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Climate Change & Environment

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Assessing the Durban Mandate
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With the crucial second week of the COP17 climate talks in Durban underway, negotiations are focussed on reaching a new binding global agreement to reduce emissions. If finalised, will the so-called Durban Mandate be a step forward, or will it negate years of progress?

What is at stake in Durban: A civil society analysis of mitigation issues in the climate talks - Civil society organisations, Pambazuka

Durban climate talks: We still have a chance to talk about success - Caroline Lucas, The Guardian

‘There is no planet B’ - Nnimmo Bassey, New Internationalist

Further resources

6th December 2011


What is at stake in Durban: A civil society analysis of mitigation issues in the climate talks

1st December 2011 - Civil society organisations, Pambazuka

It's a planetary and humanitarian emergency...

The world is already reeling from major humanitarian emergencies exacerbated by climate change: floods in Thailand and Pakistan, landslides from extreme rains in many Latin American countries and the multi-year drought in the Horn of Africa that threatens the lives of millions.

Current levels of warming have already begun triggering major ‘tipping points’ in the Earth’s system – such as Arctic methane releases, Amazon dieback and the loss of icesheets. 2°C of warming, as proposed by some governments, threatens to tip a cascade of events that will cause warming to spin out of control. We have known since 1986 that warming ‘beyond 1°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage’, the effects of which we’re seeing already.

…but rich countries risk climate anarchy

To address this crisis many countries – particularly developing countries – seek an agreement in Durban based on science, on the existing legally binding and multilateral system reflected in the Climate Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, and on the deal agreed by all countries in the Bali Roadmap.

A handful of wealthy countries – including notably the United States – are now seeking to move the goalposts. They want to dismantle the rules for developed countries’ emissions reductions, shift the burden to developing countries and renege on the Bali Roadmap. In the process, they are trying to end the Kyoto Protocol, and even the Convention, and replace it with a weak, ineffective ‘pledge and review’ system that may take years to negotiate.

Durban, then, is shaping up as a clash of paradigms between those who believe that the world deserves and needs a science- and rules-based multilateral climate system to tackle perhaps the greatest challenge to face humanity, and those who are seeking to dismantle the existing one.

Developed countries must close the mitigation gap

To have a good chance of keeping global warming below 2°C – a goal that is by no means safe – annual climate pollution must be about 12Gt lower globally by 2020, according to UNEP. Around 14Gt is likely required to keep warming below 1.5°C.

In Copenhagen, developing countries pledged more than 5Gt of reductions with the support of finance, technology and capacity. They are willing to do their part, subject to delivery of finance, technology and capacity in accordance with the Convention. So to keep warming below 1.5°C a gap remains of around 9Gt (that is, 14 minus 5) for developed countries to reduce.

However, developed countries have offered less than 4Gt of reductions, an effort considerably less ambitious than that offered by developing countries, and despite their ‘differentiated responsibilities and capabilities’ – that is, their greater role in causing climate change and capacities to address it. Moreover, around 4Gt could be lost in accounting ‘loopholes.’ Carbon markets would make this outcome even worse. Rich countries may, in other words, make ‘no net contribution to reducing emissions by 2020’.

Given how far emission pledges are from what the science requires, negotiations remain dangerously off track. A UNEP report confirms that countries’ pledged emission reductions are too weak to avert dangerous climate change, and could cause warming of a catastrophic 5°C. Warming in Africa and other large land-masses would occur at much higher levels, heralding impacts not experienced in the history of human civilization.

The bargain of the Bali Roadmap must be kept

Under the Bali Roadmap agreed at the December 2007 UN climate conference, governments agreed to an approach under which all countries (covering 100 percent of global emissions) would contribute to the solution of climate change in accordance with equity, historical responsibility and common but differentiated responsibilities.

Governments agreed to two tracks of negotiations under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. The agreement was that the current system would be maintained as the foundation of the global climate regime, and that we would build around this foundation in an equitable way.

Under the Bali Roadmap, it was understood that:

• The negotiations to ensure developed countries would adopt a second period of binding emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol commencing 2013;

• The United States, which is the only country to repudiate the Kyoto Protocol, would undertake comparable commitments under the Convention; and

• Developing countries would undertake nationally appropriate mitigation actions, enabled and supported by financing and technology that would be measurable, reportable and verifiable.

The bargain, emphasized consistently by the African Group and many other developing countries, was to maintain the existing rules – including provisions on transparency and compliance under the Kyoto Protocol – and to lift up the standard of other countries (including the United States) through new negotiations under the Convention.

