Nations on course for a multilateral legal framework on climate mitigation

Nations on course for a multilateral legal framework on climate mitigation

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Date: 15th December 2011
Type: Feature
Country: Africa
Tags: COP17, Durban, Least Developed Country Group of Negotiators, Least Developed Countries, UNFCCC

Nations have concluded UN climate talks in Durban by committing to a legal framework for mitigation action. The framework is to be negotiated by 2015, and in force by 2020. It’s a welcome salute to multilateralism – but nations must press on with unilateral actions in the meantime, if the world is to avoid dangerous climate impacts.

By Tim Ash-Vie, Head of Negotiations Support, and Mairi Dupar, Global Knowledge Management Coordinator, CDKN.

The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action sustains the UN process on climate change and gives space for ambitious countries to take further steps to cut emissions.  All parties have agreed to negotiate a new regime for climate change mitigation by 2015 and make it operational by 2020. Critically, the United States, China and India, which together are the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide from fuel use, have agreed to this ‘roadmap’, which was initially tabled by the EU.

The Durban Platform will lead to the development of “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change applicable to all Parties”.  At the heart of the deal is an agreement that the EU and some other developed countries will undertake a second round of emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, by extending the Protocol from its initial end date of late 2012, for another five or eight years.  In return, all countries, developed and developing, have agreed to negotiate a new mitigation regime.

While wealthier countries will be expected to take further measures, the language relating to ‘all parties’ starts to break down the distinction between developed and developing countries that has been a central part of the global climate discourse.  In the negotiations to secure the Durban Platform, Europe was able to overcome resistance from India and China because it was backed by negotiators from the poorest and most vulnerable countries from the Least Developed Countries, and the Alliance of Small Island States. Together, these states represent the poorest and those most vulnerable to climate impacts. The chairman of the LDC Group, Pa Ousman Jarju of The Gambia, requested legal, technical and logistical support from CDKN (via the climate window of the Advocacy Fund) in the run-up to and during the Durban talks.

One of the other key outcomes of Durban was the decision to establish the Green Climate Fund.  We can celebrate this first step but there will be much bigger debates to come will be around the capitalisation of the fund.  There are a wide variety of views on this; it is doubtful whether, as the decision paper requires, the Fund can be up and running in an ‘expeditious’ manner.

The implications of late action – and the possibility to ‘seize the day’

Arguably, Durban represents a success for the multilateral process.  However, the Durban Platform has not increased existing levels of ambition for mitigation action. The pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions still leave the world on track to a ‘3 degree future’ (see Climate Tracker), meaning a rise in average global temperature of 3 degrees Celsius or more than pre-industrial levels, bringing massive ecosystem damage and increased risk of climate-related extreme events. If the Durban Platform leads to a legal agreement as outlined, an all-inclusive legal deal won’t be in force for eight years. The science tells us that a peak and irreversible decline in global greenhouse gas emissions must occur by 2017 at the very latest in order to limit greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and keep climate change at more manageable levels (even so, a global peak and decline by 2015 would be safer). The failure of the politics to keep up with the science reinforces the importance of country-level action.

Indeed, it is now quite possible that the economics of responding to climate change will outstrip the politics: we see that countries are moving now to establish a competitive edge in mitigation technologies, products and services and reduced oil dependency . One of the most compelling side events of the COP was one were where countries as varied in circumstances as the Maldives, Malawi, Costa Rica, Sweden and Denmark shared platforms to describe how they would transition their economies based on low carbon and that they would do so based on a sound understanding of the opportunities as much as out of moral imperative.

Costa Rica anticipates being able to produce 95% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2014; the Maldives were able to demonstrate tangible plans to meet their goal of carbon neutrality by 2020.  These countries are part of the so called ‘Cartagena Dialogue’ in which countries come together to demonstrate their role as leaders in the move to a low carbon economy.  This informal group is open to all countries regardless of their stage of development that is committed to showing leadership and demonstrating that the means exist to make the low carbon transition.

Might what is now an orderly march out of obsolete technologies, soon become a stampede out of obsolete technologies, long before a legal-political deal takes root?


Image: courtesy WWF International - Raymond Lumbuenamo, WWF, Democratic Republic of Congo





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