Post-COP17 Briefing: Damian Ryan and our global policy staff on the key outcomes

23 December 2011

COP17 took place in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 to December 9, 2011. Download the full Post-COP17 Briefing, which marks the end of Damian Ryan our Senior Policy Manager's Durban coverage and features country perspectives from our global policy staff in Australia, China, Europe, India and the US.

Download full Briefing Paper now

The 17th annual UN Climate Conference (COP17) took place in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to the early hours of Sunday December 11, making it the longest climate summit on record.

A year after Cancun had resuscitated the process following its near collapse in Copenhagen, Durban’s purpose was threefold. One, it needed to consolidate the process and advance the developments from Cancun. Two, it had to deal with the vexed question of the Kyoto Protocol’s future. And three, it needed to give clarity to the direction and outcome of the overall negotiating process. In all three respects it largely succeeded.

Unfortunately, the conference failed to directly address the large elephant in the room –namely, the gap between country actions and the actual level of ambition required to avoid dangerous climate change. Parties again kicked agreement on firm emission reduction targets to the next COP.

Despite this, there is reason for optimism. The process remains alive and indeed has been strengthened. Countries remain committed to it and the principles that it embodies (e.g. international collaboration, rule-based environmental governance, collective responsibility etc). The agreement to reach a new global deal by 2015 also shows that parties recognize that ‘bottom-up’ action alone will be insufficient to address the emissions gap and that ‘top-down’ measures are still critical for scaling up action.

Perhaps most importantly, the operationalization of a range of new institutions and institutional processes could provide the basis for greater bottom-up action and transparency of efforts. Crucially, this would help build confidence and trust amongst parties. Since these are the elements so often missing from negotiations, Durban’s long-term legacy may well be institutional.

It goes without saying that the next four to five years will be critical in determining whether the world moves to a low carbon development pathway or locks itself into a high carbon one. To achieve the former and avoid the latter, the debate needs to move from one of ‘shared pain’ to one of ‘shared gain’.

In this regard the work of sub-national governments and the actions of business leaders will be essential. By demonstrating the ‘art of the possible’ at the practical level, these low carbon, clean-tech, resource-efficiency driven leaders can play a disproportionate role in building the confidence and enthusiasm for action that will deliver a truly ambitious and effective deal in 2015.

Supporting and catalyzing this leadership is the focus of The Climate Group’s own program of work in the lead up to 2015.

Key Durban Outcomes

  • Establishment of a new negotiating process – the ‘Durban Platform’ – to agree a new, legally binding global climate deal by 2015, with entry into force by 2020
  • Extension of the Kyoto Protocol with agreement to a second commitment period from 2013 to either 2017 or 2020 (exact end date to be confirmed at COP18)
  • Operationalization of a range of new ‘Cancun’ institutions and processes, not least the new Green Climate Fund.

Implications from Durban


  • Reaffirmation of support for the process sends an important political message about countries’ commitment to collective action and the overall direction of travel
  • All major players provided with ‘political wins’ of some kind, allowing them to deal with domestic criticisms without undermining international progress. The EU is arguably the biggest winner
  • Exit of Canada, Russia and Japan from further Kyoto commitments could create a new ‘low-ambition’ group with the US, but impact as yet unclear. 2012 US elections could change things – for better or for worse
  • Intentionally ambiguous language about future global deal papers over some key remaining divides between countries, but provides the space for continued discussion
  • The shift to a single negotiating track beyond 2012 represents further erosion of the ‘firewall’ between developed and developing countries.


  • The window for keeping the global temperature increase below 2°C has closed further, with parties committing to a deal in 2015 they should have closed in Copenhagen in 2009. Six valuable years have arguably been lost
  • The continuing lack of certainty about emission reduction targets puts the world on a trajectory towards 3-4°C of warming or perhaps more
  • Any targets that are agreed next COP are likely (certain?) to be those already pledged (i.e. following Copenhagen), leaving a large ‘ambition gap’
  • On the upside, the new ‘Review Mechanism’, the draft findings from next IPCC Assessment Report, and the mainstreaming of low-cost, low carbon technologies in next 4-5 years, could provide the political motivation and the means for much greater ambition by 2015. (That at least is the glass-half-full scenario).


  • Some legal uncertainties remain about how the second Kyoto commitment period will enter into force on time, but practical impact of a gap seems likely to be minor. Key Kyoto rules and flexibility mechanisms likely to continue operating with being seriously impacted.
  • The operationalization of new ‘Cancun’ institutions and institutional processes are likely to have the most immediate impact on climate action
  • New Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) reports and guidelines should provide developing countries with the kind of empirical information they need for better, more effective policy making.
  • The operationalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has the potential to drive transformative financing in developing countries, but key issues e.g. sources of finance need to be resolved first.
  • Establishment of new Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) could provide a critical hub for improving understanding of technology supply and demand needs at a practical level between governments, private sector technology providers and other stakeholders.
  • New work programs looking at establishing new market mechanisms and frameworks for their assessment, could see accelerated expansion of such mechanisms in the short to medium term.
  • Agreement on Adaptation Committee composition and modalities will bring coherence and strategic guidance to the broad suite of existing adaptation programs.
  • Decisions relating to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the CDM; agriculture; and addressing deforestation, are all likely to have positive impacts in the near term.

Download the full PDF of this Post-COP17 Briefing now, which includes country perspectives from our global policy staff in Australia, China, Europe, India and the US.


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