Durban Debrief: Midway Signs of Progress

Morning meeting of CI's Durban delegation on day five of the conference. (© CI / Photo by Kim McCabe)

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently underway in Durban, South Africa. Read other COP 17 posts.

We’ve reached the midpoint of the Durban climate talks, and in most ways things are progressing as expected — note I said ‘expected’ rather than ‘hoped for.’ There continues to be open disagreement on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, and many countries are firmly entrenched in their positions.

Developing countries are determined that Kyoto will continue with a second commitment period; after all, this is the only legally-binding agreement to limit emissions by the nations which have historically been the most responsible for climate change. The developed countries that have previously agreed to be legally-bound to limit their emissions — and who may or may not have followed through on this commitment — acknowledge that they need to make new commitments to limit their emissions. However, these countries are determined that the responsibility also needs to be shared by all major economies with significant emissions After all, climate change is now a truly global challenge and actions by all countries will be necessary for climate solutions.

Without a second commitment period decided here in Durban, it’s unlikely that any countries will set goals to reduce their emissions any time in the next 10 years, during which time we’ll just get locked into more and more negative consequences from climate change. Because of this, we’re all working hard to make progress on the Kyoto Protocol and a mandate for a legally-binding agreement for all countries by 2015 at the latest. This is not an arbitrary number. The best available science tells us we have but five years left before global temperatures surpass more than 2 degrees Celsius — the level at which scientists foretell dangerous consequences for our climate and ecosystems. Even once we have a comprehensive legally-binding agreement, it will take time to ratify that agreement so that countries can begin to implement it. So an agreement by 2015 gives us a scant two years to allow this progress before the window closes.

As we wrap up the first week in Durban, we are still hopeful that countries can agree on a future regime to limit emissions, or at least a clear roadmap to develop the next big agreement. But, as Becky said in her earlier blog, the details in Durban also matter, and progress has been made on these issues. Details decided in Durban on financing, adaptation and REDD+, for example, will be critical to ensuring that action can take place on the ground as we enter 2012. The subsidiary bodies that provide recommendations on many of these detailed issues are wrapping up as I type this.

Today is the midway point of the conference, so sufficient progress by the end of the night will be essential; country delegates will surely be working intensely over the coming hours to reach agreement on some of the technical details, and to put together guiding documents for discussions to take place next week. Stay tuned for updates on the CI blog.

Jennifer McCullough is the director of strategic engagement in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government.

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