Durban Climate Talks Close with a New Deal
Talks held in Durban, South Africa to negotiate a global accord on climate regulations ended last Sunday, nearly two days after they were scheduled to conclude, resulting in an agreement—surprisingly—between developed and developing countries.
The meeting, the 17th of the conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, followed those held in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancún in 2010. Each was meant to find a way forward in place of or within the Kyoto Protocol, a deal reached in 1997 mandating that developed countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The problem, argued officials from those countries, was that there was no requirement for developing countries.
The special envoy for climate change at the State Department who attended the talks, Todd D. Stern, helped broker the new deal, being dubbed the “Durban platform.” It will effectively follow the Kyoto Protocol, an accord that the U.S. never joined. Canada also dropped out of the agreement during the Durban talks, and Russia and Japan said that they wouldn’t recommit to it.
Yet after much debate, the delegates, including those three countries, India, and the first and second-biggest emitters—China and the U.S.—signed on to the new agreement, which delegates will finalize by 2015 and implement by 2020. The deal will have “legal force” and requires countries to cut emissions.
“The standoff boiled down to a dispute over what most observers would consider arcane legal language but that meant a lot to the parties involved,” John Broder wrote for The New York Times.
Still, the agreement is non-binding, and environmental groups say that the deal doesn’t address the scale of emissions reductions. (Before the talks, 16 environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote a letter (PDF) to Secretary Clinton stating that the U.S.’s negotiating tactics could be an obstacle to progress.) Others, however, like Robert N. Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard University, say that the Durban platform might be a step in the right direction.
“Not only did Durban not undo the progress made in Cancún, it built upon it, and moved forward,” he wrote in a blog post. “In the real world of international negotiations on this exceptionally difficult global commons problem, this is what success looks like.”
Lord Stern, former World Bank chief economist and author of the 2006 review of the economics of climate change, agreed, saying in an article in The Guardian: "The outcome of the summit is a modest but significant step forward. The decision to move towards a unified system, with all countries having some form of legal commitments, removes an important obstacle and could allow, for example, the U.S. to play a more participative and constructive role in the future."!--/end tags-->