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Last Minute Save: Durban Platform Sets Path to 2020 Emissions Reduction Treaty

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
Investment & Markets

The following post originally appeared on Global Warming is Real. It is reposted here with permission of the publisher.

The last minute climate change action agreements that came out of the UNFCCC'S COP 17 in Durban this past weekend appear to have something for everyone to object to, a sign, as it's said, of a healthy compromise. China and India don't really like the fact that as two of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases, they'll be bound by definitive, legally binding emissions reductions targets. Japan, Russia and China withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the second phase of which is nonetheless now on track to begin in 2013. Climate scientists and environmental groups were quick to criticize negotiators' inability to agree on adopting stronger emissions reductions targets, and to agree on making them legally binding sooner rather than later.

Yet the international movement to address climate change and global warming, which began in Rio in 1992, held together and moved forward in the end. It took a a herculean effort, however, with the European Union delegation, led by Connie Hedegaard, and host South Africa, led by Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, as the central players. A final agreement, dubbed the "Durban Platform," was reached at 3 a.m. Sunday, when "US envoy Todd Stern helped broker a deal" that hinged on three critical words that had Hedegaard and Indian environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan battling back and forth since midnight, according to an Energy & Environment report. Three-day Negotiating Marathon

In a non-stop, three-day negotiating marathon, UNFCCC delegations did manage to set aside their differences, at least temporarily, and establish a process for negotiating a legally binding treaty on emissions reductions that's slated to begin in 2015, with the treaty going into effect in 2020, the year the Kyoto Protocol expires. They also managed to reach agreement on the two other headline goals of the conference: committing to the Kyoto Protocol's second phase,and setting up the foundations of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, through which $100 billion a year from developed countries will flow to developing countries in order for them carry out climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.

Missing from the text of the Durban Platform is the phrase that India's environment minister fought so hard to preserve: "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," according to E&E's Lisa Friedman and Jean Chemnick. The conceptual basis for this phrase stems from the language in the Kyoto Protocol which created mandatory emissions reductions targets for developed nations and voluntary ones for developing nations regardless of the size of their economies or volume of emissions. The developing nations were exempted from definite reductions targets based on the fact that developed nations have been primarily responsible for man-made CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions until recently, and India wanted to minimize the mandatory reductions it needed to make.

China and India agreeing to accept hard emissions reductions targets removed the key obstacle to reaching accord. "We're pleased with that. Fundamentally, we got the kind of symmetry we have been focused on since the beginning of the Obama administration," the E&E reporters quoted lead US negotiator Todd Stern as saying.

"This agreement moves us away from an unhelpful paradigm," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "It sets up a transparent process that forces China and the major emerging economies to keep their word on climate change. Now all major greenhouse gas emitting countries will be on-record contributors to a solution."

Environmental and social justice organizations decried the omission of the phrase and the stance taken by the US and other developed nations. Climate Justice Now deemed it "climate apartheid...whereby the richest 1 percent of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99 percent," E&E reported.

Establishing the foundation for funding, managing and administering the Green Climate Fund was a significant achievement. The final text includes establishment of an adaptation committee and a process that will lead to the creation of a climate technology center. It also specifies measures to assure transparency that will require countries to report progress on their emissions reduction efforts.

Though its future seemed in doubt earlier in the week, COP 17 delegations also managed to agree on efforts related to the "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation" (REDD+) program, which is seen as a linchpin for efforts to protect and conserve forests worldwide. Delegates sorted out disagreements that arose earlier in the week regarding how to finance REDD+, as well as whether or not market-based mechanisms and carbon trading system offsets should be tapped as possible sources of funding.

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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