Durban conference: Most successful failure!
LAST Friday in Durban, South Africa, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCC) ended in an anti-climax. In spite of the 7 billion people of the world waiting patiently to hear the good news of a successful outcome from the climate change talks, there was so little to report. There were no breakthroughs, nothing much to write home about.
The talks had in many ways failed. Although the final outcome is still being negotiated this Saturday, even after the Conference closed, not much else was expected.
So what happened? And why did it so happen?
Ministers of environment and negotiators from 195 countries had gathered there to reach an understanding to cut carbon emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, the only binding climate agreement in the world today, will end next year (2012) and the talks in Copenhagen and Cancun held in the last two years had failed to replace or renew it. Durban was the last chance. But it seems it did not happen.
So, without a renewal of Kyoto, the world will need to brace for more extreme weather conditions. There will be severe drought in many places, more cyclones, freakish weather and poorer crop conditions. There will be greater spread of diseases among humans and animals.
To understand the reasons for the failure to reach an understanding to craft a binding agreement, it is important to follow the four great debates that took place in the conference halls of Durban.
The first debate was about the Kyoto Protocol itself. The rich countries had committed under Kyoto (till 2012) to reduce carbon emissions by 5%. But this time, Japan, Russia, Canada and Australia was reluctant to agree to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. It may be mentioned that the USA had opted out of Kyoto when it was first agreed to, as India and China were not a part of the 5% cut in emissions.
These rich countries from now on (that is after 2012) want to adhere to voluntary targets and pledges. But the rest of the world, including Bangladesh, seeks legally binding targets. They are afraid that the rich countries may take the opportunity of voluntary targets to emit more carbon and thereby raise world temperatures.
The second debate was about carbon emissions. The rich countries, especially those belonging to the European Union, wanted China, which is the biggest polluter in the world, as well as developing countries commit to deeper cuts in emission. The rich would continue to stay with their present carbon emissions. They are of the opinion that unless these developing countries reduce their emissions, the world temperatures would continue to rise and cannot be contained within the target of 2 degree Centigrade increase from the pre-industrial temperatures. But the rest said that the pledges of the rich could lead to a 4 degree rise in temperatures.
The third discussion was about money. In Copenhagen, the rich had pledged to give $100 billion a year after 2020 to all poor countries to adapt to climate change But it was not agreed then how the money would be spent, who would administer the fund and from where (public or private sources) this money would come from.
The last issue debated at Durban was on how to protect the forests in the tropics in return for the money generated by carbon credits. Since most of the forests are in countries where governments are found to be corrupt it was alleged that the money would not percolate down to those whose livelihoods depend on the trees. So, in case the money is not disbursed to these people, they may start cutting the trees and thereby reduce the source of oxygen in the world.
Now that no agreement on renewal of Kyoto has so far taken place, there would be no legally binding international deal to cut carbon emissions after the end of 2012. But the rich will try for a deal by 2015 to come into force by 2020. They, however, have many legal and moral obligations to meet before they can move along this road map. The European Union is the lead party to this initiative. Already, 120 countries of the world have backed this proposal.
China, however, has said that it would be open to signing a formal treaty limiting emissions after 2020. But it has conditions. An important one is that China and other rapidly growing economies must be treated differently from the rich countries. They are developing fast and there was persistent poverty of millions of their citizens. The US, however, disagrees. It thinks any formal agreement should apply equally to all major players. And this means that there cannot be any conditionality.
Thus, the Durban Conference has been "hijacked by the ping-pong game between the US and China."
Nevertheless, as in every past Conference of the Parties (COP), there could be face- saving incremental deals. This could take place at Durban.
The first deal could be the understanding about the structure of the $100 billion Climate Fund. The second is announcing the progress on programmes to save tropical forests from clear-cutting. Transfer of clean energy technology to emerging nations is another announcement. Finally there has been a refinement in the system for verifying that countries are taking steps to cut emissions. So these could be a part of the final announcement. But let us wait for the Durban document.
The Bangladesh delegation led by the environment minister participated in the deliberations at Durban. The minister himself made a statement where he sought a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol. He described Bangladesh as a frontline vulnerable state with almost no contribution to global emissions.
So Bangladesh sought additional resources for the period 2013-2019 from developed nations on an incremental basis to reach $100 billion each year by 2020. The minister also mentioned that the country had created a $300 million Climate Change Trust Fund from its own meager resources to implement Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.
With the Durban Conference being a far cry from the success expected, the population of the world is entering a period when food supply will be scarcer and there will be mass migrations. Anyone with imagination can see the awful human consequences of that.
There is no doubt also that by putting so much carbon in the atmosphere through the use of fossil fuels, we have irreversibly changed the Earth. Experts say we won't have another Ice Age, not at least for another 200,000 years!
The Conference of the Parties of the UNFCC will meet again next year, and this time we should try to do better for ourselves.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Chairman for the Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.