Credit: © Shayne Robinson / Greenpeace
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In what’s become known as the 'Durban Platform', a new legally binding climate deal is being worked out for both developed and developing countries to be responsible for climate mitigation by 2015 – a relatively short amount of time by international negotiation standards.
“A new spirit of compromise spanning the developed and developing countries is an encouraging step forward,” says Stewart Maginnis, IUCN’s Director of Environment and Development.
The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action - a two-page text outlining the deal - has a goal similar to the Copenhagen and Cancun agreements of keeping global temperatures to “1.5 or 2.0ºC” above preindustrial levels. However it is also suggested that it’s years too late to make a difference and given that it’s not yet legally binding, doubts are cast over whether it’s a target that will be met.
General consensus is that a main achievement of the conference is the establishment of a Green Climate Fund, which is intended to distribute up to $100 million of funds per year to where it is needed in developing countries. However, there was some debate that those countries that don’t implement emission reduction schemes shouldn’t be allowed to expect these funds as handouts from the wealthy.
There was also a second commitment period secured for the Kyoto Protocol – which was due to expire next year – until 2015. Currently, the Kyoto Protocol only covers some developing countries, but the new Durban treaty would cover all countries. Despite many criticisms that the Kyoto agreement is outdated and needs replacing sooner rather than later, Australia - having just put a price on domestic carbon pollution - now looks set to benefit on international markets from some of the new climate targets.
The gap between developed and developing nations was strongly highlighted, where tackling poverty remains the biggest problem for the world’s fastest growing emitters – China and India – and a problem that the U.S. refuses to address.
India kept a firm stance that they would not sign an agreement that they believed would be to the detriment of people in poverty in their country, and other developing nations. India’s environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she would not allow the burden of climate change problems to be placed on those countries that had not caused it, asking “is that equity?”.
China’s chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua says that the developed world hasn’t lived up to obligations under existing treaties, so they don’t see why they should they commit.
Maginnis said; “We had anticipated that Durban would be where the developed world would raise the bar on their current ambitions and all countries would purposefully commit to the development of a credible roadmap for deep and wide ranging targets for the comprehensive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions… This has been achieved, and steps have been laid out for a new agreement to be put in place by 2015.”
Meanwhile, the window of opportunity to stop dangerous climate change is closing fast. Some environmentalists claim the outcomes are a historic step in the right direction, and others, such as Greenpeace, consider them failures that don’t go far enough.
"Our atmosphere has been loaded with a carbon debt and the bill, carrying a Durban postmark, has been posted to the world’s poorest countries," said Greenpeace International Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, who was barred from entering the building after a noisy demonstration he attended with other accredited attendees of the conference.
The conference was dotted with a few peaceful but passionate protests. There were peaceful protests outside the building and in the usually sleepy streets of the South African town. However, the most high profile were the campaigners within the conference who were accredited attendees. An American college student and six Canadians were also stripped of their accreditation to attend after heckling speakers from their own countries in the plenary hall.
“The chance of averting catastrophic climate change is slipping through our hands with every passing year that nations fail to agree on a rescue plan for the planet,” concludes Naidoo.
“Major emitting countries showed us in Durban that they were ready to move," says Jane Stabb, policy director for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. "Now is the perfect time for Australia to raise our ambition, to kick start our renewables industry and to show our competitors and the world that we want to move out of the dirty industries of the past and to be part of the future global clean energy economy.”