What Next -- Climate Watch

Climate Justice Media Background Note for COP17, Durban

26 November 2011
For Immediate Release
Alex Rafalowicz

Media Background Note
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Durban, South Africa, between 28 November and 9 December 2011, represents a critical moment in the international climate change negotiations.

The Conference should confirm whether the world continues with the Kyoto Protocol and its binding international emission commitments or instead rejects binding commitments and moves towards a non-binding approach that risks 'climate anarchy' with no set limits on climate pollution.

Durban is also the deadline for agreement on details of climate financing, particularly the 'Green Climate Fund' which has been the focus of intense negotiation throughout 2011.

This note provides further background on:
- Durban in the context of what the science requires and past promises.
- The importance of the Kyoto Protocol to the negotiations.
- The fault lines in the climate finance negotiations.

For further information, interviews, briefings or quotes on these topics or others from representatives of civil society groups at the Durban Climate Conference please contact: alex.rafalowicz@gmail.com

A copy of this note for download can be found here.


Quotes from civil society:

"Since the Bali negotiations, some rich country governments have been trying to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a weaker instrument and no binding targets by calling it a more "comprehensive approach". That's a "bait and switch" that that will allow developed countries to transition out of the Kyoto Protocol, the existing legally binding global treaty, into a treaty with weaker obligations and no chance of averting a climate catastrophe." Mohamed Adow, Senior Advisor on Global Advocacy at Christian Aid said.

"At South Africa's climate conference African countries must do much better than at South Africa's world cup - they must stay united and score important goals: scaled up emission cuts by rich countries under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and an accessible climate finance fund under public control with public sources of finance. Africans will be watching our governments to stop them scoring own-goals by weakening the common African Group position." Michele Maynard, Policy and Advocacy Officer at the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance said.

"The insistence by some governments on a new treaty or a mandate for one in Durban ignores the importance of the content and effect of that agreement. Although you might want to get married, you wouldn't sign a marriage contract with someone you didn't know. We do know that the current system of the Kyoto Protocol has binding international commitments and rules, and could provide for an equitable and science based outcome. That's why developing countries are saying that Kyoto is the 'cornerstone' of the Durban outcome - a legal outcome under the Convention might be possible in Durban; but that is only possible if it does not rewrite the Convention and kill the Kyoto Protocol." - Chee Yoke Ling, Director of the Malaysian based Third World Network said.

"Climate finance represents the reparations for the damage caused by rich countries' over-consumption of the Earth's natural systems. This compensation cannot be managed by a fund that privileges access to private transnational corporations or is run by the World Bank - to do that would be to create a cure worse than the disease. In Durban the issue of climate finance needs to be returned to public control - focused on public finance." Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of Jubilee South Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development said.

Media Background Note

1. Previous Commitments and the Latest Science

As countries approach the Durban Conference it is becoming increasingly clear that promises of action on climate change are drastically short of what the science warns is urgently required. Some developed countries are attempting to derail the agreed focus of the talks to send them 'off-track' by trying to undermine existing legally binding treaties, to instead agree to a 'mandate' for an entirely new treaty.

The Durban Conference is a meeting of the countries who are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was agreed in 1992, and its Kyoto Protocol agreed in 1997.

In 2007 in Indonesia a 'Bali Roadmap' was agreed, laying out a path for negotiations leading up to the Copenhagen Summit in 2009. This path included negotiations on the emission reduction targets of the 'second commitment period' of the Kyoto Protocol for developed countries and for comparable targets for the US (who is not a party to the Protocol) under the UNFCCC as well as on a range of issues - including adaptation to climate change, emission reductions in developing countries, climate finance and technology transfer.

After the failure in Copenhagen the negotiations have continued along the Bali Roadmap mandate: with a focus on the Kyoto Protocol and a simultaneous track on broader issues under the Convention.

However, as Durban approaches, it appears that some developed countries are walking away from their commitments - both to 'take the lead' on combating climate change, due to their historical responsibility for it; and to the format of the negotiations as agreed in Bali.

