Category Archives: Durban COP-17

Blogging Durban: Day 4 (Dec 1)

Demonstrations Outside COP-17

Good news!

Oh, wait.  No there isn’t.  Anyway, back to COP-17.  At present, the EU is by far, the biggest pusher for a binding regime.  They’ve already adopted, in 2008, a regional plan to cut 20% of EU emissions by 2020, and promised that they will increase that to 30%, if a binding agreement is signed for the post-Kyoto commitment period.  Moreover, they’ve been pretty adamant about getting parties on board a “road map” towards a binding agreement which should enter into force by the latest, 2020.

At present, it’s not entirely clear what the EU proposed Durban Road Map will look like: one major issue is that Tomasz Chruszczow stated on November 24 that a binding regime should include “100 percent of all emissions under one global umbrella,” while other recent press releases refer to targeting the “major emitters.”  This is an important distinction – due to the necessity of obtaining consensus to create protocols and new agreements under the UNFCCC – just on the basis of numbers – it will be far easier to create a binding regime focusing on the top 12 emitters (which combined, emit 80% of the world’s GHGs) than to try to convince close to 200 countries to agree on something.  Of course, doing so would mean breaking down the G-77 bloc on this issue.  The thought, at this point, of global consensus on binding obligations, is mind-boggling.

Brazil, the EU Road Map, and Financing

Some of the delegates themselves seem, already, to be somewhat disillusioned.  In discussing the EU Durban Road Map today, the Brazilian delegate, ambassador André Corrêa do Lago stated with some resignation, “Well, we have to talk about the same subjects, basically, every day.”  No kidding.  Anyway, Corrêa do Lago indicates that there may be some confusion among the principals about what the proposal is.  While expressing support for a binding regime, strengthening the UNFCCC and KP he states some concern about textual ambiguity in the EU proposal: “The issue is that, in these negotiations, a little word can make a lot of difference.  We have to see which elements Brazil can be comfortable with.”  Finally, reiterating the position of the G-77 + China bloc, “we are not agreeing with the idea of the world, in this road map, as a whole.”

Corrêa do Lago also makes an important, and potentially sobering observation.  One of the mechanisms through which the KP was being implemented is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).  In short, Parties with Annex B commitments could get credits for cutting emissions by funding low-cost projects in less developed countries (LDCs).  Potentially a win-win situation, this theoretically would allow richer countries to cut emissions cheaply (since the atmosphere doesn’t care where carbon comes from), while fostering technological transfer to LDCs.  Without binding commitments, there will be no incentive to invest in the CDM.  This also raises a similar question about the Green Climate Fund (GCF).  While the Montreal Multilateral Fund was an important element in obtaining LDC support for phasing out Ozone Depleting Substances (ODSs), it was created pursuant to a binding agreement.  Without that, it’s not immediately clear what kind of institutional support there will be to transfer the technology needed to China, India, Brazil, etc., to allow them to ‘leapfrog’ over the path of dirty industrialization, particularly as there would be no agreed-upon standard of cuts to which the provided funds would apply.


Japan has an interesting approach here, which may be comparable to that of the US.  Japan has already stated that, like Canada (and effectively the US), it has no interest in ratifying a second commitment to the KP.  At the same time, they’ve not withdrawn from the KP, and are in fact going to “…continue our efforts towards GHG reduction, and would like the improve the CDMs and so on.”  Moreover, they want to adopt “…a single legal document that establishes a fair and effective framework with which all the major economies will cooperate” in the future.  On this approach, they state they will stand “hand in hand with the EU” in lobbying for a binding regime – but one which does away with the KP’s limited approach, incorporating rules for a small majority of GHG emissions.

In addition, they’ve  been promoting their multilateral aid program on climate change, stating that “…it is necessary for both developed and developing countries to achieve low carbon growth all over the world.”  Under this plan, Japan is pledging to transfer policymaking expertise and technological know-how to LDCs through “concrete measures” intended to go right up until Rio + 20 next year.  At present, Japan has provided $12.5 billion dollars, primarily to the poorest countries, and is planning to develop technological transfers in goods such as solar cells.

Take it away, Climate Action Network!


Well, right off the bat, Kelly Dent from Oxfam states that the world will need $200 billion a year to get the action necessary to meet our climate goals.  I’m not sure what she’s basing these numbers on, but if she’s right, I’m buying beachfront property in Montana right now.  The rest of their press conference is too depressing to cover.

Overview: Are We Talking About the KP, or Something Else?

One thing that seems to be muddled in the discussion right now, is: what kind of a binding agreement are people talking about?  The NGOs, particularly CAN-I, as well as developing countries in the G-77 + China (if Argentina is to be believed) are primarily interested in creating a second commitment period to the KP.  The Umbrella Group is ostensibly interested in a binding agreement, but are explicit in saying that it should NOT be reification of the KP – again, for pretty valid reasons.  Now, the NGOs claimed today that the EU is on board for an extension of the KP, but based on the EU’s earlier pronouncements that LDCs should be held to binding obligations, it’s not clear that that is correct.

What would be the benefit of extending the horrid, horrid institution of the KP in a second commitment period?  It is doubtful that it would necessarily lead to decreased global emissions, particularly since the countries responsible for about half of the current GHG emissions (US and China) are not under the regime.  However, it would create incentives for continuing the CDM and, given the repeated interest in institutionalizing the GCF, may create the institutional support for the Fund.

