Climate Change Agreement in Durban — What Happened? What to Know?


cop17 results

There are mixed reactions to the agreement made in South Africa at the COP17 climate conference yesterday. Well, really, I think most people have the same response, but that response is a mixed bag of positive and negative points.

On the positive side:

  • Much more was accomplished than anyone expected would be accomplished.

On the negative side:

  • Much less was accomplished than the scientists say needs to be accomplished.

On the positive side:

  • A timeline to create a plan to cut emissions has been laid out.

On the negative side:

  • It’s far past the time for creating plans, let alone for creating timelines to create plans.

On the positive side:

  • A plan to cut emissions will be set (supposedly) that includes action by all major countries of the world (not excluding China, not excluding India, not excluding the U.S.).

On the negative side:

  • As far as anyone can see, those cuts won’t be anywhere near what is needed to avoid truly drastic catastrophes throughout this century, the next, and maybe more.

On the positive side:

  • This is a clear political success, showing that the world can work together to move forward on addressing climate change, and it may stimulate a lot more action and optimism on the country/local level. With support of widespread grassroots activism, more understanding that addressing climate change is the smart business/economic option, and more understanding of the catastrophes that await us if we don’t take action NOW, perhaps we will surprise ourselves and steer closer to the side of human survival….

For more details, Climate Progress had a great post with updates throughout the weekend, the Guardian has a great summary of the details, and the Guardian has another great one with quotes from many of the world’s political and environmental leaders. In particular, I like this quote by Ruth Davis, Greenpeace UK chief policy advisor, which I think summarizes the implications of the results as well as anything I’ve read:

This deal is a lot better than no deal, not least because it scuppers George Osborne’s push to gut domestic environmental action on the altar of international inertia. That said, we can’t keep coming back to these annual talks to agree deals that fall so far short of what the science, rather than the politics, requires. Every December the mismatch grows between what the world is committing to and what nations should be delivering. In the current vernacular, we’re kicking the climate can down the road.

The political signal delivered by Durban is more powerful than the actual substance of the agreement. A new progressive alliance of over one hundred vulnerable countries, backed by the European Union, demonstrated that there’s massive appetite for an ambitious legally binding climate deal covering all the major polluters. Such a deal moved a small step closer in Durban, with agreement to negotiate towards it in 2015. In political terms, this was a defeat for the campaign that’s been waged against multilateralism by the U.S. and its allies for years. It also saw the big emerging economies locked more firmly into taking action to cap their emissions than ever before. But the Durban Platform still includes wording that could be exploited by the U.S. and its allies to push a voluntary rather than binding approach, and risks locking in the current inadequate level of carbon cuts for a decade.

In many ways the Durban deal is a snap-shot of the changing global climate politics. It includes good elements but there are huge battles to be fought and tough choices to make if the UN process is to keep us below a four degree rise in temperatures, let alone the stated aim of two degrees.

Well said.

And this one by Richard Gledhill, a partner at PwC, notes one more key point or statistic:

“There is still a 40% gap between the 2 degrees climate goal and emissions targets through to 2020. Reaching 2 degrees will require a revolution in how we produce and use energy.” And even 2 degrees is too much according to one of the world’s leading climatologists, James Hansen of NASA.

What’s the way forward?

Urgent and continuous action by citizens around the world!

COP17 photo by Hollywood North

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