What Next -- Climate Watch

Sivan Kartha on the Durban outcomes: "Deeply worrying"


We have a glass, and time will tell whether it is half-full, half-empty, or purely decorative. We will see whether the yet-to-be-negotiated "protocol, legal instrument, or agreed outcome with legal force" is actually be capable of ramping up global ambition.

And on that score, I'm deeply worried. Yes, Durban gave us (something like) the "legally binding" language that we wanted. But, as far as I can see, Durban also took us several LARGE steps backward in terms of "trust-building", which many of us have believed for a long time is inexpendable if a real global solution to the crisis is to be found. And this further undermining of trust makes it less likely that the dearly sought language on "legally binding" will actually lead to something meaningful.

Specifically, here's how I fear trust has been undermined:

1. The KP was obviously hugely important for developing countries, and as far as I can see, it has been unceremoniously executed. First, because the language in the AWG-KP decision is nothing but a slippery legalistic evasion. The KP2 has obviously not been adopted. Rather, all that happened is that AWG-KP "takes note" of the "intention" of Parties to convert their targets to QELROs, and "invites" them to submit information on these QELROs for "consideration" by the AWG-KP "with a view" to adoption. I count no less than five levels of legalistic remove from an actual adoption?!

Second, because of the refusal of Canada, Russia, and Japan to join a KP2. This refusal, as far as I can see, is entirely gratuitous, since (a) the weakness of the language just described above, (b) there is nothing to stop KP Parties from just reiterating the Copenhagen pledges based on their existing domestic laws, and (c) with the legally binding DPEA, Annex B countries got the quid pro quo they demanded of the non-Annex 1 countries anyway.

Third, the nail in the coffin is Canada's withdrawal from KP1, . which simultaneously makes a mockery of the very notion of "legally binding" in any event.

2. The Annex 1 countries have shown extremely bad faith in their negotiations on the loopholes. New Zealand and Australia have been offensively recalcitrant when it comes to keeping their favourite loopholes open. Russia, despite pulling out of KP2, has the gall to insist on preserving its AAUs. The EU, which we think of as the relatively principled ones when it comes to the loopholes (because they want to keep the carbon markets alive) also continues to insist on the surplus AAUs of its new EU member states. On LULUCF accounting, the worst option seems to be the one accepted. The "decision" on AAUs was to punt to next year, with weak language that merely "requests" the AWG-KP to "assess" the implications of the surplus AAUs and "recommend" actions and for "consideration" by the CMP. (And, I'm already getting nervous that the technical process of converting 2020 targets to KP2 QELROs will become a massive loophole-generating exercise.)

3. The battle over the GCF governance was exceeding divisive. This too was gratuitous, especially in the context of the GCF being what even Zenawi called "not even an empty shell". And meanwhile, attempts to provide further assurances on where the long-term finance will actually come from were obstructed.

4. Probably most importantly, as many others have observed, equity was sidelined in a way that I believe will haunt the negotiations from Durban onward. It's a shock that the decision establishing the AWG-DPEA does not mention equity in any form. No "on the basis of equity", no CBDR, no "equitable access to sustainable development", no nothing. (I'm keen to know about what actually happened in the Indabas and the final plenary huddles, and which forces kept equity out of the text. I've heard it was non-negotiable for the US.) As others have pointed out, the DPEA is still established "under the Convention", so the UNFCCC equity provisions still legally apply. But the "hearts and minds" struggle to ensure equitable burden-sharing will be all the more challenging now. And in the absence of equitable burden-sharing, (and the finance and tech it implies), I have a hard time seeing major developing country emitters stepping up and engaging in the ambitious mitigation we urgently need.

5. Not only was the standard equity language excluded, but other key developing country concerns were sidelined also. The DPEA has a clear focus on mitigation specifically: it "decides to launch a workplan on enhancing mitigation ambition" without reference to finance, tech, or adaptation. Given that the workplan has already been decided to focus on mitigation ambition specifically, I am not sure what it means that finance, tech, adaptation are mentioned elsewhere in the DPEA decision, though I assume this is an opening that developing countries will try hard to use as the terms of reference of the DPEA are defined early next year.
Now, certainly there was some incremental progress, of course. And all these above problems can be overcome, ground can be regained, trust can be rebuilt, and Parties can yet establish the basis for the cooperative global response that's needed. But, I feel less optimistic after Durban than before.

Is this an overly bleak interpretation? Are there hopeful signs I've missed? I'd be grateful if anyone could offer something to be more cheery about.
Sivan Kartha
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