Developed countries were also to honour their long-standing, but largely un-implemented, obligations to enable adaptation and provide substantial financial and technology transfers to developing countries.

Instead: deregulation of the climate regime

Rather than honour this plan, many developed countries have now indicated their clear intention to avoid binding obligations to reduce their climate pollution by killing the Kyoto Protocol and replacing it with a weaker ‘pledge and review’ system. At the same time, they are seeking to retain and expand their favoured elements of the Kyoto Protocol (that is, market mechanisms) into a new agreement, and shift their responsibilities onto developing countries.

A ‘pledge and review’ system would mean that the rich countries most responsible for the problem would only reduce their emissions according to political pressures at home, not according to the increasingly dire scientific realities. There would be no internationally binding commitments, no comparability of efforts among developed countries, and no assurance of adequate efforts. The system of common rules and international compliance in the Kyoto Protocol that give meaning to these commitments would be abandoned.

Such an approach would effectively deregulate the climate regime and if agreed to in a new treaty, would mean that a deregulated approach is enshrined in international law.

A Durban Mandate for the great escape

Anyone following media reports would be forgiven for thinking that the main issue for the Durban climate conference is to agree on a new legally binding treaty. Rich countries have been actively conveying their message in the media, shaping public expectations that Durban should deliver a new treaty, or at least a mandate for one. At the same time, some developing countries have also been calling for a new treaty.

The fine print, however, is that the rich countries want a new treaty that replaces an existing one – the Kyoto Protocol, whereas the least developed and island nations want a new treaty that complements, and sits alongside the Kyoto Protocol, not replaces it. These positions are incompatible.

Developing countries, in other words, want to implement the Bali Roadmap and ensure legally binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, but the developed countries are seeking to do away with all this, through a new mandate. If a new mandate is agreed, it is unlikely the interests of poor countries would prevail. The United States is unlikely to sign on altogether, risking further delay and inaction.

The reality is that the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol that make up the existing legally binding climate architecture desperately needs implementing, not replacing. Developed countries appear progressive by asking for a legally binding treaty or the mandate for one, when the real truth is that they are violating the current legally binding regime, shifting the goalpost agreed in the Bali Roadmap, and reneging on agreements for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

The call for a new mandate for a new treaty in place of the Kyoto Protocol should be understood for what it really is – rich countries backtracking and reneging on inconvenient obligations, at the expense of the poor and the planet. As it has been throughout history, the rich and powerful are re-writing the rules in their favour.

An elite and corporate led agenda by the 1% for the 1%

Underpinning the shift in the UN climate negotiations towards a ‘deregulatory’ pledge-based system are vested interests represented in Northern industrialized countries, international financial institutions, multinational corporations and elites in both the North and the South.

The position of the United States in international climate negotiations, for instance, is shaped substantially by its failure to secure domestic climate legislation, which in turn is the result of actions by powerful economic lobbies including the coal, oil, automotive, metals, fertilizer, chemical, agri-business and other special interests, and the lobbyists and politicians they fund in Washington.

Vested interests have opposed not merely domestic legislation and international emission reduction pledges, but also any curbs on emissions that would affect their interests. Some are architects of the effort to deny climate change altogether, attacking climate scientists and limiting public understanding of the necessity of climate action. More than undermining the current inadequate pledges – which could lead the world to over 5 °C of global warming – they seek to stop any effective action on climate change at all.

What must happen in Durban

Negotiations on further commitments for Annex I Parties have continued since 2005 with no clear commitment by Annex I countries that they will fulfil their legal obligations.

The time for ensuring there is no ‘gap’ between the first and second periods of the Kyoto Protocol has run out – the moment of truth has arrived. Developed countries must now commit to a legal, not political, second commitment period of the Protocol.

Europe must stand up and be counted as a leader among developed countries, to join with developing countries in calling for an outcome that increases ambition, addresses the hard issues left off the table in Cancun, honours the promises made in Bali, and builds on – rather than dismantles – the climate system built since the Convention was agreed in 1992.

Europe, which has in the past tried to give leadership where other developed countries had been wanting, is now hedging, hoping to benefit from the dishonourable action of Canada, Japan, Russia, US, and others who are seeking to destroy the Kyoto Protocol, while avoiding the blame. It is time for Europe to be a true leader.

All developed countries must recommit to the Bali Roadmap, which covers 100 percent of global emissions through three pillars:

1. Binding cuts for Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol;

2. Comparable efforts for the United States under the Convention; and

3. Appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries, supported by finance, technology and capacity.

Key outcomes for mitigation from Durban

• Parties must formally commit to conclude negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol, through an amendment of its Annex B. To ensure there is no gap between the first and second commitment period, as legally required by the Protocol negotiations, provisional application of the second commitment period must be agreed, pending entry into force. African governments have said there is ‘No Plan B’ on the Kyoto Protocol. Durban must not be the burial ground of the Kyoto Protocol.

• Negotiations under the Protocol must close the ‘mitigation gap’ between developed countries’ pledges and what science and equity require. Developed countries must show leadership, put aside the interests of their polluting corporations, and re-commit to an ambitious second commitment period. Europe must lead the developed countries, and not continue to use delaying tactics.

• Developed countries must not shift the burden to developing countries through carbon markets, or through using loopholes such as creative land-use accounting and surplus allowances. Current proposals for mitigation, markets and loopholes threaten not merely the negotiations but the global effort to tackle climate change.

• The United States, as the only developed country non-party to the Kyoto Protocol, must commit to do its fair share and take on comparable efforts under the Convention, including ambitious, legally binding, economy-wide emission reduction commitments.

• Long-term sources and scale of finance commencing in 2013 must be agreed in Durban, for both mitigation and adaptation, and a process for determining how much finance is ‘necessary for implementation of the Convention’ including mitigation actions by developing countries.

• Finance must be provided through a Green Climate Fund that is accountable to all countries under the Conference of Parties that supports developing countries not private corporations. Any ‘private sector facility’ is to be opposed.

These elements must be part of an ambitious package on all issues that strengthens the global climate architecture, serves the interests of people not polluters, and supports the transformational change required for a more just and safe world. The world is watching: Durban must deliver for the 99 percent.

This analysis was jointly prepared by: Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, Friends of the Earth EWNI, Friends of the Earth (FoE) US, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), International Forum on Globalization, Jubilee South - Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Tebtebba and Third World Network (TWN)

Link to original source


Durban climate talks: We still have a chance to talk about success

5th December 2011 - Caroline Lucas, The Guardian

As politicians, negotiators, campaigners and journalists steel themselves for the crucial second week of the COP17 talks in Durban, it's easy to feel pessimistic about this latest instalment of international negotiations.

The build-up to recent UN meetings has been tainted by efforts to play down expectations, while each session seems to bring about little in the way of real progress.

Even as early as April this year the climate envoys from the EU and the US were already rubbishing any prospect of securing a new legally binding agreement to succeed the Kyoto protocol at Durban.

Even the EU's own climate chief, Connie Hedegaard, has admitted that hopes of a breakthrough pact at the Durban talks are all but over, with many of the richer nations signalling that a treaty may be postponed until 2020. The UN environment chief, Achim Steiner, has called this a "very high risk" when set alongside the climate science.

So it's understandable that people might be losing faith in the process – and looking for another one. But the truth is that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is still the only credible location for agreeing a global deal – and Kyoto is pretty much all we have.

And as that treaty comes to an end in 2012, it's incredibly important that the negotiations in Durban make at least some visible progress towards a coherent political and legally binding agreement on tackling climate emissions.

In these perilous economic times, many of the barriers to progress in Durban will be financial ones. Combine this with the high levels of climate scepticism in the US and elsewhere and the task might seem insurmountable.

But it is the job of governments and civil society to make the case that it is both possible and desirable to tackle the economic crisis and the climate crisis at the same time.

Both the scientific and economic evidence to support a global green transition is incredibly strong. We know that climate change is a huge risk to future global prosperity and threatens to inflict significant major social, economic and environmental costs.

And the window to stabilise the change in global temperatures to a safe level is narrowing. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has shown that CO2 emissions in 2010 were the highest on record, and are still rising. While there has been some movement on effective climate policies, it looks increasingly likely that we will cross the 2C threshold.

Even action to prevent this rise may not be enough. The latest science from the respected Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research suggests that 2C is no longer the threshold between "acceptable" and "dangerous" risks – but between "dangerous" and "very dangerous" climate change. Scientists there are now looking towards 1.5C as a safer and more accurate target.

The fact that we are not responding to this risk as a global community, in fora such as the Durban talks, comes down to political will. Only with joined up multilateral action can we secure low-carbon‐emission economies that are more resilient, more efficient and less vulnerable to global shocks – and still have a chance of averting the worst of climate change.

Securing this political commitment is a must for negotiators at Durban. The other key issue is set to be finance. Urgently needed mitigation and adaptation measures cost big money, and the developing world feels that the rich are not keeping promises on financial support to help them develop while also polluting less.