Well, we’ll see.  At the moment, I’m primarily curious about the creation of the GCF.  At present, that remains my best hope for a positive outcome this year.  Again, I’m not sure how that will play out absent some kind of related regime, but, eh, couldn’t hurt.

Blogging Durban: Day 3 (Nov 30)

Indigenous Protestors against REDD

So, where are we at now?  The statements coming from various delegates indicate that states are, more or less, going with their various representative blocs.  The Umbrella Group wants LDCs to commit to something binding and meaningful; the G-77 wants HICs to take the lead (especially the US), and to actually pay for the costs of transition; the US is not particularly interested in a binding agreement – and wouldn’t be able to commit to one anyway; the EU is trying to get people on board a binding commitment; the NGOs are mad at everybody.

The Green Climate Fund and the Financial Mechanism?

On the plus side, there does seem to be movement towards creating a meaningful Green Climate Fund.  One of the more cited decisions of COP-16 in Cancún was Decision 1/CP.16 (PDF), which pledged the creation of a financial mechanism – modeled on the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol – to build the capacity and will among poor countries to transition away from high emissions practices.  The EU has been vocally supportive of the idea, and it’s certainly one appreciated by the G-77 + China, as well as the NGO community.

Among some of the issues being discussed by the Transitional Committee on the GCF include a submission by Malawi that the fund consider gender issues (PDF) in allocating resources, observing that women are disproportionately affected by environmental vulnerability.  Very good.  As discussed in the Millennium Development Goals, women are disproportionately affected (PDF) by poverty, which is exacerbated by the land degradation, erosion, and unstable agricultural conditions that will mark the changing climate.

In the interest of improving the link between local community needs and climate financing, Climate Action Network (CAN) also issued a recommendation to the Transitional Committee that the proposed GCF Board include, as non voting-observers, representatives from affected communities, civil society organizations, and the private sector.  This may be ambitious, but perhaps institutionalized financing may be one saving grace of COP-17.

Proposals and Changes?

Something potentially interesting: Papua New Guinea and Mexico have issued a proposal to the COP to change the voting rules.  In short, the proposal would allow amendments to the Convention to be adopted by a 3/4ths majority vote (PDF), if all attempts to achieve consensus have failed.  Intended to avoid the gridlock that characterizes international regime creation, this proposal is currently being debated in informal consultations under the COP.

At the COP: Science, Hot Air, and the CDM

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, starts off the 3rd meeting of the COP, observing that 20 – 30% of observed plant and animal species are likely to be negatively affected by climate change.  A further downer – melting ice-caps threaten low lying islands (so, what we already knew), but notes that in some places, things aren’t so bad: “…[In] some regions, droughts have become less intense, or shorter,” particularly in Central and Northwest America, and coastal Australia.  Moreover, Pachauri emphasizes that climate change is primarily a problem for developing countries – measured as loss in GDP, loss of life, and other metrics.

Poland, speaking on behalf of the EU, promotes the further utilization of the CDM, such that LDCs can “leapfrog” over dirty industrialization, but calls for greater top-down methodologies in calculating emissions reductions – ideally, this would reduce the capacity for states and corporate actors to cheat, gaining credits for minimal or no action.

Kazakhstan proposed an amendment to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol, which would effectively give the country a binding obligation to hold its GHG emissions to 100% of its 1992 levels (PDF).  While keeping emissions at 1992 levels would probably be a good thing for, say, the US and Canada, Kazakhstan is currently  emitting slightly below its 1992 levels, thus 1) encoding activity in which Kazakhstan is engaging anyway; 2) allowing that country to participate in Joint Implementation projects, or selling its ‘excess’ emissions, thereby gaining access to potentially lucrative investment and markets, while doing nothing to curb overall emissions.  This, of course, illustrates the ongoing problem with creating regimes – legal rules that violate the entire spirit of the endeavor.

The Civil Society Speaks

To highlight concerns associated with environmental injustice, Conrad Feather from the Forest People’s Programme raised the specter of disenfranchisement caused by the application of REDD projects. While using forests to curb global carbon may be a worthwhile goal in the abstract, it is decidedly not, if doing so requires the coerced relocation of rural and agricultural peoples.

Roberto Espinoza, an indigenous Peruvian from an indigenous rights advocacy organization and Jorge Payaba from the Madre de Diós federation discuss the problem of afforestation policies as a climate change strategy.  Espinoza, in a presentation on the “…piracy, abuses, and scams against indigenous people under the name of the REDD program,” argues that it is a piracy that is a “…design of the REDD program in its entirety.”  In short, the concern is that international assistance to the state of Peru is not translated into concern and well-being for local populations – the state benefits from hundreds of millions of dollars in international and financial capital, but it is a state that engages in land grabs, forced relocation, and the centralization over land tenure.  Thus, strengthening the state in the name of environmental green behavior obscures local injustice and unsustainable practices.

So, yes, OK, somewhat depressing.  Nevertheless!  Will there be meaningful financial commitment at the end of it all?  Will indigenous concerns be taken seriously?  We’ll see…

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:

Blogging Durban: Day 1 (Nov 28)

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.)