Final preparations for the Durban climate change conference

Oct 27 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Environment

Hugh Chalmers, London

The 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban is fast approaching. After meeting in Panama for the last time before Durban, delegates from two fundamental negotiating strands produced texts to facilitate negotiations. With less than five weeks remaining, the resulting texts will give the Conference of Parties a lot to discuss. However, it seems they will be unable to promote the outcome which many developing states hope for; realising a second commitment period (CP2) under the Kyoto Protocol (KP).

The first negotiating strand, set up to address further commitments under the KP, has produced a facilitative text riddled with brackets, representing disagreement. Tellingly, the text also contains glaring gaps where further commitments should appear. The second negotiating strand, set up to develop a plan for long-term cooperative action under the convention (LCA strand) has produced several facilitative texts, all in a similarly incomplete state.

COP 17 represents the last practical opportunity to fill in these gaps before the only legally-binding emission reduction period under the KP expires next year. The sheer size of this task leaves the impression that avoiding such a hiatus has become nearly impossible.

Bridging the gaps.
As discussed in a recent post, the fate of a second commitment period rests on the balance of competing forces. Many developing states argue that progress within the LCA strand of negotiation is conditional on successfully agreeing to a CP2. However, support for a CP2 among developed states is dwindling. Those who are still willing to commit will only do so if such commitment is linked to progress within the LCA strand. For a CP2 to become a reality, this impasse has to be bridged.

The Cancun Agreements, cemented at COP 16 last year, form a promising framework from which to bridge the differences between states. Throughout this year, during meetings in Bangkok, Bonn and most recently Panama, UNFCCC parties have been working towards putting flesh onto the bones of the Cancun Agreements. In Panama, states were able to move forward on some aspects of the Cancun Agreements. For example, methodological progress was made on providing technological and adaptation support from developed states to developing states. Further progress was made on a system for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, and on defining nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) for developing states.

Importantly, the South African hosts of COP 17 have moved away from occupying a role as an advocate for a particular outcome, namely the realisation of a CP2. By following an agenda which focused mainly on this issue, the hosts could have unintentionally stalled proceedings by antagonising those states who want progress on the LCA strand. Although South Africa still upholds that aiming for a CP2 is an important priority, at Panama the hosts manoeuvred themselves into a more facilitative role in the overarching process.

…or falling into them?
Unfortunately, these signs of progress have been eclipsed by the lack of movement on more stubborn issues. Sharing the load of emission cuts fairly during such a financially-troubled period is proving to be challenging. During discussions at Panama the Green Climate Fund, set up by the Cancun Agreements, transformed itself from a rallying point for progress into a potential barrier to progress. Developing states seeking clarification on providing funds between 2012 and 2020 were dissatisfied with the responses given by developed states. “Without finance”, the developing states warned, “there would be no mitigation, adaptation and nothing for MRV [measuring, reporting and verification].”

As for the prospects of a CP2, the Cancun Agreements have yet to be developed into a state where they can bridge the differences between parties on this subject. A press statement released by the EU shortly after the Panama Conference reiterates their conditions for a CP2. Although they express support for a CP2, it must be the last period before the two strands of negotiation converge into a single agreement, incorporating mitigation commitments from all major economies. Here lies the problem. The EU represents one of the strongest supporters of a CP2 among developed states, yet developing states are unlikely to meet their demands. A lack of confidence in the level of financial support available will only aggravate this.

Meeting in the middle at Durban
If an agreement on a second commitment period at Durban begins to seems unfeasible, delegates at COP17 must be aware that other aspects of the UNFCCC will need their attention. Without the well-defined commitments made under the KP, the primary force behind emission cuts will be the voluntary pledges made at Cancun. Though not legally-binding, the UNFCCC must be able to monitor and assess progress towards these commitments, and importantly, review their ambition.

The potential modalities and procedures for the international assessment and review (IAR) of developed state mitigation actions are still under development within the LCA strand of negotiation. Similarly, a process for international consultation and analysis (ICA) of developing state NAMAs is also under development. Movement on these processes, which form an integral part of the UNFCCC MRV system, was limited at Panama. Disagreements over both the scope and the burden-sharing of these processes were not resolved.

Without the confidence provided for by legally-binding commitments, progress towards an effective system of IAR could help soothe the fears developing states hold about a voluntary system of emission reduction. In particular, if developed states were to allow their provision of financial, technological and capacity-building support to fall under within the scope of IAR, this could go some way towards building confidence in their commitments to the Green Development Fund. Returning to the warning given by developing states at Panama; if there is funding, then there may well be mitigation, adaptation and something for MRV.

Last changed: Mar 09 2012 at 7:41 PM




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