At Cancún in 2010, developed countries pledged $100bn a year by 2020 towards the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help developing nations adapt to the effects of climate change – but little of that has yet materialised, with delivery mechanisms still to be decided.

The aviation and shipping sectors could prove central to this funding effort. Analysis commissioned by G20 finance ministers has shown that applying a carbon price to international transport fuels would both reduce emissions and generate billions of pounds for the GCF.

Shipping, for example, accounts for around 3% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions – and this is set to increase as other sectors decarbonise. Oxfam and WWF have been pushing for a maritime carbon levy, and have now been joined in their efforts by the International Chamber of Shipping, representing more than 80% of the world's merchant fleet.

This is a positive sign, and while the technical details of such an agreement can wait, what we really need to see over the next few weeks are strong signals that governments are willing to take this forward.

So if progress can be made towards adequate funding and operationalisation of the GCF – to support public private financing and effectively leverage private finance for developing countries – it's possible that we might still be able to talk about success at Durban.

Link to original source


‘There is no planet B’

5th December 2011 - Nnimmo Bassey, New Internationalist

This weekend was abuzz with talks of a looming Durban Mandate that would be crystallised as one of the outcomes of the Climate talks.  As delegates try to make sense of the unfolding drama there are strong indications that the talks will end with a political declaration that would essentially lock the world into inaction over the next decade.

It was for precisely this reason that more than ten thousand people took to the streets of Durban on Saturday, 3 December 2011, to demonstrate civil society’s determination for a common goal: climate justice. Protesters from across the world marched, sang, danced and displayed disdain towards the polluters’ unwillingness to recognise that there is no “planet B.”

One of the groups that stood out in the march was the Waste Pickers Association. They see themselves as key actors in the fight against global warming as they engage in rubbish sorting, recycling and reuse. Their clarion call was that their towns should not be incinerated, a direct reflection of their demand for the halting of polluting rubbish incineration. They are  a growing workforce with full official recognition in South Africa.

During a stop on the march outside the climate talks venue, the president of the Conference of Parties (COP), Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was addressed by representatives from various groups including Friends of Earth International.

Speakers  made strong calls for negotiators and governments to realise that the COP was not meant to be a Conference of Polluters but one to take real action to combat a planetary crisis. I spoke on behalf of African civil society and  underscored the fact that Africa was a crime scene and it would be unacceptable for politicians meeting in Africa would agree on a deal that would cook the continent.

The COP president assured the marchers that she will ensure that talks are transparent and inclusive and that the voices of the people would be heard. That promise however, did not align with information emanating from the meeting halls as well as ongoing private consultations.

Since the second week of the talks began, ministers of environment are arriving and the politics of climate change get thicker. Indications are that developed nations are still unwilling to commit to anything that requires compliance in terms of emissions reduction and will make sure that Durban’s outcome will practically be hollow and devoid of substance. At the same time, the climate politicians are keen on spinning that outcome as progress in the right direction.

The substance of any truly progressive outcome would have to acknowledge the Kyoto Protocol, pledge to work on it and promise a binding agreement for another commitment period by say 2020.

Meanwhile, the inadequate system of voluntary and non-binding pledges cooked up at the two previous round of UN talks – Copenhagen and Cancún – is likely to take over.

Analysts believe that the pledges made by the developed polluting countries since the Cancún summit would place the world on the road to a 5ºC temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. If that happens, Africa will experience a temperature rise of between 7ºC and 8ºC.

Analysts have also shown that developing countries have made higher pledges than developed nations, those responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions historically and thus the most responsible for climate change.

However, developed nations in Durban insist that ‘growing economies’ – particularly Brazil, South Africa, India and China – are not doing enough.

The Unites States – the largest historical contributor of greenhouse gases – is one of the countries flying this kite while not making any real commitment to cut its emissions.

The alarm bells are already ringing on the continent of Africa and the Small Island States. Experts believe that even a two degrees temperature rise Africa would face cataclysmic impacts in terms of water stress, desertification, droughts, floods, coastal erosion and major crop failures. With already visible impacts on the continent, Africa is becoming a climate crime scene. 

Agreeing to a so-called Durban Mandate will negate years of negotiations, avoid reaching agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and will launch these negotiators into a new round of dithering and fiddling while the planet burns. 

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International

Link to original source 


Further resources:

'Changing the system not the climate, at COP17 in Durban and beyond' - Friends of the Earth International (pdf)