Current pledges of emission targets, which are not at this stage in a form that they can be enforced internationally, are so far from meeting what is required that the UN found they risk up to 5C of global warming - levels that threaten not merely poor communities, but the continuation of human civilization in its present form.[1]

Whilst proposing emission targets that risk the destruction of food production, water systems and entire countries, developed country governments are also proposing putting off agreement on future binding emission commitments, despite the framework agreed in Bali and are also advocating a new treaty that is much weaker than the existing system.

The test of the Durban Conference is not whether a 'new' treaty mandate is agreed, but whether existing promises and legally binding instruments, such as the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali roadmap are fulfilled, and augmented to meet the challenge of the latest science.

2. Agreement on the Kyoto Protocol is Central to Durban

Developing countries insist that the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period must be adopted this year, and that this has to be the cornerstone of any outcome in Durban. This is required by the terms of the Protocol itself,[2] and was reaffirmed by all countries in 2005 (Montreal) and 2007 (Bali).

Yet some developed countries now seek to end the Kyoto Protocol, and in its place construct a new regime or mandate for a new treaty that includes all "major emitters". This is despite the fact that the negotiations already have a track for agreeing to mitigation actions in developing countries and to also include the US. And the political reality is the United States will not agree to a treaty that has internationally binding emission commitments.

It is not just developed countries that want a 'new treaty' - but the question is does the new treaty improve international climate controls or weaken them? The small island states and the least developed countries are pushing for Durban to deliver a mandate to conclude a new legally binding treaty, but one that will sit alongside the Kyoto Protocol; not one that replaces it.

On current developed country submissions any new treaty framework would replace the Kyoto Protocol, and be a mere shadow of its provisions. The Kyoto Protocol has a system of internationally binding commitments with international rules and compliance, built up and operational over many years.

Most developed country proponents of the new treaty envision a collection of domestic pledges, with weaker accounting, reporting and review rules, and no international compliance. The market mechanisms would be expanded and accounting loopholes would allow developed countries to essentially negate their current emission reduction pledges, delivering no real reductions.[3]

Durban is crunch-time; not to agree to a new climate treaty but to agree to implement commitments in those that already exist - by implementing the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol: particularly through deep emission cuts as binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

3. The Green Climate Fund and Climate Finance Negotiations

One area in which climate negotiations have made some progress in 2011 has been in the design of the 'Green Climate Fund' (GCF) - one element of the outcome of the Cancun climate conference in 2010.

At the October 2011 meeting of the GCF negotiations, draft recommendations were presented, but were not agreed to, as the United States and Saudi Arabia blocked consensus.

A key divide in the GCF negotiations has been over access to funds, with developing countries wanting the GCF to be accountable to governments and focused on projects needed by people in developing countries. The United States has proposed that private companies, including multinational corporations in rich countries, should be privileged by enabling them to directly receive funding for investments in developing countries, by-passing these governments.

Similarly, developed countries want to use core public resources to guarantee private sector investments, which will lead to the GCF bearing financial risks. This issue will need to be resolved in Durban, as will the question of how the GCF is governed, with most countries advocating a democratic and accountable board connected to the UNFCCC but some developed countries are trying to weaken this link.

Durban will also need to provide clarity on how much climate finance is needed and where it should come from. The latest UN reports suggests that the cost of green transformation could be more than USD$1 trillion annually.[4] However, there has been no indication of how this finance will be raised in a predictable way, which would require public sources rather than volatile market and private contributions.

Current finance pledges which fall well short of the agreed 2009-2012 target of USD30 billion per year,[5] also include zero dollars pledged by any country post-2013, providing another key flashpoint for the negotiations in Durban.

[1] See, UNEP, 'Bridging the Emissions Gap' http://www.unep.org/publications/contents/pub_details_search.asp?ID=6227
[2] See, Article 3 (9) of the Kyoto Protocol, http://unfccc.int/essential_background/kyoto_protocol/items/1678.php
[3] See, UNEP, 'Bridging the Emissions Gap' http://www.unep.org/publications/contents/pub_details_search.asp?ID=6227
[4] See, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/policy/wess-2011.html
[5] Proposed in the Copenhagen Accord, unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_15/application/.../cop15_cph_auv.pdf

See Older Posts...