Climate action beyond 2012: China and the World post-Durban

Event Date: December 15, 2011

Climate action beyond 2012: China and the World post-Durban was the seventh in the China Low Carbon Leadership Network 2011 event series jointly organized by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and China Carbon Forum (CCF). 76 representatives of government, NGOs, business and media joined GIZ and CCF to discuss outcomes of the 2011 UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.

The speakers presented an extremely good cross-sectoral balance of perspectives on the outcomes of Durban; with most agreeing a ‘middle ground’ outcome had been reached. This balance of perspectives made way for a stimulating Q&A session with the audience, and many stayed on afterward to further network and discuss the topics of the evening.

Most speakers agreed that Durban reached a ‘middle-ground’ outcome. The Kyoto Protocol will live for a second period (KP2) from 2013; a new legal agreement will be negotiated to cover developed and developing country actions from 2020; and the $100 billion Green Climate Fund is on the way to implementation. Yet key questions remain, including whether countries are now locked into action short of the ambition necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The Durban platform paves the way for a legally binding agreement, but only the foundations have been laid. According to the participants, negotiations made some progress but the numbers demonstrate it is not enough. Durban represented a fork in the road: whether to continue with pledge-and-review approach or a mandatory, legal agreement. Surprisingly the latter route was taken. Prior to the conference, the consensus was that Kyoto would die, however it hasn’t thanks to the efforts of the EU and support for KP2 by Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC).

For some speakers, several major parties came out of Durban as ‘winners’, and there seemed to be some change to usual roles. The EU was the major winner. Through new partnerships with LDCs and small-island states, the EU arguably took back the earlier leadership role it lost at Copenhagen to the US and China. Commissioner Connie Hedegaard succeeded to shape the conference agenda, including having a binding commitment and KP2, despite internal EU disagreement and an unprogressive Polish EU Presidency.

The US delegation was relatively defensive, perhaps reverting to a quieter role due to the upcoming presidential election. It was probably pleased with a vague outcome, and could also be considered a winner.

China also got what it wanted: KP2, no obligations before 2020, and future requirements will consider “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Due to a charm offensive, and public announcement of its willingness to consider a legally binding treaty, China could not be depicted as a ‘blocker’, but maintained a role of constructive contributions. India, meanwhile, received blame for delays from developing countries.

Participants debate as to whether the BASIC group split during negotiations. The EU’s intentions were clear when they announced that Brazil and South Africa had discussed a binding agreement behind closed doors. Neither country subsequently denied what was said. Despite this apparent division, BASIC still demonstrated its force and spoke for the first time as a bloc.

If Durban had a loser, it was the climate. Despite the science demonstrating that the challenge is getting harder, the importance of scientific advice being re-emphasised at COP, and that the work of the IPCC would continue to inform negotiations, the Durban negotiations locked in the current trajectory. It was suggested that judging from experience, the next few years probably will not increase this level of ambition.

Was Durban a success? According to one speaker it is not enough, but if it is seen as bringing together countries in order to tackle the challenge, then it represented important progress. From a developing country perspective, 1) Durban did not strengthen KP, as commitments were delayed until Doha next year. There was no conclusion on flexible mechanisms and CDM. 2) The negotiation process was speeded up because a new ad-hoc working group was established to discuss a post-2020 agreement. 3) Emerging economies will face more pressure under the new regime because all emitters are required to commit to action. After dismay at the lack of progress in the 1st week, some NGOs were encouraged by progress in the 2nd week as a result of the Chinese approach. They believed that EU could have worked with China to encourage more ambition, but this didn’t happen.

Some participants suggested that real ambition will not come from agreement, but from an economic case being made. This will lead to the kind of ambition that we need. Germany’s approach is a good example of this. Together Germany and China can demonstrate that the low-carbon path is possible without compromising development objectives. Germany has committed to establish a pathway to a low-carbon economy without compromising competitiveness. The challenge of climate change will be won or lost in Asia, and in no small part China.

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