a way that does away with the current focus of the KP: reflecting earlier statements by the EU, the KP is criticized as a regulatory regime that regulates a small minimum (25%) of global emissions.

Switzerland wants all countries to commit to a binding agreement; the EU similarly calls for a binding agreement, building on the KP, but again reaffirming the need of “…all Parties…” (i.e., the LDCs) to commit to stated, explicit obligations.  Indeed, the idea of a binding agreement is essential to the EU’s statements, observing that the KP “…is the only international climate agreement with legally binding emissions targets.  It has proved to work.”  Not sure about the basis of the last statement – quite possibly invoking the ‘technical compliance’ with the goals of the 5% reduction from 1990 levels mentioned by Australia.

The Climate Action Network

This time, let’s hear from some NGO participants.  The following participants presented under the rubric of Climate Action Network – International (CAN-I).  Tove Ryding from Greenpeace; Rashmi Mistry from OxFam South Africa; Mohamed Adow from Christian Aid; One of the positive developments of the global environmental governance structure is the willingness to engage with the global civil society.  Contrast this with the institutions of international trade, for example.

In any case, Ryding reiterates what a lot of environmental activists seem to believe 1) the KP is “…what we have that describes how we reduce emissions.  It’s the outcome of 17 years of negotiations.”; 2) that “…we need a larger regime to be built.  So, in addition to the KP, we need a new, legally binding agreement, to be adopted no later than 2015…” in order that “…the KP comes out of here alive.”

Ouch!  Ryding representative takes some well-deserved shots at Canada, noting 1) their abdication from the KP has made them the “…laughing stock…” of the conference, and 2) condemning their commitment to the Tar Sands development (Keystone XL, in other words) which Canada described as “…ethical oil.”  Moreover, for the first time, someone describes the Copenhagen Accord as a meaningless document, contrasting with the interesting love-fest it had been receiving from the state delegates.

Rashmi Mistry from OxFam, co-presenter, calls for a carbon tax on global transportation to 1) cut down on emissions; 2) generate immediate funds for LDCs in a Green Climate Fund.  Ostensibly, this could lead to $10 billion a year, which would go some way towards supporting the transition, particularly among the poorest countries, which are also those most vulnerable to climate change catastrophes.  Mohamed Adow similarly calls for strengthening the “rulebook,” such that South Africa does not become the “…burial place of the KP,” invoking Shaka Zulu, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Prophet Noah throughout his presentation.  Someone prepared nifty soundbites ahead of time.

Anyway, drama!  Enemies!  Alliances!  Where will it go from here?  Let’s find out tomorrow.  In the meantime, here’s my theme song for the Durban conference: