The Durban Conference of Parties is over. There may be a signed document to show for the conference, however this document, laying the way for the Durban Platform, merely saved the negotiations. Potentially irreversible and catastrophic climate change is still a possible, Earth-shattering reality.
Firstly, the legal implications are woolly and subject to interpretation – instead of being ‘legally binding’, it is to be ‘a protocol, another legal instrument or a legal outcome’. This hazy phrasing left even UN negotiator Tomasz Chruszczow unclear, telling reporters to ‘ask the lawyers’ as to what it meant. The problem with the Durban Platform is that even if a viable protocol is produced by 2015 (the latest it should be, according to the second commitment period), it will not be implemented until 2020. By the UN’s own admission, between now and 2020, there is a significant shortfall in the voluntary commitments required to prevent more than 2oC of global warming (to the tune of some six billion tonnes of CO2).
In addition, there is no agreement on either a long-term goal for 2050 emissions reduction, or a timeframe for emissions to peak. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that the window for action on climate change is still open, but closing fast, citing that if significant energy infrastructure changes are not made by 2017 (long before anything laid out by the Durban Platform is achieved), then we will already be locked in to a high carbon future – this gives the world five years to act. Is this long enough to change many governments’ view on climate change?
Not only do countries and regions which make early progress towards greater energy efficiency and effective deployment of alternative energy strengthen their competitive advantage, but those who muddle along and delay the transformation will find their competitive position eroded. Delayed action could lead to a 4-6oC global temperature increase, which would “condemn most of Africa and the small island states to climate catastrophe.” stated the Chair of Friends of the Earth International, Nnimmo Bassey. Similarly, Greenpeace places the blame for the failure on the governments, especially the US, for heeding the polluters and pushing for a get-out clause, which would spell disaster for those most in need of firm action.
There are two overarching holes in the Durban Platform: it does not have the legal clarity required to provide assurance that countries are serious about making significant change, or give specific, binding targets or even state a goal, further than keeping the world below a 2oC temperature increase. Even if it does manage to arrive at a positive outcome in 2015, it will be, according to research by the IEA too late to prevent an increase above 2oC. This sentiment is highlighted by Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth, stating that the conference was a case of ‘smoke and mirrors – we need more action and less talk’, exactly what the conference has not delivered. Therefore, however great it is that significant agreement has been reached, the agreement will not do what is required of it. What is required are the changes that can be made at home, as 80 per cent of energy savings in EU building stock are possible, using existing technologies, skilled know-how and smart financing. Clearly the result inDurban was better than expected, but more joined-up, objective thinking is necessary if we are to avoid the worse consequences of climate change.