Durban Climate talks end with weak deal that lacks ambition and risks 4 degrees C

At the end of the Durban talks, governments once again failed to provide the inspiration and ambition to tackle climate change and provide hope for hundreds of millions around the world who suffer and will continue to suffer from climate-related impacts.  The outcome is a weak agreement that establishes a Green Climate Fund with little money, postpones major decisions on the content of the Kyoto Protocol, delays any real action for several years, and makes an unclear commitment to a global agreement from 2020 that could leave the world legally bound to 4 degrees of global warming. That would be a catastrophe.

The tragedy is that it postpones real action till after 2020.  Much too late.


Climate talks end with late deal

11.12.2011 (BBC)

By Richard Black

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, president of the talks: “No one can walk out of this room and say we don’t care about climate change”

UN climate talks have closed with an agreement that the chair said had “saved tomorrow, today”.

The European Union will place its current emission-cutting pledges inside the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol, a key demand of developing countries.

Talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will begin next year and end by 2015, coming into effect by 2020.

Management of a fund for climate aid to poor countries has also been agreed, though how to raise the money has not.

Talks ran nearly 36 hours beyond their scheduled close, with many delegates saying the host government lacked urgency and strategy.

Nevertheless, there was applause in the main conference hall when South Africa’s International Relations Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, brought down the long-awaited final gavel.

“We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come,” she said.

“We have made history.”

The conclusion was delayed by a dispute between the EU and India over the precise wording of the “roadmap” for a new global deal.

India did not want a specification that it must be legally binding.

Eventually, a Brazilian diplomat came up with the formulation that the deal must have “legal force”, which proved acceptable.

The roadmap proposal originated with the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and the Least Developed Countries bloc (LDCs).

They argued that only a new legal agreement eventually covering emissions from all countries – particularly fast-growing major emitters such as China – could keep the rise in global average temperatures since pre-industrial times below 2C (35.6F), the internationally-agreed threshold.

“If there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions, then we are relegating countries to the fancies of beautiful words,” said Karl Hood, Grenada’s Foreign Minister, speaking for Aosis.

“While they develop, we die; and why should we accept this?”

Impassioned arguments

Delegates from the Basic group – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – criticised what they saw as a tight timetable and excessive legality.

“I stand firm on my position of equity,” said an impassioned Jayanthi Natarajan, India’s environment minister.

“This is not about India, it is about the entire world.”

India believes in maintaining the current stark division where only countries labelled “developed” have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Western nations, she said, have not cut their own emissions as they had pledged; so why should poorer countries have to do it for them?

Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, agreed.

Apparently trembling with rage, he berated the developed countries: “We are doing things you are not doing… we want to see your real actions”.

However, Bangladesh and some other developing countries weighed in on the side of Aosis, saying a new legally-binding deal was needed.

Aosis and the LDCs agree that rich countries need to do more.

But they also accept analyses concluding that fast-developing countries such as China will need to cut their emissions several years in the future if governments are to meet their goal of keeping the rise in global average temperature since pre-industrial times below 2C.

Once the roadmap blockage had been cleared, everything else followed quickly.

There were some surreal moment of confusion, but few objections, except from members of the Latin American Alba group, who said the developed world was not living up to its promises.

Green fund

A management framework was adopted for the Green Climate Fund, which will eventually gather and disburse finance amounting to $100bn (£64bn) per year to help poor countries develop cleanly and adapt to climate impacts.

There has also been significant progress on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).

Environment groups were divided in their reaction, with some finding it a significant step forward and others saying it had done nothing to change the course of climate change.

Many studies indicate that current pledges on reducing emissions are taking the Earth towards a temperature rise of double the 2C target.

Michael Jacobs, visiting professor at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, said the agreement could bring real changes.

“The agreement here has not in itself taken us off the 4C path we are on,” he said.

“But by forcing countries for the first time to admit that their current policies are inadequate and must be strengthened by 2015, it has snatched 2C from the jaws of impossibility.

“At the same time it has re-established the principle that climate change should be tackled through international law, not national, voluntarism.”


BBC climate change glossary   Glossary in full


Friends of the Earth International said:

“Carbon offsetting – when developed countries buy carbon credits from developing countries to avoid cutting emissions themselves – has no part to play in a just international agreement to fight climate change.

“We believe in climate justice which means emission cuts in developed countries, and money for developing countries to grow cleanly and adapt to the effects of climate change – but it also means a change in our consumption patterns.”


WWF International

WWF: Governments fail on ambition, courage at UN climate change talks

11 December 2011

Durban, South Africa — After two weeks of sparring and a day-long extension, governments once again failed today to provide the inspiration and ambition to tackle climate change and provide hope for hundreds of millions around the world who suffer and will continue to suffer from climate-related impacts.

