With no deal in sight last Friday (the day delegates were due to return home after 12 days of UN climate talks in Durban) negotiations were forced to continue through the weekend.
The following day’s headlines have been overly optimistic, citing major polluters (including the US and China) as taking significant steps as they agree to a future global deal on climate change. Yet you don’t even need to look at the details to see that the decisions made fall far short of what is needed to deal with the threat of climate change.
All delegates agreed to reach a universal legal agreement on climate change ‘as soon as possible, but no later than 2015’. Work is to begin on this immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Whilst this would commit all countries to reducing emissions, by how much remains unknown, it would only come into force in 2020. Furthermore only a handful of countries agreed to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the only mechanism that currently legally binds countries to emission reduction targets which is due to expire at the end of 2012.
And so we now face almost a decade without the legally binding emissions cuts urgently needed if we are to curb dangerous and irreversible climate change. The agreements reached lack the level urgency needed to tackle the environmental crisis.
Finally countries also agreed to the establishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), designed to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to fund climate mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries. Whilst this is a significant first step, a lack of any real leadership on innovative sources of finance meant that delegates failed to identify sources of money. With the GCF due to become fully operational in 2012, there is a real threat that we could be left with nothing but an empty fund. Developed countries now need to urgently agree on mechanisms and start mobilising funds if the poorest and most vulnerable are to be protected from the threat of climate change. Innovative sources such as the Financial Transaction Tax and a levy on carbon emissions from international shipping could generate billions of dollars a year and help developed countries meet their climate finance commitments.