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Climate Change Talks at Durban – What Did They Achieve?

Posted on the 12 December 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost

Climate change talks at Durban – what did they achieve?

The Climate Change talks, Durban. Photocredit: adopt a negotiator

The United Nations climate change talks at Durban, South Africa, known as COP-17, have ended. There were delegates from over 190 countries.  Next year, talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will start; they will come into effect in 2020. The host, South Africa, has been criticised for not putting enough pressure on during the talks, leading to slow negotiations. The European Union will put its emission-cutting pledges within the Kyoto Protocol, which is legally binding; and management of a fund for aid to poor countries has been agreed, reported The BBC.  This “roadmap” came from the European Union, the Alliance of Small Island States, and the Least Developed Countries bloc, which argued that a new legal agreement covering emissions from all countries – particularly ones such as China – could keep the rise in global average temperatures since the mid-nineteenth century to below 2 degrees Centigrade. India, Brazil, South Africa and China were against “a tight timetable and excessive legality,” but signed up in the end. The talks went on for much longer than had been planned. Commentators across the board seem (mostly) entirely happy with the results, cheering a road map for the future.

We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come. We have made history,” said South Africa’s International Relations Minister, Maite Knoana-Mashabane, quoted on the BBC.

There is a flaw. There’s a contradiction, said Nicholas Stern in The Financial Times, between “the way global fossil fuel reserves are evaluated and long-term policy goals.” This is causing “huge risks.” Last year, at Cancùn, countries agreed on cutting annual “greenhouse gas emissions.” In order to meet the goal of avoiding global warming of more than 2 degrees centigrade, we’d need to cut emissions to 44 billion tonnes in 2020, and to less than 20 billion tonnes in 2050. But countries and oil companies have enormous reserves of oil and gas – and are they going to stick to the rules? If we carry on with “business as usual”, the rise in “atmospheric concentrations” will mean “global warming of 5 degress or more.” The contradiction between public policy and the valuations of listed companies means we won’t “get anywhere near” targets for managing climate change. We need to recognize this tension, and tackle it – the “implied risk”, both to large companies and to the planet, is too much.

And nothing’s set in stone. Currently, the estimate for global temperature rises by 2100 is 3.5 degrees centigrade, said Julian Hunt in The Independent. Global warming is “the biggest threat to mankind.” A “limited deal” has been reached, but “global agreement is unlikely soon,” as governments are too focused on “financial fragility.” Governments will now be pressed harder for a global consensus: but it would be “useless without rigorous monitoring.”

“If there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions, then we are relegating countries to the fancies of beautiful words,” said Karl Hood, Grenada’s Foreign Minister, speaking for Aosis, quoted on The BBC

But it is a success. The conference should be regarded as a success, said Michael Jacobs in The Guardian. It’s made countries admit that their “climate policies are inadequate,” agreeding to strengthen targets to meet the 2 degrees centigrade limit. Though still “difficult to achieve”, “it yet could be.” Also, it’s made people realize that climate change should be tackled through “international law.” It’s set “a roadmap” to a treaty to succesd Kyoto, in 2020, which will require China, India and Brazil to make commitments – “a very significant breakthrough.” It’s also set up a “green Climate Fund” which will help poorer countries to adapt to climate change. It’s a “heartening example of how UN processes can empower small countries and progressive political goals.” Durban hasn’t saved us from global warming – but it “will help strengthen the fight against it.” Both The Independent and The Times, in their leaders, agreed, as did Geoffrey Lean in The Daily Telegraph, who added that Britain, in allying itself with poorer countries, has “distressed and embarrassed” India and China, thereby driving them to “make concessions;” this led to the United States softening its stance. So all in all, it’s a Good Thing.

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