Governments reached a weak agreement that established a Green Climate Fund with little money, postponed major decisions on the content of the Kyoto Protocol, and made an unclear commitment to a global agreement from 2020 that could leave us legally bound to 4 degrees of global warming.

Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative issued the following statement:

“Governments did just enough to keep talking, but their job is to protect their people. They failed to do that here in Durban today. Science tells us that we need to act right now – because the extreme weather, droughts and heat waves caused by climate change will get worse.

“But it is clear today that the mandates of a few political leaders have outweighed the concerns of millions, leaving people and the natural world we depend on at risk. Catastrophe is a strong word but it is not strong enough for a future with 4 degrees of warming.

“Unfortunately, governments here have spent the last two crucial final days of negotiations focused on only a handful of specific words in the negotiating texts, instead of spending their political capital on committing to more and real action to address climate change.

“Some countries here, like the United States, showed they were not interested in supporting an ambitious outcome in Durban. The US — afraid of the politics at home – fought over a few words, but missed the bigger story: limiting dangerous climate change.

“Overall, the responsibility for this lies with a handful of entrenched governments – like the US, Japan, Russia, and Canada – who have consistently resisted raising the level of ambition on climate change. This is what brought us to this point.

“One crumb of comfort in Durban has been the emergence of a large group of high ambition countries, led by the most vulnerable nations and small island states, including many in Africa.

“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing, or we’re going to choke on our own carbon and run out of natural resources – and that means we won’t have food, water and energy for all.”

“We know climate change is a global problem and it needs a global response. This process didn’t deliver that today, but that doesn’t mean the global fight to tackle climate change has stopped, both within this process and outside of it.”

Tasneem Essop, head of international climate change strategy and of WWF’s COP 17 delegation:

“Greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels this year, so we need an aggregated response to this problem – one that includes continued action on climate change from progressive business, from governments at the national level, and from the public and civil society, who must keep up the call to arms.

“While negotiators and ministers were sitting behind closed doors, they weren’t hearing the people’s call, made by faith leaders, youth, women in protests and demonstrations, inside and outside the venue, to act with urgency. These people, including WWF, will hold them accountable.”

Jim Leape, WWF Director General said:

“Politicians here in Durban have shown an alarming inability to come to grips with the challenge of climate change. Encouraging words about finding solutions have turned into nothing but hot air.



Climate deal salvaged after marathon talks in Durban

Delegates clashed over attempt to make agreement legally binding until deal was struck in pre-dawn hours

by  and , Durban, and agencies


Countries have agreed a deal in Durban to push for a new climate treaty, salvaging the latest round of United Nations climate talks from the brink of collapse.

The UK’s cimate change secretary, Chris Huhne, hailed the deal, finally struck in the early hours of Sunday after talks had overrun by a day and a half, as a “significant step forward” that would deliver a global, overarching legal agreement to cut emissions. He said it sent a strong signal to businesses and investors about moving to a low-carbon economy.

But environmental groups said negotiators had failed to show the ambition necessary to cut emissions by levels that would limit global temperature rises to no more than 2C and avoid “dangerous” climate change.

The EU had come to the talks in Durban, South Africa, calling for a mandate to negotiate a new legally binding treaty on global warming by 2015, covering all major emitters, in return for the bloc signing up to a second period of emissions cuts under the existing Kyoto climate deal.

But talks were plunged into disarray after the EU clashed with India and China in a series of passionate exchanges over the legal status of a potential new agreement, putting more than a year of talks between 194 countries in jeopardy.

In the third consecutive all-night session, exhausted ministers had more or less agreed on a series of measures aimed at protecting forests, widening global markets and establishing by 2020 a $100bn fund to help poorer countries move to a green economy and cope with the effects of climate change. But the crucial issue at the talks was whether a new agreement on protecting the climate should have full legal force.

Connie Hedegarrd, the EU climate change commissioner, said she was prepared to offer developing countries the prize they had sought for many years – a continuation of the Kyoto protocol, the only treaty that commits rich countries to cut greenhouse gases. But the price of the offer was for all nations to agree to be “legally bound” to a new agreement by 2020. There were cheers as she said: “We need clarity. We need to commit. The EU has shown patience for many years. We are almost ready to be alone in a second commitment period [to the Kyoto protocol] We don’t ask too much of the world that after this second period all countries will be legally bound.”

But the Indian environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, responded fiercely: “Am I to write a blank cheque and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the EU ‘roadmap’ contains? I wonder if this an agenda to shift the blame on to countries who are not responsible [for climate change]. I am told that India will be blamed. Please do not hold us hostage.” As countries clashed in the early hours of the morning, scenes in the conference hall resembled a theatre, with wild applause bursting out sporadically.

