ANALYSIS: Milestone or window dressing? New Durban climate mandate
By Georg Ismar and Simone Humml Dec 12, 2011, 7:39 GMT
Durban, South Africa - The unanimous resolve early Sunday at Durban climate talks to negotiate the largest climate treaty ever by 2015 was called a breakthrough by the European Union and Germany's Foreign Minister Norbert Roettgen.
But environmental groups were much more critical. The treaty will have little effect in stopping global warming because it will not raise ambitions enough, Greenpeace and other groups said.
'While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change,' said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The European Union pushed through the roadmap to a global agreement to halt global warming, gathering backing from low income states and islands threatened by rising sea water. The treaty will expand on the less comprehensive Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.
Climate negotiators worked round the clock from Thursday evening to 4 am (0200 GMT) Sunday, pushed along by South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. She was so determined to get it through that she added an extra day, making the talks the longest in their two-decade history, and playing havoc with travel schedules.
South African Airways even added an extra flight Sunday to get people to Johannesburg.
EU Commissioner on Climate Action Connie Hedegaard brokered the multi-member coaltiion and increased pressure on the two biggest CO2 emitters, China and the United States, neither of which is obligated to reduce emissions under Kyoto. The pressure was apparently strong enough to break a long-standing feud between the two over emission reductions.
'Together we exercised a very positive pressure on those who needed some pressure,' Hedegaard said Sunday morning.
Critics worry that even the expanded inclusion of global gasses for reduction - whether legally-binding under Kyoto or carried out on a voluntary basis as is the case with some other countries including the US - is not enough to keep the earth's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees over pre-industrial times.
Scientists project more catastrophic weather events, which some countries are already experiencing, if the 2-degree threshold is passed.
The high pressure last-minute wrangling by a de facto trio of India, China and the United States forced compromises on the EU, said Greenpeace's Martin Kaiser.
'At the last minute the United States and fossil fuel industries created a loophole,' Kaiser said.
A tough negotiation process now lies ahead. The biggest hurdle is the legal nature of the agreement, and argument swirled about whether the new treaty should be 'legally-binding,' a 'legal instrument' or a 'legal outcome.' Demands by an emotional Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan in the final session threatened to derail EU support for the deal.
Mashabane suspended the public plenary session for half an hour at 2:40 am so the two women to 'huddle' over their differences. South Africans are proud of their negotiating abilities - which led to the bloodless end of apartheid, and the foreign minister also led a series of Indabas (a Zulu concept for meetings among 'wise people') to solve major problems - during the Durban talks.
Samantha Smith, leader of the environmental group WWF's global climate initiative, regretted that the hair-splitting over legal concepts overshadowed the true accomplishment of the talks. Not only were China and the US brought into the fold, but for the first time developing countries agreed to be subjected to carbon regulation.
'Unfortunately, governments here have spent the last two crucial final days of negotiations focused on only a handful of specific words in the negotiating texts, instead of spending their political capital on committing to more and real action to address climate change,' she said.
Of near equal importance to the long-term intention of creating a broader treaty, climate negotiators decided to postpone the fate of the waning Kyoto Protocol, the world's only climate change structure, that expires in December 2012 - when negotiators meet next December in Qatar.
Countries are expected to submit their new targets for reductions at that time, when negotiators will decide whether the second Kyoto treaty would run until 2017 or 2020.
The idea is to bridge the gap between a second Kyoto and the broader climate deal.
After Russia, Canada and Japan said they would not sign up for a second Kyoto, the EU agreed in Durban to soldier on alone with a few other countries, by which time it will only encompass 11 to 15 per cent of global emissions.
Details about the Green Climate Fund were also nailed down in the Durban talks, which will funnel part of the annual 100 billion dollars expected to be collected by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to warming and deploy low-carbon technology.
But there was no progress on the issue of deforestation, which scientists said contributes 20 per cent of all emissions.
Activist groups were able to push through backing for a shipping or 'bunker' tax on all international transport that will flow into the money train somewhere. But the EU's carbon tax on airplanes has provoked stubborn resistance in Asia and the Americas.
Nkoana-Mashabane called the Durban package a 'historic milestone,' even more fitting since expectations had been set quite low for the conference.
When it adjourned shortly after 4 am, delegates applauded the foreign minister - but were happy that the two-week summit had come to an end.