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.
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:
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:
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.
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: