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Breakthrough or procrastination at Durban?

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 16 Jan 2012 11:29 GMT
Author: Grzegorz Peszko
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By Grzegorz Peszko

After two weeks days of intensive and hectic negotiations, the representatives of 194 nations unexpectedly agreed to a last-minute global deal which sets a road map for negotiating a new global legally binding regime.

For the first time, this ‘Durban platform’ would seek to impose emission caps with legal force on all major polluters, including developed and developing countries. The new agreement should be signed by 2015 and become effective by 2020.

Its general principles and objectives are agreed but, as particularly true for climate change agreements, the devil will be in the details on how the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities can be translated to binding commitments and country level actions.

In the meantime the countries agreed on the rules for monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions covering all countries to build more trust and accountability, so much needed in further talks.  In return for this roadmap, some developed countries, led by the EU, agreed to adopt new emission targets for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. for another 5 to 8 years beyond expiry date of the current commitments at the end of 2012.

This was a key demand by developing countries. It means that the current voluntary emission reduction pledges made by these countries in Copenhagen and Cancun will be anchored in international law as of 2013.

However, except for the EU, other major industrialised emitters, such as Japan, Russia and Canada, do not intend to submit legally binding targets in the second commitment period, and instead will stick to their initial voluntary pledges. In fact Canada, soon after Durban, confirmed its previous announcements that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol even in this commitment period.

This means that countries responsible for 85 percent of emissions will not be legally bound to cut emissions until the next decade. Australia and New Zealand left a placeholder for consideration. This would leave the EU alone in the world with legally binding targets, followed only by a few European countries tied to EU and possibly three European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) countries – Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.


A new climate funding vehicle - the Green Climate Fund - has been established as a new legal entity under the Climate Convention with an independent Secretariat, Board and Trustee. The institutional design and governance were fleshed out, but not the sources and volume of funding, or details of spending strategy.

All developing countries are eligible recipients, although it remains unclear if it includes middle income economies from the EBRD region, such as Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan or Belarus. The fund will have a private sector facility, whose details are yet to be determined.

Durban outcomes are modestly reassuring for the existing market mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol, although detailed operational implications are yet to be clarified by the end of 2012. As the Kyoto Protocol is extended for another 5-8 years, the market mechanisms are expected also to have an additional lifetime.


It was agreed that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) available to developing countries can now include carbon capture and storage and some of its operational rules were amended to cut red tape and speed up approval procedure.

The major review and improvement of the CDM mechanism are due in 2012. Some of the operational conditions for the Joint Implementation (JI) mechanism that is available to richer EBRD countries are less clear.

The decision on the proposed new JI rules was postponed until the next summit in Qatar a year from now. Russia may lose eligibility to host JI projects if the country does not adopt legally binding emission caps.

Trading of the Kyoto national allowances (AAUs) is expected to continue although rules governing carrying over surplus allowances from the first to the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol are yet to be discussed.

A special working group will assess, in the first months of 2012, the implications of carry-over of AAUs and recommend actions to address the implications on the aggregate emissions reductions from the developed countries.

New market and non-market mechanisms were agreed in principle but the decision on rules and modalities was delayed until next year. This includes crediting for the result-oriented nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) and sectoral approaches for agriculture, and international aviation and shipping.

 The countries also agreed on the carbon markets and climate finance as possible funding sources for activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

Several Cancun agreements were successfully implemented, in particular on technology transfer, adaptation, and improved transparency through better monitoring, reporting and verification of countries’ emissions reduction actions.


Overall, the Durban deal was an unexpected last minute compromise against low-set expectations. But it leaves no one truly happy.

The fact that developing countries and the United States have accepted to be subjected to legally binding commitments in the future represents a paradigm shift in climate negotiations. However, the tone of the talks and the number of issues and conditions flagged by parties show that the road to comprehensive global agreement by 2015 will certainly be very bumpy.

It is also bitterly recognized in the Durban decision that currently agreed commitments and actions would bring the world dangerously close to the probability of increasing global temperature by 4 degree Celsius, double the 2 degree Celsius safety limit recommended by scientists.

Durban outcomes should strengthen the long-term fundamentals for market mechanisms and will remove immediate risk of their major disruption in 2012. Carbon prices and origination of new projects will however continue to be affected by uncertainty because of unclear operational details in the second commitment period and fragile and fragmented sources of demand for emission reduction units, exacerbated by the ongoing economic crisis. This cloud of uncertainty could gradually clear in the course of the next year.

The amount of work scheduled for next year and the weight of decisions that should be made by the conference of parties in Qatar next year is profound and may exceed the capacity of the UN-led process.


The next months and years will show how durable and effective may be the emerging strange coalition of the committed (the EU and the European allies), the tempted (Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus) and the desperate - the dozens of small, least developed countries and small island states that are already hit hard by climate change impacts.

And a critical question remains whether the major polluters responsible for 85 percent of emissions will walk the road agreed in Durban or not.

Grzegorz Peszko is a senior energy/environmental economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). This first appeared on the EBRD blog.

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