The Durban Package: escape hatches, empty shells, and a death notice to equity

IBON assessment of the Durban climate change summit

 The next ten years could decide whether the world’s fight against climate change is lost or won. The Durban Package – the set of decisions agreed to in the summit – amounts to more heavy lifting for the South, less obligations for the North, and little help for the poor. Worse still, it means that the present decade will be a decade of zero progress in curbing global emissions, and one where equity as the basis of the global climate effort will have been abandoned.

Escape hatch: the Kyoto’s second commitment period. Durban agreed that the Kyoto Protocol – the only treaty regulating the industrialized world’s emissions – will get a second commitment period beginning 2013 through to 2017 or 2020. Annex I countries are expected to convert their emissions pledges into binding targets for adoption in CMP-8 in Qatar. Kyoto avoided death in Durban. But devoid of any integrity and substance, Kyoto is essentially a corpse surviving on life support.

With Japan, Russia, and Canada joining the US out of KP, Kyoto’s second round will cover just a little over one-third of total Annex I emissions and 15% of global emissions. Australia and New Zealand may also pull out. That would leave Kyoto’s second round entirely to Europe.

The second round of emissions cuts will not be derived from a collective aggregate target, much less one that is based on science. It comes down to what the second round’s remaining participants would unilaterally pledge next year.

With no time to put up the needed Kyoto amendments for a lengthy ratification process to give full legal mandate to a commencement of the second round in 2013, the new round will likely be allowed to muddle through – possibly under a creative cover such as a provisional implementation period – to put on the appearance of a seamless transition.

Emissions trading and offsetting (Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanism) will continue in the second round; rules for carbon capture and storage as CDM projects have been approved, after being granted eligibility in Cancun; and surplus allowances and land-use accounting loopholes have not been closed.

In exchange for agreeing to keep a mangled Kyoto Protocol alive, the EU secured agreement from developing countries to start a new negotiation process leading to a new legal regime by decade’s end. The understanding is that the regime resulting from these talks will succeed Kyoto – which means that Kyoto’s second round is likely going to be its last. In short, the North have arranged for themselves an escape hatch to a Kyoto-less world via a second commitment period.

A death notice to equity: the Durban Platform. The new round of negotiations will be done in the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which will begin work in 2012, and conclude with an outcome for adoption in 2015 and entry into force in 2020. The outcome will take the form of “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force,” and will be “applicable to all Parties” of the UNFCCC. The Durban text indicates that the new round will pick up work from the Bali round on areas of interest to developing countries, such as adaptation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building.  But its main content is work on a new global mitigation regime. The Durban Platform means less equity for developing countries and more delay in curbing global emissions.

The Durban Platform decision nicely sets up the negotiations to an outcome the North favors: a single global treaty in which all countries take on more or less the same mitigation commitments irrespective of level of development. First, it ends the two-track Bali Roadmap process that would have led to a two-tiered system where the difference between developed and developing country mitigation actions was kept. Second, the text makes no reference to the principles of equity, historical responsibility, or common but differentiated responsibility. The final arrangement could be one in which poorer countries elevate their obligations at par with rich countries in a strong rules-based regime, or where rich countries dial back theirs in loose and domestically-driven do-nothing regime. In any case, Durban could mark the point where equity, fairness, and the notion of Northern responsibility and leadership as guiding ideas of the international climate effort all received their death notice.

The Durban Platform decision recognizes that existing pledges fall short of the necessary cuts to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C, and will initiate work to raise ambition to close this gap. But the ambition-raising treaty will only kick in from 2020, a concession to big developing countries for agreeing to the Durban Platform. Until then, all the world will have by way of mitigation actions are the actions countries pledged in 2010. Analyses of these pledges conclude that they put the planet on course to temperature increases of as much as 4-5°C. This decade is crucial in terms of peaking global emissions and transitioning to renewable energy systems. Scientists agree that global emissions must peak no later than 2015 and decline rapidly thereafter. Fossil-based infrastructure and technology built over this decade will last decades more into the future, locking us deeper into fossil-dependency. Losing this decade may well cost the world its fight against climate change.

Empty shells: GCF and finance. Durban has launched the Green Climate Fund (GCF) with the approval of its governing instrument. Remaining disputes have been settled on the balance in favor of developing countries: the GCF will have legal personality and will have an interim secretariat within the UNFCCC secretariat. Direct private sector access to the Fund has been retained, possibly opening the door for subsidizing large multinationals at the expense of the poor, but a “no-objection procedure” will be devised to give national authorities at least some say on private sector funding and ensure policy alignment. Yet the GCF is still largely an empty shell, as is the North’s promise to provide scaled up finance. The GCF will rely on voluntary instead of mandatory contributions. Furthermore, there is still no progress in making the North’s pledge of mobilizing $100 billion binding; in charting a path to ramp up climate finance towards the 2020 goal; and in identifying and operationalizing public sources of finance.

A foot in the door for soil carbon markets. Durban saw the first time agriculture was included in an LCA outcome – but not for the better. There had been loud voices for “climate smart agriculture” from the World Bank and agribusiness in the sidelines of Durban. Transitioning to sustainable agriculture is important in mitigating emissions, adapting to climate impacts, and ensuring future food security.  But the push to include agriculture in the agenda is based on the interest to groom the sector for soil carbon offsetting, and promote corporate industrial agriculture especially in Africa.

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