The Durban climate deal saves the talks, but not the climate

The hopes that COP17 would result in a new and strong climate deal were, to be frank, extremely low if not nonexistent. With only three days left of negotiations, UN chief Ban Ki-moon even warned that an agreement would probably be “beyond our reach - for now.”

"It may be true, as many say: the ultimate goal of a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach – for now,"
Ban Ki-moon said
.

The UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, were supposed to end this past Friday night after nearly two weeks of negotiations. But the talks continued long into Sunday night with the delegates desperately trying to come up with at least some sort of agreement to avoid another COP15-style failure. In the very last hour the delegates managed to agree on a deal. This outcome was largely thanks to three powerful women politicians, one of them being EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

And so the 17th climate summit ended with an agreement that at least the EU believes commits all major developing countries such as China, USA and India among others, to accept legally binding targets on greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately these binding targets won’t come into force until 2020, or even later in worst case. So basically, “the deal saves the talks", but not the climate.

By waiting till 2020 to enforce cuts in greenhouse gas emissions our leaders have successfully ignored the 2 degrees target, which scientists regard as the final upper limit of safety against irreversible climate chaos, and set us on a path towards an increase of 4 degrees in global temperatures. Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, said that "delaying real action till 2020 is a crime of global proportions” and that this delay would mean a 4 degrees temperature increase.

"This means the world is on track to a 4C temperature rise, a death sentence for Africa, small island states and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. The richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to
sacrifice the 99%
."

Greenpeace International director Kumi Naidoo said that "the chance of averting catastrophic climate change is slipping through our hands with every passing year that nations fail to agree on a rescue plan for the planet."

But not everyone agreed that the Durban deal was a failure. Chris Huhne, the UK's secretary of state for energy and climate change, was a bit more optimistic and said that COP17 was a "significant step forward".

"For the first time ever we have a process within the [uNFCCC] where there are regular reviews of the scientific evidence and seeing where the commitments of countries are. [...] Up to now we have not even had a commitment to [be guided by] the scientific evidence,"
he said
. "If you talk to the Russians, they will tell you their scientists say there is no global warming."

Ban Ki-moon welcomed the outcome and said that the deal is “essential for stimulating greater action and for raising the level of ambition and the mobilization of resources to respond to the challenges of climate change.”

“Taken together, these agreements represent an important advance in our work on climate change,” Ban said, calling on countries to “quickly implement these decisions and to continue working together in the constructive spirit evident in Durban.”

So what’s in the Durban deal? Reuters has a good rundown on what was agreed on this past week during COP17. If you can handle the dry legal language you can find the final texts here. The text talks about a process to "develop a new protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force that will be applicable to all Parties to the UN climate convention." What the terms "legal instrument" and "agreed outcome" really means for a future climate deal is still pretty uncertain. It wouldn’t surprise me if countries will use these unclear terms to delay much-needed action on climate as the UN process develops. The delegates in Durban also made little progress on the much-needed Green Climate Fund.

“The Durban talks made headway on agreeing the design of Green Climate Fund to channel up to $100 billion a year by 2020 to poorer nations, but achieved little on establishing where the money will come from to fill it”, Reuters writes.

Celine Charveriat, director of campaigns for Oxfam, said that "governments must immediately turn their attention to raising the ambition of their emissions cuts targets and filling the Green Climate Fund.” If countries doesn’t quickly intensify their emissions cuts “we could still be in store for a 10-year timeout on the action we need to stay under two degrees [of temperature increase]," Charveriat said.

So despite the delegates reaching an agreement in the very last hour, and then some, this was another COP failure. But what would you expect from a summit which received minimal media attention and interest from world leaders? Our climate will die while we're busy saving the banks and a failed economic system.


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Simon Leufstedt
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Guest D. A. Ryan

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I've avoided paying any attention to the COP17 talks, as a result of decades of bad experiences and disappointment. But I take it the basic outcome is a case of "talks about talks which we'll drop at once if anyone sneezes" Also, Simon the problem with this 2'C red line is more not what scientist fear will happen if we go over it, its what we DON'T know will happen. Any climate model that we can construct with a reasonable approximation as regards its accuracy isn't really applicable if the temperature goes above 2'C as at this point many large natural carbon sink will begin to destablise. The consequences of this are a case of anyone's guess. The worst case scenario is a re-run of the PETM, an extinction level event. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene%E2%80%93Eocene_Thermal_Maximum While I don't want to appear alarmist, I do fear that this film online that I reviewed awhile ago (year 2100) might be about to become a documentary! http://daryan.blog.co.uk/2011/01/21/in-the-year-10404283/

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