Monday, December 12, 2011


I must say, I was surprised (pleasantly) when I heard of a global climate deal coming out of Durban, South Africa. With the global economic climate being what it is, I hadn't even remembered the talks were on this year! If I had, I wouldn't have expected any sort of deal, because of aforementioned economic crisis.

Anyway, what do we have here? The negotiators at Durban agreed on a format for a fund to help poor nations tackle global warming. Details are sketchy at the moment (at least for non-journalists like me), but with luck, the fund will focus more on fine-tuning existing technologies as well as paying for their implementation in developing countries. It should also allow for some form of overseeing body to ensure funds are not wasted, especially by trying to force technologies into areas where it can't work, or where the adoption of one 'green' technology causes some other form of environmental destruction. (Hydropower and non-cellulosic ethanol come to mind). Most importantly, the fund must provide means for poor people to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The COP17 pleasantly surprised most fence-sitters with what came out of it
But that's the small fries of the talks. The talks far more significant achievement is this: that the Kyoto Protocol be extended until 2017 (previously set to expire in 2012), that a new legally binding deal be negotiated next year, and that developing countries accept legally binding emissions targets in future.

On the face of it, this is simply standard UN kick the can down the road behavior. But look closely. For starters, developed countries have accepted, more concretely, that they do need to help poor countries in tackling the problem. Since rich nations have historically caused much of the warming that we're now experiencing, that is fair. But since developing nation emissions have now surpassed that of developed countries, they should be legally bound to cut emissions too. And this new agreement finally gets them to do that, after years of insisting they should have the right to develop as they wish.

China and India agreed, with no small measure of reluctance, to commit themselves to cuts in future. 
Still, it's not all roses. This agreement is most definitely not the urgent action the Earth needs, as nations threatened by rising sea levels note. Scientists point out that delaying a deal for yet another year (with the prospect of more delays) means that it will be harder to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, as stipulated in the Copenhagen accords. Then there is the downright ugly news. Japan, Russia and Canada will pull out of the extended period for the Kyoto Protocol, and that Australia and New Zealand might not join in.

Uglier still was the delegates focus on the exact language and phrasing of the various parts of the agreement. To quote, they were not free of the obsession with detail by which mediocre men think they are influencing events.

The delegates at Durban will have to do a lot better next year if the successor to Kyoto is going to have real meat to it.

All in all, to me, this is a moderate deal. The successes of having a climate deal after 2012, and of having developing nations commit to legally binding carbon cuts are important. Still, this deal will not go down as revolutionary (or even as particularly significant) because it is just too little. Too little decisive action, too little conviction, and too little financing..Hopefully, it will not be too late.

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