11/12/2011: “What happened in Durban?”

What happened in Durban?

36 extra hours were needed in order for the 2-week climate negotiations that were to conclude in Durban on Friday December 9 to come with an outcome. Of the many assessments of the results, I focus on the one from the representative of Small Island States, Selwin Hart: “I would have liked more, but at least we have something to keep working. Not all is lost”. It is really sad. Our generation has assumed a ‘positive thinking’ that leads to such conformist statements, specially worrying from a collective for whom the Durban agreement might involve losing the last faint hope to prevent the sea rise from covering their islands.

The highlight of the new agreement is related to mitigation (reduction of emissions). The 194 negotiating parties will start in 2013 to negotiate a new legal agreement to cut emissions down under a regime that will commit all parties. The new agreement must be reached in 2015 and will begin enter into force 2020 at the latest. Kyoto was to expire in December 2012, but it has been extended five more years. The agreement might look good, because:

– developing countries get an extension of an agreement that does not bind them; and
– the countries already bound by Kyoto get developing countries to accept binding conditions in an upcoming treaty.

However, this impression is a delusion, because we all lose: 2020 is too late. The world’s most polluting countries (China, U.S. and India, in this order, totaling 47.5% of global emissions) will continue increasing their emissions because they are not bound by Kyoto. On the other side, Canada, Japan and Russia, bounded by the expiring accord, have not accepted an extension of their compromise, so they will have no emissions limit from 2013. The parties now self-compromised represent only the 15% of global emissions. It’s a shame that the structural myopia of national governments, focused on the interests of their people to a very short timeframe, prevents them from being consistent with the clarity of the message from scientists: greenhouse gas emissions must peak within this decade to keep the temperature rise above preindustrial levels below 2 ° C. The consequences of exceeding this limit could be devastating.

No further result could probably be expected from the global political governance. In my opinion, the clearest lesson to be learned from Durban is that civil society must take responsibility for the future, irrespective of any global political agreements, and thereby supplement the largely insufficient Durban Agreement. This might be the only possibility not to pass to the next generation the consequences of our inability to be responsible. The Earth Summit 2012 (Rio de Janeiro 4-6 June) is now more important to become the forum where civil society must raise profile.  

Alejo Etchart
Stakeholder Forum

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