China’s minister Xie Zhenhua made an impassioned speech backing India and accusing developed countries. “What qualifies you to tell us what to do? We are taking action. We want to see your action,” he said.

The fate of the talks were, by 2am, hanging on a knife edge, with no resolution likely for many hours. The talks had already overrun by 36 hours.

A deal was reached after the South African president of the talks urged the EU and India to go “into a huddle” in the middle of the conference hall in the early hours of this morning, in a bid to work out language both sides were happy with.

A compromise, suggested by the Brazilian delegation, saw the EU and Indians agree to a road map which commits countries to negotiating a protocol, another legal instrument or an “agreed outcome with legal force”.

The treaty will be negotiated by 2015 and coming into force from 2020.
The deal also paves the way for action to address the “emissions gap” between the voluntary emissions cuts countries have already pledged and the reductions experts say are needed to effectively tackle climate change.

Earlier Venezuela’s ambassador, Claudia Salerno, had stood on a chair and banged her nameplate as she accused the UN chair of the session of ignoring the views of some developing countries. Referring to the money promised by rich countries to help developing countries to adapt to climate change, she said: “This agreement will kill off everyone. It is a farce. It is immoral to ask developing countries to sell ourselves for $100bn.”

The row over the legal status of a new agreement has dogged climate talks for over a decade. Rich countries have wanted rapidly emerging economies such as like China – the world’s largest emitter – and India to be equally legally bound as developed countries, though taking on softer targets on emission curbs.

However, developing countries argue that they were not responsible for the bulk of climate change emissions in the atmosphere and argue that they have pledged to rein in their emissions more than the developed countries.

Despite the broad backing of more than 120 countries, including major developing economies such as Brazil, plus the US and Japan, the EU had found it hard to push through its ambitious “roadmap”, which would establish a new over-arching agreement that would commit all countries to emission cuts.

China, India and some developing countries had raised a series of objections throughout the talks about the dates that the new treaty would become operational, and argued that the Kyoto protocol would effectively be killed off before a replacement could be put in its place. With Japan, Canada and Russia saying that they were unwilling to sign up to a second period, the EU had become almost alone among developed countries in committing to continue the protocol in some form.

Several countries said they feared the deal on offer would suit the US most because it had always insisted that all other countries should cut emissions and has resisted a legally-binding agreement.

Several developing countries spoke out strongly in favour of the EU proposals, including Brazil and Colombia, rejecting calls to downgrade the legal status of any agreement.




Greenpeace Africa

Politicians Listen to the Polluters at UN climate talks

 December 11, 2011
UN climate talks in Durban have ended the same way they began, in failure. Governments at the UN climate talks have chosen to listen to the polluters over the people and failed to reinforce previous climate saving measures and have steered clear of new global rules for tackling climate change.

Despite the rallying calls that filled the hallways of the conference center yesterday, polluters have won this round of talks with politicians making little progress on a global deal to tackle climate change.

Two years ago in Copenhagen, politicians promised a US $100 billion fund would be set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate climate change. They came to Durban two years later only planning to design a way to collect and distribute the money. It turns out they could not even manage to do that.

While the details of the talks may be complex the truth is simple. We are nowhere near where we need to be to avert catastrophic climate change.

Chief among the blockers for a success at the negotiations by far is the US, which is clearly operating at the bidding of the carbon cartels. Its negotiators have no place in the room. Other powerful governments and blocs, like the EU, China, and India should have already outmaneuvered them, joining together to side with the most vulnerable to make real progress.

“The grim news is that the blockers lead by the US have succeeded in inserting a vital get-out clause that could easily prevent the next big climate deal being legally binding. If that loophole is exploited it could be a disaster. And the deal is due to be implemented ‘from 2020’ leaving almost no room for increasing the depth of carbon cuts in this decade when scientists say we need emissions to peak,” said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director.

“Governments departing the UN talks should be ashamed. When they return home we wonder how they will be able to look into the eyes of their children and grandchildren. They have let us down and their failure will be measured in the lives of the poor, the most vulnerable and least responsible for the global climate crises.”


Durban climate change: last minute talks produce ‘historic deal to save the planet’

Climate change talks have been rescued from the brink of collapse by a last minute “huddle” between the EU and India to create an “historic deal to save the planet”.

By , Environment Correspondent, Durban, South Africa

11.12.2011 (Telegraph)

The United Nations (UN) summit in Durban, South Africa looked certain to fail after India threatened to walk out.

The emerging superpower was protesting against EU plans to force all countries to cut carbon emissions as part of a legally binding treaty.

As the talks overran into the second night it looked like exhausted delegates would have to give up and go home empty-handed.

