A deal was finally reached at the COP 17 climate talks in Durban. It is a deal to make a deal and deep divisions clearly remain. Principles were agreed to negotiate an agreement by 2015, coming into effect not later that 2020. It nearly didn’t get that far. The talks over-ran by two days in a heated and contentious atmosphere. EU proposals met with strong resistance from India whose stance was backed by China. We look at what has been achieved and the reaction over the last few days, which has been pretty luke warm.
Developing countries clearly feel that they are being bullied and lectured to, while they argue they have made greater commitments to reductions in emissions than many developed countries. Developed countries, and particularly the US, have argued that it is pointless to make an agreement which does not include the big developing nations, particularly India and China who are now among the top three greenhouse polluters.
A quote from China’s minister Xie Zhenhua, sums up the atmosphere:
“What qualifies you to tell us what to do? We are taking action. We want to see your action,”
However, it is an important agreement in the end. It is the first time that both developed and developing nations have signed up to any agreement on climate change and the commitment to legal force is potentially significant.
The new deal is to be negotiated by 2015 and would not come into force until 2020. With Kyoto coming to an end in 2012 and little or no commitment to any continuation, this potentially leaves an eight year gap.
NPR report a 5 year extension to Kyoto but Canada has already withdrawn and the US, Russia and Japan have shown luke-warm support at best. Canada withdrew, facing large fines for failure to meet their commitments. Fines which they can now avoid, placing a strain on the interpretation of ‘legally binding agreement’. Not only did they fail to meet their target of 6% reduction from 2008 emission levels. Their emissions have increased by 35%. They now argue that such targets are not the way to tackle the issue.
The effective failure of Kyoto is a major issue and it has to be hoped that the time, effort and money going into this next stage will be more productive. It should be said that, although there is a long way to go before we have a real plan and even longer before it will come into place, it is an historic agreement and a major step forward. The inclusion of the US, EU, India, China, Russia and Japan, whose outlook on Climate Change have been historically very different, is a major advance. The US climate envoy, Todd Stern told delegates:
“This is a very significant package. None of us likes everything in it. Believe me, there is plenty the United States is not thrilled about, but the package captured important advances that would be undone if it is rejected.”
Matthew McDermott at treehugger.com admits that the talks made more progress than he thought they would. However he is downbeat about how effective it will be, para-phrasing the International Energy Agency’s chief economist, Fatih Birol:
“if we don’t quickly and significantly begin moving away from fossil fuels by 2017, “the door will be closed forever” on keeping temperature rises below 4°C.”
He goes on to point out that a 4°C average would mean places like southern Europe and Africa increase by 8°C. Coral reefs die, crop yields decrease by up to 40%. A death sentence for much of Africa, Bangladesh and low-lying island nations.
“Civilization itself might not end (as has been suggested without hint of hyperbole in recent days by commenters on the COP), but it certainly will look far far different, and [far] more difficult, than anyone alive today has experienced before.”
Comments from representatives of the WWF, Friends of the Earth and many others have been pretty scathing. Almost all commenting that it is too little too late. It is worth quoting Matthew McDermot’s conclusion:
“At current and projected rates of temperature rise, 4°C may be reached by 2050, and surely by 2070. The time to decisively act was years ago, and the outcome of COP17 means nations don’t have to take action until years from now—by which time it will be too late.”
In a Q&A session, the Guardian points out that this will be the first ever climate change deal that would be legally binding and includes the developing countries and the first to include the US. Asking will it stop climate change they say No! It is an agreement on the principles on which future negotiation will be based. There has been no discussion yet about actual measures.
Emissions have risen by almost 50% over the past 20 years. The Guardian writers see hopes of keeping the global temperature rise below 2°C disappearing fast and describe the consequences as “catastrophic and irreversible.” Put like that, TreeHugger’s 4°C rise is truly terrifying.
In a detailed article at Grist, David Roberts gives us his top five takeaways. Included in these and not already mentioned here, is his assertion that the little things matter. He notes the agreement to start the Green Climate Fund to help countries tackle the effects of climate change. Also the progress on international technology transfer, reporting and transparency and deforestation. These smaller agreements represent actual rather than theoretical progress.
Finally, David points out that such international treaties cannot force nations to act against the majority convictions of their populations. Kyoto has proved that. They can help, but perhaps never as much as we like to think. Motivation for these changes will come from within. Populations need compelling local reasons to make real change. They need compelling local leadership. This is a subject we will return to many times.
Climate deal salvaged after marathon talks in Durban