Reflections on the Durban climate change conference

Dec 22 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Environment

Hugh Chalmers, London

After an intense two weeks of negotiations in Durban, the seventeenth UN climate change conference came to a dramatic close on the 11th of December. The quantity of decisions and reports produced is a clear indication of the intimidating workload which kept delegates negotiating in to the final moments of a two-day extension. With the conference outcomes in hand, the final blog post of 2011 will wrap up this year’s coverage of climate change negotiations by reflecting on issues raised by previous posts.

Fleshing out ‘international assessment and review’
Sonya Pillay’s November post introduced an interesting proposal for the future form of verification measures for developed state mitigation actions. As agreed at Cancun last year, developed states will have to submit biennial reports. These will cover their emission reduction targets, their progress towards these targets and their provision of support to developing states. According to the Cancun agreements, these reports will then be subject to a process of ‘international assessment and review’ (IAR). India’s proposal, submitted to the UN in October, laid out suggestions for new guidelines to support this process. While some aspects of their proposal have been included in new guidelines adopted at Durban, some of them have not.

The Indian proposal argued that for IAR to be ‘robust, rigorous, and transparent’, guidelines for reports which feed this process required ‘revision, updation and enhancement’. As decided at Durban, these guidelines will indeed be revised according to a clear work-plan involving the trialling of adopted guidelines followed by a feedback process over the next few years. Proposals for the outcomes of the IAR process are only partially reflected in the new guidelines. India proposed that the process should lead to an assessment of developed state progress towards both financial support obligations and emission reduction targets. The new guidelines instead suggest that an ‘examination’ of developed state progress towards emission reduction targets will be included in a technical review report. This shall then become an input to a multilateral ‘assessment’ process open to all parties. However, it is not clear exactly how the provision of support will be included in the output of the technical review or in a process of multilateral assessment.

Securing an extension to the Kyoto Protocol
A post from October raised concerns that an extension to the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol may be unrealisable, but thankfully these concerns were premature. In the lead-up to the conference many developing states were placing pressure on developed states to commit to an extension of the Protocol as the only legally-binding emission reduction agreement in operation. But in the face of lacklustre support from developed states, progress on this issue at Durban seemed unlikely. However, the negotiations at Durban managed to lay out the form of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The second commitment period will begin at the start of 2013, preventing a gap in commitment when the first period expires at the end of 2012.

Although Russia, Canada and Japan have opted-out, a number of states have already submitted pledges. Among them are the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Croatia and the Ukraine. It remains to be seen how many states will join this list before the commitment period begins. This is no small matter, as any submitted pledges must be translated into Kyoto Protocol commitments by the end of next year. During this time delegates must also decide whether this extension will expire in 2015 or 2020.

Reporting and verifying forest protection activities
Finally, a post from December examined a draft conclusion submitted to the conference on the reporting of UN forest protection measures. The UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) aims to provide financial incentives for developing nations to better protect, manage and utilise their forest resources. Fairly comprehensive guidelines presented to the conference at Durban seemed to lay out a solid framework through which developing states could report on their protection activities. However, the lack of a clear mechanism for verifying the adherence to these guidelines was a cause for concern. If developed states could not be confident that their support was being used as reported, it seemed debatable how much support would be made available.

Although the delegates at Durban ‘recalled’ this draft conclusion, its current status is not clear. The creators of these guidelines, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA), maintain them as a draft conclusion but they have not been formally adopted by either the main negotiating body or related working groups. Ultimately, little concrete progress was made on the crystallisation of these guidelines at Durban, and this may have to wait until next year’s climate change conference. In the meantime, parties have been invited to submit their views on various modalities and procedures for financing results-based protection activities to the UN. These will be compiled and made the subject of workshops over the next year.


Last changed: Dec 22 2011 at 8:35 PM




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