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.
When climate negotiators meet in Bangkok this week for the latest session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they will (hopefully) begin substantive discussions under new terms better reflecting how much the world has changed since the Convention’s adoption in 1992.
Of particular relevance is the dramatic shift in the distribution of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the past two decades, as highlighted in the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency’s 2012 Trends in global CO2 emissions. A telling statistic: In 1990, industrialized countries that negotiated targets under the Kyoto Protocol (including the U.S.) accounted for 68 percent of global CO2 emissions; in 2011, the authors estimate, this share was 41 percent. Developing countries now account for well over half of annual global emissions – with China and India generating a full third.
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.”
Only time will tell whether the Durban climate talks produced an historic breakthrough. It’s possible. What’s clear for now is that the Durban deal keeps the global climate effort intact and moving – however incrementally – in the right direction.
The deal is delicately poised between two eras – the fading age of Kyoto, and a new phase beyond Kyoto, with developed and developing countries presumably on a more equal footing.
Politically, there were four essential ingredients to the deal: Developing countries – and South Africa in particular – were adamant that Kyoto not die on African soil. Europe was adamant that it would only do another round of Kyoto if Durban launched new talks toward a comprehensive binding agreement. The United States (along with Japan, Australia, Canada and Russia) was adamant that any such agreement include major developing countries too. And, for the first time, China, India and other emerging economies appeared to agree.
The result: Europe (and a handful other developed countries) agreed to a “second commitment period” under Kyoto, with their new targets to be put in legal form next year. And parties launched the Durban Platform, aimed at producing a new deal by 2015 to take effect in 2020.
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 immediate fate of the Kyoto Protocol may be the headline issue at the U.N. climate talks now underway in Durban, South Africa. But the real linchpin to any deal is not Kyoto – it’s whether or not parties can agree to any path beyond it.
What that may boil down to is whether governments are prepared to say that their goal, ultimately, is binding climate commitments. We believe they should.