COP17 concludes with new negotiating process but signal to business and investors unclear

12 December 2011

COP17 took place in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 to December 9, 2011. As part of our involvement in COP17, Damian Ryan our Senior Policy Manager, provided us with daily news, analysis, and live tweeting from Durban. Here's his first reaction to the Durban outcome.

This year’s UN climate conference – the longest to date – concluded in Durban at 6am Sunday morning after a second all night session of negotiating.

COP17 had three key objectives: i) to reach agreement on the Kyoto Protocol's future ii) to agree a pathway to strengthening the overall global climate regime and lay the foundations for a new treaty; and iii) to operationalize the various institutions and processes that had been established at last year’s meeting in Cancun, particularly with respect to finance.  

Parties managed to adopt decisions on all three issues, but few if any delegations were happy with the overall ‘Durban package’, or are even sure where the process will lead.

While, on the one hand, governments have agreed that there will be a new legal agreement with mitigation obligations for all countries for the first time, on the other, many key divides remain unmoved, and the level of ambition is still too low to limit global warming to 2°C.

There is light at the end of the low carbon tunnel, but it is still not strong enough to ignite the much-needed Clean Revolution.

The key decisions reached in Durban are:

  • Agreement to launch a new negotiating process that will develop a new ‘protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome’ by 2015 with implementation by 2020 and covering all countries.
  • Agreement to establish a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol beginning in January 2013 and ending in either 2017 or 2020 (to be determined by COP18).
  • Agreement to operationalize the new Green Climate Fund.

The new negotiating process – known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action – is effectively a continuation of the current ‘Convention’ track negotiation, which was established five years ago at Bali's COP13, and should have concluded in Copenhagen with its own ‘agreed outcome’ covering all major emitters including both the US and China.

In other words, Parties have committed, albeit in slightly stronger language, to an outcome in 2015 that they should have delivered in 2009. Nevertheless, this new agreement will cover all countries and all emissions, something as yet not achieved in the more than twenty years of climate negotiations.

Agreeing this so-called ‘pathway’ to a new global deal was essential for any deal on the future of the Kyoto Protocol – the number one priority for developing countries in Durban.

The EU’s willingness to sign-up to further Kyoto targets after 2013 was conditional on securing a clear pathway to a new global regime for all countries.

This keeps the Protocol – and its crucial rules and market mechanisms – alive, but it will be a ‘lite’ version, with Canada, Japan and Russia all confirming in the decision text that they will not be taking on any targets. While Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland are all likely to join the EU (providing certain conditions are met), the Protocol after 2013 will cover at most 15-16% of global emissions. 

The third piece in the puzzle, the Green Climate Fund, was the second must-have for developing countries. The decision reached in Durban sets in train the process for establishing the governing Board, selecting a host country and an independent secretariat. This should mean all practical operational elements of the fund, including key staff, will be in place in the next 12 months.

What remains missing is the actual funding, which is supposed to be scaled up to $100 billion per annum by 2020. A new work program on long-term finance will look at this issue in 2012.

In addition to these three core outcomes, the Durban package also delivered progress on other key elements of the Cancun Agreements. This included guidelines for monitoring, reporting and verification of mitigation efforts; establishment of the Climate Technology Center & Network; modalities for the Review Mechanism to assess global mitigation progress; and agreement on membership of the Adaptation Committee.

Despite the negotiations' slow pace though, companies, governments and communities displayed great awareness of the threats and opportunities of climate change. At the Climate Change Response Expo and a series of side presentations and parallel events, there was heartening evidence of the progress already being made: work on green growth plans and low carbon development strategies; a wide range of exciting new technologies and evidence of how low carbon strategies can create jobs and new business opportunities.

The actions of these enlightened leaders will be critical to the next nine years, both in keeping emissions at safe levels and, by showing governments that a Clean Revolution is possible, spurring them to even greater ambition.  

Further reading

Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group, will also be writing news and analysis throughout COP17, and providing a more in-depth post-COP Briefing after the events. Keep up to date on our website and by following him on Twitter during COP17.

Our international policy teams are also commenting on key regional positions in the lead-up to Durban; read about AustraliaChinaEuropeIndia and the US.

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