The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement
By Daniel Bodansky
The Durban Platform talks, aiming for a new global agreement in 2015, present an opportunity to assess and strengthen the international climate change effort. Since launching the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change two decades ago, governments have tried both "top down" and "bottom up" approaches. Neither has achieved the levels of participation or ambition needed to reverse the continued rise of global greenhouse gas emissions. Going forward, governments should draw on both models to forge a more effective global agreement.
This post orginally appeared in the Opinio Juris blog.
Was the Durban climate conference a success or failure? As always, the answer depends on one’s frame of reference.
As compared to the expectations going in, the outcome was more than I think most people thought possible. In a pre-Durban paper entitled “W[h]ither the Kyoto Protocol,” I identified three scenarios: (1) business-as-usual, with modest progress in developing the Copenhagen/Cancun framework and no political breakthroughs; (2) agreement to a “political” (not legally-binding) second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol; and (3) agreement to a Kyoto Protocol amendment establishing a second commitment period, combined with a mandate for a new negotiating process to develop a legally-binding agreement addressing the emissions of the other major economies. Many thought that (1) was the default option, (2) represented the best-case scenario, and (3) was politically unrealistic. But the Durban outcome is in fact closest to (3):
- It wrapped up much of the remaining work to elaborate the Copenhagen/Cancun process, by adopting the governing instrument of the new Green Climate Fund and transparency rules for both developed and developing countries' pledges.
- It agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol by another 5-8 years. Although the emissions targets for Kyoto’s second commitment period still need to be worked out, and the formal amendment won’t be adopted until next year, the basic political decision to extend the Protocol was made in Durban.
- It agreed to launch a new negotiating process to develop a “protocol, another legal instrument, or agreed outcome with legal force,” addressing the post-2020 period and “applicable to all Parties.”
Statement of Elliot Diringer
Executive Vice President
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
December 11, 2011
The Durban deal is a solid step in the right direction. It preserves Kyoto for now, but more importantly, lays a path toward a more balanced agreement.
For the near term, the deal builds on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancún with practical steps to strengthen the multilateral climate framework. The most important of these are the new Green Climate Fund and a stronger transparency system so countries can better assess each others’ efforts. These incremental steps will help strengthen action and confidence, and build a stronger foundation for a future agreement.
For the longer term, parties launched a new round of negotiations toward a post-2020 agreement. The United States stood firm on the need for a more balanced approach, and China and other emerging economies conceded that by 2020 they need to be full partners in this effort. Negotiating the details will be extremely tough. But the broad terms reached in Durban help ensure that any future treaty will include commitments from both developed and developing countries.
A binding deal is important, but what’s most urgent right now is strengthening political will and action on the ground. We all need to go back home and redouble our efforts for stronger national action. In the U.S. in particular, we need the public more engaged and the politicians less afraid to acknowledge and address the reality of climate change.
Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban is an opportunity to strengthen the international climate framework. The top priority should be implementing the Cancún Agreements with steps to: 1) improve the transparency of countries’ efforts, and 2) strengthen support for developing countries, including a new Green Climate Fund. If established, a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol should be transitional in nature. Looking ahead, parties should set the longer-term aim of working toward a comprehensive binding agreement.
At the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) face immediate decisions on strengthening key aspects of the multilateral climate system, and issues concerning the future direction of the international effort. A central issue for many countries is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, whose emission targets expire at the end of 2012.
World leaders agreed two years ago in the Copenhagen Accord to a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius and to establish new mechanisms to strengthen the international effort. More than 80 countries pledged 2020 targets or actions under the Accord, and its essential elements were formally incorporated into the UNFCCC in last year’s Cancún Agreements. Parties were able to agree on a broad package of incremental steps in Cancún in part by putting aside differences on the regime’s future direction and legal form. With the Kyoto targets expiring, however, those issues are now reemerging.
In Durban, parties should again strive for tangible near-term progress even if they remain stalemated on the longer-term legal issues. By building on the Copenhagen and Cancún agreements, a well-crafted Durban outcome can help cement a new phase in the evolution of the climate regime: taking steps to incrementally strengthen the international architecture – and, thereby, national efforts – while working toward the goal of a comprehensive binding agreement.
Key Operational Decisions
Strengthening the UNFCCC architecture can promote stronger action in the near term, build parties’ confidence, and create a foundation for a future binding outcome. The Cancún Agreements established the basic parameters of new mechanisms on finance, transparency, adaptation, technology and forestry. Decisions are needed in Durban to begin operationalizing them.
Improving Transparency. The Cancún Agreements called for a series of measures to strengthen and expand the UNFCCC’s system for the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of countries’ actions. In Durban, parties should begin implementing these measures by:
- Adopting guidelines and an initial deadline for new biennial reports from countries on progress in implementing their pledged targets and actions and, for developing countries, on greenhouse gas inventories. (Developed countries already submit annual greenhouse gas inventories.)
- Adopting procedures for International Assessment and Review (IAR) and International Consultations and Analysis (ICA), two new processes to periodically assess the national mitigation efforts of developed and developing countries, respectively, and support from developed countries. Both processes should include technical analysis of countries’ reports; open sessions where parties present and take questions on their implementation efforts; public release of inputs and proceedings; and “facilitative” consequences (assistance to improve implementation).
Mobilizing Finance. The Cancún Agreements set finance goals for 2010-2012 and for 2020, and called for a new Green Climate Fund and a new Standing Committee on finance. In Durban, parties should:
- Establish the Green Climate Fund by adopting the governing instrument negotiated by the Transitional Committee, which provides for: a 24-member board, with equal representation from developed and developing countries, operating “under the guidance” of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP); an independent secretariat; funding windows for mitigation and adaptation; and a facility to finance private sector activities.
- Establish the Standing Committee to promote coordination among climate funding mechanisms, monitor financial flows, and advise the COP on finance needs and effectiveness.
- Provide assurances of continued finance between the “fast-start” period (2010-12) and 2020, and launch a process to explore potential long-term sources of finance.
Kyoto Second Commitment Period
Without binding commitments by the United States and the major emerging economies, most other developed countries are unwilling to assume new binding emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol. However, the European Union and some others are prepared to enter into a second commitment period established by a decision of the parties (rather than a legally binding amendment to the Protocol) – provided parties launch a process in Durban to negotiate a comprehensive binding agreement for the post-2020 period. Such a “political” second commitment period would ensure Kyoto’s survival on a transitional basis as parties work toward a successor agreement. Kyoto mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) remain operational even without binding emission targets.
Future of the Climate Framework
In Cancún, parties agreed to a review in 2013-2015 of the adequacy of the 2-degree goal and of “overall progress towards achieving it.” The Cancún Agreements sidestepped the question of future commitments, saying that “nothing in this decision shall prejudge prospects for, or the content of, a legally binding outcome in the future.” While most parties voice support for the goal of binding commitments, they remain far apart on the specific form or timing. In Durban, parties should:
- Agree that the 2013-2015 review will consider not only the adequacy of the long-term goal and existing commitments, but also the broader structure of the UNFCCC.
- Affirmatively declare their intent to work toward a comprehensive binding agreement, while leaving open all options on specific legal form.
- “Letting go of Kyoto,” in Nature, November 17, 2011.
- Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC, November 2011.
- Common Metrics: Comparing Countries’ Climate Pledges, September 2011.
- The Evolution of Multilateral Regimes: Implications for Climate Change, December 2010.