08 December, 2011

The Durban package begins to take shape

Sergio Abranches, from Durban

COP17 president, South African minister of Foreign Relations Maite Emily Nkoana-Mashabane has asked a small group of parties to facilitate the final negotiations towards a package deal to be delivered in Durban. It is a sign that negotiations are moving towards a close. There still are some key issues pending a compromise solution, but all negotiators indicated they’ll cooperate to get the best outcome possible.

The outcome in Durban will be a compromise solution, and the outlines of the package deal to be agreed upon begins to show on the nuances of negotiators’ new statements to the press. Bits and pieces of a coming deal can also be collected on the corridors of the Durban Convention Center.

Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, said the European Union is ready to take a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (‘second KP’). She said the EU must be assured that others will agree on a new legally binding framework. Europe will sign into a ‘second KP’ even if other countries choose not to join. The EU is not requiring the ‘roadmap’ towards a future legal agreement to go into too many details. It should just show there is a firm decision to arrive at a new agreement, and a timeline with a few significant deadlines. Ideally the agreement should be completed by 2015, to be in force from 2020 onwards, replacing both the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, and the Cancun Agreement.

US lead negotiator, Todd Stern, often cited as the main opponent to the idea of a commitment to a legally-binding agreement, said his country would have no difficulty to sign into a legally-binding agreement that binds all major emitters with equal legal force. He said he wouldn’t object to agreeing on a process to lead to this agreement. The US would rather discuss the process, and let its unfolding define the legal nature of the outcome, than defining the legal form beforehand, to design a process to get to it. It seems that the EU and the US are fine-tuning their views to move towards a deal that satisfies both.

Todd Stern said he didn’t think China, India, and Brazil are ready to sign into a binding agreement that would give identical legal treatment to developed and emerging nations. No problem there, he said. Commitments  that are not legally-binding, like the ones made in Copenhagen and reaffirmed in Cancun, are politically and morally binding.

He added that the US has no quarrels with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capacity” under a new legal agreement, provided that ‘capacity’ is also taken into account. He said the US interprets this principle as leading to a ‘continuum of responsibilities’, rather than to as a firewall separating in absolute terms all developing countries from the developed or industrialized ones. The US major concern is with the idea that the principle be applied to prevent even the larger emerging powers to have binding emissions targets. Today, they insist their pledges are voluntary, and demand that all developed countries have mandatory targets.

Chinese minister Xie Zenhua said to the plenary of Cop17 high level segment yesterday that China wants a future legally-binding agreement under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. He arrived in Durban saying that China could accept binding emissions reduction targets.

Negotiators were clearly more confident yesterday night that an agreement might be possible here in Durban. One of them said that the negotiations that started yesterday evening and would continue throughout the day today could be a “watershed”. COP17 will anyway close a chapter of the negotiations that has been opened years ago. It is the last stop before the first period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol ends. The mandate of the working group created in 2005, during COP11, and the first Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to decide on other commitment periods will be completed in Durban one way or another. The Protocol will very likely be amended to have a second period to 2020.

Negotiators are clearly making every effort to prevent COP17 from failing. There is a noticeable concern to reach an outcome as significant as possible, in large part as a deference to Africa, the continent most vulnerable to climate change. They are really engaged in the efforts to ensure a second period of commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. The plea made by the Africans at the beginning of COP17 that Africa does not become the graveyard for the Protocol appears to have impressed them all. The risk of a breakdown of the Kyoto Protocol has been progressively reduced by intense negotiations.

The EU is conceding more than it seemed to be willing to concede when negotiations began. The BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), the stronger group within G77+China, is participating of all decisions. South Africa, presiding COP17, is doing its best to make this African climate summit to succeed. Brazil is among the facilitators in the talks leading to the completion of  a package deal. Brazilian negotiators will feel responsible for the package deal, as its coauthors. China arrived in Durban announcing it wants to play a game of cooperation, differently from previous COPs, when China blocked progress in several key issues. India has been striving to ensure parties and press that its position is not different from China’s. The BASIC will likely have a common positive standing on negotiations.

The president of the African Group, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, said the Africans have a “vested interest in the success of COP17”. “It is a very important meeting for us in Africa,” he added. None of the demands of the African Group he mentioned seem too difficult to get the support from all negotiators in Durban. The African Group’s minimum expectations are to have a ratifiable second period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (‘second KP’), making the Green Climate Fund fully operational, even if some issues remain to be solved later on. “We don’t want it to be an empty shell. But let’s first make sure we have the shell, an then fill it”, he argued. He also said it would be necessary to go back to the Climate Convention fundamentals, through a process that could lead to a future legally-binding deal.

In short, to Africa, the expected package deal would be: the ‘second KP’, the ‘Cancun Package’, to make the Cancun Agreement fully operational, with special reference to the Green Climate Fund, and a ‘process’ to lead to a future common legal framework binding all. Something around these lines, perhaps with a few adjustments to reach a compromise leading to consensus, is likely to be approved at the final plenary.

The Durban outcome will very likely have all the elements demanded by the African Group. There are indications that until 2020 the commitments made in Copenhagen, and built into the UNFCCC tracks by the Cancun Agreement will be considered ‘legal’ commitments, although not ‘fully binding’ commitments. The countries that would sign into the ‘second KP would make their Cancun commitments ‘fully binding’. In other words all commitments to 2020 will be politically binding under the legal framework of the Convention, a smaller portion would also be legally binding under the Kyoto Protocol.

These commitments would be reviewed in 2015, on the basis of IPCC’s fifth report to be approved in 2013-2014. The parties could then decide to raise their ambitions regarding emissions reductions to bring them closer to the findings of climate science. After 2020, a new legal framework will be put in place to regulate actions to meet the climate change challenge.

The Durban outcome is likely to be a mix of some action, and new processes leading to future action.

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