But in a highly unusual form of on-the-hoof diplomacy, the warring female ministers were forced to go into a public ‘huddle’ to find a resolution.

The so called “10 minutes to save the world” resulted in a form of words both parties could live with and relieved applause from the other 190 countries present.

The new deal means that for the first time every county in the world is committed to cutting carbon – although the legal wording remains vague and the treaty will not come into force until 2020.

Charities point out that the “Durban road map” is still too weak to stop temperatures rising above the “danger point” of 2C because it does not set tough targets for emissions cuts or a quick enough timetable.

However Chris Huhne, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who played a key role in the talks, insisted it was a “huge step forward” – especially after the failure of the last high profile UN attempt at a deal in Copenhagen in 2009.

He pointed out that the world’s three biggest polluters – the US, China and India – who account for almost half the world’s emissions are now committed to cutting carbon.

“What we have done today is a great success for European diplomacy. We have managed to put this on the map and take the major emitters – the US, India and China to a road map that will secure an overarching deal.”

In particular the inclusion of the US, that has resisted any previous attempts to be part of a global deal, is a significant move.

Todd Stern, the US climate envoy, said every country made compromises.

“This is a very significant package. None of us likes everything in it. Believe me, there is plenty the United States is not thrilled about,” he said.

Mate Nkoana-Mashabane, the president of the conference and South Africa’s foreign minister, said the longest UN climate change meeting in history, was a roller coaster.

“We have saved planet earth for the future of our children and our great grand children to come. We have made history,” she said.

‘The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action’ is carefully worded to ensure all countries are comfortable with the legal form.

It commits all parties to “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” that will be decided in 2015 and come into force in 2020.

In the interim between now and 2020 just Europe and a handful of other rich countries are legally bound to cutting carbon emissions through a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

The deal also includes plans to set up a Green Climate Fund that will channel around £60bn a year towards helping countries adapt to climate change from 2020.

The UK has already committed £3.4bn to fighting climate change and will be expected to donate around £1bn a year to the new fund once it is set up.

There are also plans to pay poor countries not chop down trees in order to stop deforestation and plans to look at taxing aviation and shipping.

The commitment to emission cuts sends a clear signal to business to start investing in green technologies like wind turbines.

It means Europe is likely to increase its targets to cut carbon from 20 to 30 per cent by 2020, putting pressure on the UK to increase our own ambitious targets even further.

But Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, who was thrown out of the conference centre for protesting earlier in the week, said the deal was not enough to stop dangerous climate change.

The UN warns that emissions have to peak before 2020 and start coming down to keep temperature rise below 2C.

“The chance of averting catastrophic climate change is slipping through our hands with every passing year that nations fail to agree on a rescue plan for the planet,” he said.

Samantha Smith, of WWF International, said the compromise had watered down the deal to such an extent it became almost meaningless.

“They haven’t reached a real deal,” she said. “They watered things down so everyone could get on board.”

Celine Charveriat, Director of Campaigns and Advocacy for Oxfam, said the world is “sleepwalking towards 4C”, where millions of people will be displaced by floods and drought.

“The failure to seal an ambitious deal will have painful consequences for poor people around the world,” she said. “A 4C temperature rise could be one of utter devastation for poor farmers who will face increasing hunger and poverty.”



Global climate change pact in Durban: expert comment

1.12.2011 (The Convesation – Australia)


….. Revealingly, at the beginning of the Durban climate talks, U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing stated that there are “essentially an infinite number of pathways” that allow stronger cuts starting in 2020 to “stay below 2 degrees.” In other words, delay doesn’t matter, we can deal with the problem later.

Pershing’s statement betrays a well known but tragic cognitive failure; namely, the failure to understand accumulation processes. This failure, widely shared among most people who are not intimately familiar with dynamical systems, ignores the fact that to stabilize total CO2 in the atmosphere—which is what is required to arrest further warming — we need to eventually reduce emissions to zero (or nearly so).

This is because CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere in the same way as the water level in a bathtub rises while the tap is on. Absent any leakage, the only way to stabilize the water level is to shut off the tap completely. And the longer we delay before starting to turn the tap, the more rapidly we have to close it — if we delay emission cuts to 2020, then the required cuts are around 9% a year (which means every single year from 2020 on). Those cuts may not be technologically achievable. If we started in 2011, we could achieve the same outcome with cuts of only 3.7%, probably well within technological reach. The apparent failure of climate negotiators to understand the underlying physics is costing all of us dearly.


Durban climate change: the agreement explained

The world has just agreed an “historic” new climate change deal in Durban but what does it mean for you?

Telegraph   11.12.2011

useful answers to lots of specific questions about what has been agreed.