Signs Of Progress In Durban As Climate Talks Draw To A Close
December 9, 2011

Signs Of Progress In Durban As Climate Talks Draw To A Close

Despite a rough a start, reports are emerging from Durban that the UN climate conference may be making progress towards a legally binding deal in 2015, as poor nations form strategic partnerships with a number of wealthier countries.

With talks scheduled to conclude today, one EU delegate expressed optimism that a proposed “road map” for reaching a binding agreement to cut carbon emissions by 2015 was gaining momentum.

While Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent made a splash earlier last week with his critique of Canada´s involvement in the Kyoto Protocol, calling it a “thing of the past”, he now says that the Ottawa administration has made a rapprochement with a number of small islands states believed to be threatened by rapidly rising sea levels.

While Kent still expressed caution regarding the timeframe, noting that they were not yet setting a “hard target” on the date, he did tell reporters that 2015 would likely be a “reasonable target” for coming together on a climate deal.

In an apparent change of heart compared to last week, he stated: “If we can reach [a deal] before 2015, that would be good, if it takes somewhat longer, that would be fine [...] but we can´t leave Durban without a firm agreement.”

A group of 48 undeveloped nations have joined forces with a number of African and small island states to support plans for a firmer timetable. With Canada now tenuously on board, some say that the EU-led coalition for a more stringent and binding climate agreement may begin focusing its attentions on heavy-polluting industrial giants like China and India.

“The EU roadmap is totally in play right now,” Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute told Reuters.

“The shift of the least developed countries and AOSIS [Alliance of Small Island States] to work with the EU potentially shows some kind of roadmap coming out of here.”

Despite a measure of cautiousness expressed early in the Durban talks, Brazil too has apparently done an about-face.

When asked whether participants in the Durban talks might actually reach an agreement by Friday on a date for a binding agreement, Brazil´s chief negotiator Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said optimistically, “I think it´s possible. We are in favor of negotiating a legally binding instrument that will cover the phase after 2020. The parties are moving there, it's a question of completing the negotiations.”

Still, a number of representatives are less optimistic, noting that critical specifics such as dates and legal forms have not even been discussed yet, and that these could cause a potential deal to fall apart.

One EU official commented that U.S. representatives have rejected specific targets because they had no mandate to commit to a legally binding agreement. Moreover, as long as environmental legislation remains one of the most hotly contested issues in the U.S. Congress, it is far from clear whether American legislators would ratify such a treaty even if it were passed by the UN.

“[U.S. negotiators] can agree to a road map leading nowhere but not a road map leading to a legally binding deal, which is what the EU wants,” explained the anonymous EU source to Nina Chestney and Barbara Lewis of Reuters.

British negotiator Chris Huhne has also said that no deal was better than a faux deal, arguing that the EU would not agree to a deal that was vague and without substance.

“We´re not interested in just papering over the cracks,” he told reporters. “We´re interested in something that really does provide us with a roadmap to a single overarching global agreement which delivers a solution to climate change.”

Wary of seeing the 2011 talks in South Africa turn into the sort of burlesque that took place in Copenhagen in 2009, Huhne concluded by stating that: “If we don´t have a credible agreement, we will not agree here. We will go away from Durban and there won´t be an agreement here and we´ll wait to a point where we can get a credible agreement.”

On another note, UN envoys say they are close to agreeing on the administrative structure of the so-called Green Climate Fund (GCF), a program designed to siphon funds from industrialized nations to subsidize poorer ones. Yet while advocates hope that the $100 billion dollar fund will be ready for distribution by 2020, it is still unclear where exactly the money will come from as most of the developed nations have not yet agreed fixed financial commitments.

Delegates from the U.S., Venezuela and Saudi Arabia rejected the proposed structure for managing the firm last week thus postponing a final decision.

Nevertheless, the head of the U.S. delegation Todd Stern believes that the GCF stood a good chance of success.

“It has made a lot of progress, it´s an area that´s among the most advanced in the negotiations, and I don´t have any reason to think that´s not going to conclude. That´s going to get done. I´m confident of that.”

Representatives from the poorer nations have expressed skepticism, however. Selwin Hart of Barbados, who serves as the collective negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, fears that the GCF could become an “empty shell” of empty promises.

“We need more signals from developed countries that they are willing to support this fund,” he said. “We can design a perfect institutional structure, but if there are no resources, it will not have the effect it must have.”


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