Monday, December 12, 2011

Durban Climate Deal: Staying Alive to Fight Another Day

View this article on CHATHAMHOUSE Website.

By Bernice Lee, Research Director, Energy, Environment and Resource Governance

Marathon sessions in Durban produced a global climate deal early Sunday morning, after the official talks were scheduled to complete. The world's governments have agreed on a mandate to adopt a legal agreement on climate change no later than 2015, which will come into force in 2020.

The Durban deal is a significant political breakthrough – the first time the world's emerging economies have agreed to enter into a legal arrangement on emissions reduction. The agreed package also includes a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and the design of a Green Climate Fund to help poor countries tackle climate change.

Critics are already decrying the big disconnect between the rhetoric of triumph and the reality of low ambitions. NGOs like Christian Aid and Oxfam, for example, said the outcome was a compromise that would prove ineffective, and that delaying the implementation to 2020 would amount to accepting a 4-degree world. Others question the 'binding' nature of any international regimes, and where the cash for the US$100 billion a year by 2020 Green Climate Fund will come from.

On the plus side, the deal testifies to growing global acceptance of the dangers of climate change – despite the adverse economic climate – and that the world's governments pulled out all stops to avoid another multilateral collapse. It is also significant that China, India and the US have agreed to reduce their emissions within a global framework.

The European Union, which practically went to Durban naked, should also be applauded for re-asserting itself as the climate leader. The EU alliance with the small island states and the least developed countries, supported by the progressive Latin American countries, managed to break the seemingly unbreakable 'bond' among China, India and the US. It was a good day for diplomacy as the delegates found an ambiguous set of words to keep the show alive.

In the end, the Durban deal is an accurate barometer of where the world stands on the politics of climate change – yes it is extremely important, but no it cannot deliver ambitions today. There is no question that governments will face tremendous challenges in improving the emissions outlook in the interregnum, even though there is commitment in the text to raise the ambition of the pledges made since Copenhagen. 

The hope is that the deal will send the signals to markets that the world's governments will take climate change seriously, triggering substantive clean investments in the coming decade. A Beijing-New Delhi Protocol in 2015 anyone?

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