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 â€œbeyond our reach - for now.â€
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 wonâ€™t come into force until 2020, or even later in worst case. So basically, â€œthe 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 proportionsâ€ and that this delay would mean a 4 degrees temperature increase.
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".
Ban Ki-moon welcomed the outcome and said that the deal is â€œessential for stimulating greater action and for raising the level of ambition and the mobilization of resources to respond to the challenges of climate change.â€
We made it. EU's strategy worked. We got a roadmap that marks a breakthrough for international fight against climate change. Good night.— Connie Hedegaard (@CHedegaardEU) December 11, 2011
So whatâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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.
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.â€ If countries doesnâ€™t quickly intensify their emissions cuts â€œwe 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.