Durban, South Africa: December 9, 2011

Ambitious or inadequate? Twenty four hours remains to secure Durban’s credibility

by Andrea Palframan, Watershed Sentinel

On this, the last day of COP-17, South Africa’s  Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, COP-17 president, gave an update on the state of the negotiations: “The focus now is whether we can reach convergence as we adopt a second commitment of Kyoto Protocol.   Parties also want to see the Green Climate Fund launched here, but we need to look at long-term finance… because we don’t want to launch an empty ship.” South Africa has expressed its willingness to extend the talks, which are predicted to last past their scheduled end and well into Saturday.

Aldon Myer from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “We look at these negotiations to find what can give us the best fighting chance to stay below the 2 degree mark world leaders agreed to in Copenhagen.” The organizations’ four recommendations are echoed by civil society and negotiators alike, and in summary are:

  1. Continuation of Kyoto Protocol, with as many developed nations as possible agreeing to keep their commitments post 2012; loopholes eliminated or minimized
  2. Durban roadmap with clear process and timeline to negotiate a new treaty that will include China, US and others by 2015
  3. A process to ramp up climate finance to help developing countries reduce deforestation and invest in clean technologies and adapt to mounting impacts of climate change. $100 billion a year by 2020 which was put forward in Copenhagen

A fourth recommendation of the UCS, the creation of a workplan to close ambition gap between 2 degree target and the proposals that have already been put on the table, is being criticized as not ambitious enough to keep emissions from pushing us past two degrees temperature rise. The consensus at this point is that a new phase of Kyoto will be ready by 2015, based on a roadmap laid out by the European Union. Even Canada’s environment minister Peter Kent has subscribed to the idea that a second phase of Kyoto be launched in the next three years, though later said “we are not setting a hard target on this date. If it takes somewhat longer, that would be fine.”

The US and China both came into these negotiations talking about 2020 as a Kyoto renewal target, but have since shifted their positions back to 2015.  According to the European Commissioner for Climate Connie Hedegaard, “If there is one thing we have learned from this process, things never go faster than you would expect. It always goes slower than in your wildest imagination. So if we talk about 2020 we can see it is a really poor outcome seen from a climate perspective and that’s why it is not good enough.”

Harjit Singh expressed confidence that the Green Climate Fund would be launched, but in the current economic climate traditional sources of finance may be insufficient Singh repeated calls for taxes on aviation and shipping as well as a tax on international financial transactions, known as the Tobin or Robin Hood tax, as innovative ways to fill the GCF quickly enough to mitigate climate disasters. “We know that for every dollar we invest in preparing communities against climate change, we can save seven dollars on emergency response later,” said Singh. “It is disgraceful to see that there is not a single mechanism that has been agreed upon.”