Durban is making headlines right now as delegates from around the world – including Equiterre's Steven Guilbeault – debate the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Find out what's really at stake.
- Durban: what's that?
- Before Durban, there was Copenhagen and Cancun
- the four major issues
- why UN climate change talks still matter...a lot
"Durban" is shorthand for a UN climate change conference to be held in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9, 2011.
Official name? The 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
You’ve probably also heard it being called by its acronym, COP17.
Every year, the global community gets together to discuss how to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
You may remember the Cancun conference of 2010, or the Copenhagen conference of 2009.
It was in Copenhagen that the conversation about post-Kyoto commitments first began.
It was hoped that the Copenhagen conference would lead to a binding international agreement for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, to begin in 2013.
Instead, Copenhagen resulted in an agreement:
- to prevent global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels
- for all industrialized countries to set their greenhouse gas reduction targets accordingly
It also led to the promise of a $30 billion Green Fund for tackling climate change.
Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, this agreement was:
- and not actually endorsed by the Conference of the Parties (COP)
Instead, COP is said to have "taken note of it."
The results of the Cancun summit were more encouraging. The promises made in Copenhagen were formalized in the Cancun Accord.
Advantages of the Cancun Accord:
- formalizes resolutions made at Copenhagen
- relaunches multilateral process (i.e., discussions between multiple countries)
Disdavantages of the Cancun Accord:
- not legally binding
- unclear on what form resolutions would take
- unclear on the future of the Kyoto Protocol
The goal of Durban is to develop a post-2012 strategy for the fight against climate change.
Talks will hinge on four major issues: the future of Kyoto; setting up a climate fund; deforestation; and, the role of regional initiatives in the fight against climate change.
1. The future of Kyoto
If the Kyoto Protocol is to survive, new measures need to be binding.
Because not all countries appear equally committed to continuing the Protocol.
At the Cancun conference, Japan, Russia and Canada, in particular, seemed unwilling to commit to a second phase.
Japan reportedly called the Protocol unfair and ineffective because:
- it doesn't include the world's top two emitters, the United States and China
- it only covers 30% of global emissions
They are not the only major players to seem reluctant about imposing stiff reduction targets.
- China refuses to allow third-party verification of its greenhouse gas emissions reductions
- The United States has no climate policy
The European Union supports a second commitment period for Kyoto, but only if it includes all major emitters.
Opting in: voluntarism
We don't expect to see a legally binding agreement come out of Durban.
The emphasis will probably continue to be on "voluntarism." The idea of "voluntarism" was a theme at both Copenhagen and Cancun.
But how is "voluntarism" working out?
Are the emissions targets countries set for themselves strict enough?
In a word, no.
Canada says that its target – a 17% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2020 – is aligned with that of the United States.
- it is not going to help us meet our goal of avoiding an increase in global temperature of more than 2 degrees
- it is not ambitious or courageous enough to help us avoid catastrophic climate change
Durban will likely result in new commitments that are better defined, but still non-binding. It will build on the agreements reached in Cancun, and could eventually lead to a more ambitious strategy.
But the task will be complicated by the global economic situation, which some countries may use as an excuse for inaction.
2. Setting up a climate fund: the nitty gritty
Floods, desertification, rising sea levels. Food and water crises.
Developing countries are not the biggest contributors to climate change. But they bear the brunt of its impacts.
There is an urgent need for developing countries to:
- increase their resilience in the face of climate change
- reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions
This raises the recurring issue: the right to develop versus the need to protect the environment.
How to find a balance between these two goals?
Through the principle of "shared but differentiated responsibility."
According to this idea, we are all responsible for climate change, but some of us are more responsible than others.
For example, the developed countries are responsible for 80% of the greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere since the end of World War II. According to the principle of "shared but differentiated responsibility," the developed countries have a duty to help poorer countries that are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.
One of the high points of Copenhagen was the promise to establish a green fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change and reduce their own emissions.
This green fund had an ambitious "fast-start" target:
- 30 billion USD by 2012
- funding of 100 billion USD a year thereafter
In Cancun, delegates managed to sort out a lot of the details related to the operation and governance of the fund.
However, there are still questions about:
- how the fund will be financed
- how aid will be delivered
So far, commitments for the "fast-start" period have been honoured. In total, 28.14 billion has been pledged.
Canada has pledged $400 in "new and additional" support for international efforts to address climate change. But 70% of this money is to be used as loans, and only 11% will be used for adaptation to climate change.
There are other concerns as well:
- Some worry that this money could be diverted to official development assistance (ODA)
- Some question Canada's commitment to this fight against climate change
Plus, the long-term financing of the Green Fund remains unclear. Finding $100 billion a year requires a commitment from donor countries, but also from the private sector.
The private sector would invest in a "post-carbon" future that is resistant to climate change, for a future that is:
But a "low-carbon" future is dependent on the reduction targets that companies and countries set for themselves for after 2012...targets that should be established in Durban.
Should forests be part of the global strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
The question has been hotly debated for some time.
Forests are an important carbon sink.
A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases – carbon that would otherwise be released into our atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
The REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) was launched in 2008. It aims to reward developing countries that contribute to global emission reduction through a slowdown in the deforestation and degradation of their forests. It assigns a financial value to the carbon stored in our forests, with a view to creating a world carbon market.
In Cancun, REDD+ was created. It went a little further. It includes the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
REDD+ could become a central part of our post-Kyoto strategy. But a lot of the details still need to be sorted out – another task for Durban.
- the program requires expertise that many communities and developing countries don't have yet
- funding is another issue: it would require $15 to $35 billion a year to operate
The program also faces other challenges:
- if efforts to establish a global carbon market fail, REDD+ would be largely ineffective
- some worry that the association of the forests with commercial interests could slowly lead to a violation of the rights of local communities – a sensitive issue that could slow the inclusion of forests in the post-Kyoto strategies
4. The role of regional initiatives in the fight against climate change
As you know, whenever there are more than two parties involved in a negotiation, the process can be tricky. Especially when the parties involved are countries.
There are obstacles. Bottlenecks. Slowdowns.
That's why some local and regional initiatives have emerged alongside our international climate talks.
Europe has the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). Its goal is to reduce emissions and introduce emissions trading for 30 companies and some industries.
In Asia, a dozen big cities have grouped together to form the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN).
Closer to home, some American states and Canadian provinces have responded to a lack of clear federal leadership on climate change by launching their own projects:
- Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI or ReGGIe), which aims to establish a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada.
- Western Climate Initiative (WCI), which aims to set up a cap-and-trade system in Quebec, California and other states and provinces.
The issue is global climate change. It calls for global solutions.
If we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will all eventually suffer the negative consequences.
It is misguided to think that we can avoid a temperature increase of more than 2 degrees without working together on a clear plan of how to do it.
But regional initiatives do have a role. They may have a ripple effect on international negotiations, by presenting viable alternatives to counter arguments from naysayers.
Durban, still Relevant
The Durban conference probably won't result in a comprehensive plan for the global fight against climate change. It is, however, an opportunity for delegations from around the world to put climate at the top of their political agendas.