What Next -- Climate Watch

On the "Durban Platform for Enhanced Action"

The decision to establish an Ad Hoc Working Group on the "Durban Platform for Enhanced Action" (DPEA), i.e. the controversial "Durban Mandate", was a remarkable show of bad process in the last hours of the conference -- already on 30 hours overtime with many Ministers (particularly from developing countries) already on their way home.

The implications will be felt for a long time to come…

We are likely to see an erosion of the science-based "top-down" (i.e. starting with emissions reductions as deemed required based on science) principled climate regime of the Kyoto Protocol -- with a further shift towards the US-championed voluntary, bottom-up "pledge" system where countries just notify what they intend to do: currently this amounts to only 13-18% cuts by the rich countries (which could in reality amount to zero cuts due to the extensive "loopholes" that the rich countries refuse to remove). It's naive to believe that pledges will be sufficient to ramp up commitments towards the 40-50% that is needed by 2020, and the the 90-100% needed by 2050!

The mandate for the new agreement is remarkable open, which paves the ground for endless negotiations with little prospect to reach anywhere near the regime -- the Bali Action Plan -- that was still the basis for negotiations when the Durban meeting started. There are also reasons to be very worried from an equity and climate justice perspective -- although the new platform is placed under the Climate Convention with its fundamental principle of "common but differentiated responsibility", USA and other Annex 1 countries will press hard to erode any equity related mechanisms.

In short, by opening up for the Durban mandate, the world has given a blank check to the US and others to effectively stall and weaken the future climate regime -- while squandering the relative firm basis that already existed: the Bali Action Plan. Considering the effectiveness of the US negotiations since Copenhagen (they have likely attained most of their stated goals), and the dismal domestic political situation (with climate change denying Republicans dominating Congress, and Obama acting more destructive than George W Bush as he actively steers the world onto the wrong path rather than just standing aside), it is naive to believe there could be anything meaningful coming out of open-ended negotiations on the DPEA over the next few years.
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Just like in Cancun, the process was far from transparent and neutral. The South African Presidency pressed hard for a package very much in line with the EU agenda (with the "Durban Mandate" to establish a new treaty), conduced closed room consultations and presented the final documents on a take it or leave it basis in the very last hours of the conference -- arguing there were no time to negotiate (and prevented the more sensible approach to extend the meeting by deciding on a COP17 "bis" that could have been held within a few months time).

Despite a large number of countries rejecting the documents in both the Kyoto Protocol track and the "LCA" final plenaries, the chairs and the Presidency pushed through and took them all the way for final approval in the COP plenary --with implicit threats of scapegoating of any country that would dare to block a decision. While some argue that the "Durban agreements" saved the UN, the precedents of Copenhagen, Cancún and Durban do not bode well in terms of process and manipulation by the Presidencies. We risk see a replay in Rio half a year from now.
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Here a link to the original document which was amended after intense "huddle" negotiations in the middle of the plenary hall, where "legal outcome" was substituted to "agreed outcome with legal force" in paragraph 2. Despite insistence from in particular India that "equity" be explicitly included as a principle, this amendment never made it to the final version -- it was vetoed by USA. Link to final decision here.

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