Durban Day 6:
Friday, December 02, 2011
Durban Day 6:
Durban Day 5
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Durban Day 4: Legal Form: They Also Have to Agree on How to Agree
One of the most controvertial issues is the legal form of the outcome from the climate talks. While the popular understanding, and legal form with the greatest expectations of certainty and compliance, is a legally-binding treaty, several countries from different negotiating blocs have initially rejected this approach, broadening the discussion to a range of alternatives.
Today, I tracked the meeting where countries discussed a "menu" of legal options, first outlined in the Cancun Agreements, paragraph 145, and had drafted an intervention (like a public comment by an observer organization) that was presented by the Climate Action Network. Several countries weighed in on the options, which include:
1. Legally Binding Instrument(s)
2. COP (Conference of the Parties) Decisions
- Continue discussions to identify the appropriate form of the different elements of the agreed outcome.
- Mandate to conclude a legally binding instrument with a clear roadmap/main content.
- Affirm the importance of a legally binding outcome to provide clarity and vision.
- Statement/declaration regarding future instrument(s) leaving open the legal form.
- Continue substantively addressing all pillars of the Bali Action Plan through COP Decisions.
There's a saying that "if you're not confused, you're not paying attention." The 192 countries here are parties and observer states to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This framework convention sets common definitions and is a forum for the Parties to discuss approaches to addressing climate change. Under the convention, there's the Kyoto Protocol, in which 37 developed (Annex 1) countries have committed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. This legally binding commitment ends next year, raising questions about what comes next.
At stake is the future of the instrument that is an actual legally binding treaty, but only covers 20 percent of global emissions. The Kyoto Protocol does not include commitments that apply to developing countries that are also considered emerging markets, such as China and India. In Copenhagen, countries agreed to a political agreement to pledge their emission reductions, and many "Annex II" countries that are not legally bound to commitments under the Kyoto Protocol agreed to reductions in the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement that was not adopted by the UNFCCC, but was next detailed and adopted into the Cancun Agreements.
This system is a "pledge and review" approach, which has the advantage of including countries that the United States has wanted to see included in an agreement, but has the disadvantage of pledges that fall far short of what scientists say is necessary. Also at issue is the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities," a cornerstone principle of equity between developed and developing countries, but left with "constructive ambiguity," left open to interpretation and further disagreement about what this actually means. The Climate Action Network, the coalition of environmental organizations from around the world, is calling for a legally binding treaty by 2018, to coincide with the end of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
The talks are continuing, with some Parties calling attention to the importance of certainty and trust from a legally binding treaty, and some Parties doubting the political feasibility of entering into binding commitments with ambitious targets, preferring first to achieve political commitments, and perhaps later codify into a treaty. While function follows form, here it may also be that the form is following function.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Durban Day 3: An Extreme Warning, Negotiations Pick Up
The negotiations plenary opened with a statement from Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC publishes authoritative and comprehensive scientific reports to advise global decision-makers on climate science.
Global warming isn't just about the average temperature rising by several degrees. It's the extreme events that are particularly concerning. Some notable quotes:
It is very likely that the length, frequency and/or intensity of warm spells, or heat waves, will increase over most land areas. Based on specific emissions scenarios, a 1-in-20 year hottest day is likely to become a 1-in-2 year event by the end of the 21st century in most regions, except in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, where it is likely to become a 1-in-5 year event. The 1-in-20 year extreme daily maximum temperature (i.e., a value that was exceeded on average only once during the period 1981–2000) will likely increase by about 1°C to 3°C by mid-21st century and by about 2°C to 5°C by late-21st century, depending on the region and emissions scenario.
When I had the privilege of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC I asked the rhetorical question, “Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear?The United Nations Environment Programme released a report titled "The Emissions Gap," examining a range of emission reduction scenarios, including the scenario called for in the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements. The report concluded that there is a significant gap between scientific reality and the current level of ambition of nations.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Durban: Day 2
53 Members of Congress Call on Obama Administration to Pursue Ambitious Agenda in Durban
Although this is last week's news, it's important that 53 members of Congress, including Oakland Representative Barbara Lee, wrote a letter to Secretaries Clinton and Geithner urging the Administration to pursue an ambitious agenda at the Durban Climate Change Summit. The letter focuses on the extreme weather events expected to intensify as a result of global warming, and calls for operationalizing the Green Climate Fund and reiterating the commitment made in Copenhagen to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
|Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa, UNFCCC President|
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, President of the UNFCCC for COP 17, quoted Nelson Mandela, who said "It always seems impossible until it's done." This year's conference is anticipated to have a more uncertain outcome than ever before, with much at stake.
The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is set to expire, with wide disagreement over what a second commitment period should look like. Japan and Canada are indicating that they cannot agree to further commitments unless major developing countries and the United States also commit to reductions. The United States is focused on implementation of the Green Climate Fund and other aspects of the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements, but is currently deferring negotiation of more ambitious targets until years in the future, in great part because of domestic dirty energy politics. Reciprocally, India says they won't agree to further reductions unless the U.S. does the same. India and China are calling for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. Europe will only continue for a second Kyoto commitment period if they are not the only countries carrying the load, particularly if the United States accepts reductions. Many African and small island states, with a low per-capita carbon footprint, are focused on survival, in anticipation of the devastating impacts of extreme heat and sea level rise on their countries.
Key issues include mitigation commitments, the legal form of any mandate (forms of either political agreement or binding treaty), the structure, priorities, and commitments of a new Green Climate Fund to assist developing countries achieve clean development, reducing deforestation, technology transfer and capacity building, the role and integrity of carbon markets to facilitate these goals, and adaptation.
Two common themes in the negotiations are (1) the ambition of commitments, but also (2) responsibility for acting to address climate change. The countries of the world are still far apart, but for the last two years have agreed on the crucial goal: to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
A highlight of my day was a briefing for United States Youth with Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing. Although the briefing was an important opportunity to better understand and ask questions about the U.S. position on the issues, the situation is complex, and the answers were often not what we wanted to hear. I'm consistently inspired by the other young people who are actively engaging in the process, through both the long periods of slow progress, and the moments of breakthrough.
In tracking the negotiations, I'll be focusing on issues related to legal form and flexible / market mechanisms, cross-posting other news and views from the conference, and later this week I'll share South African sustainability exhibits on display outside the conference center.