Durban: The Darkest Hour?

8 thoughts on “Durban: The Darkest Hour?

  1. I am one of those who have lost faith in the Kyoto process. Having followed it for a number of years, it seems to me that the initial achievement of agreeing the Protocol itself has not led to policy action that could have a significant impact on climate change. The only area of climate policy that has a near term prospect of limiting the growth of emissions is in my opinion the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Even this has been so watered down by political negotiation that there is no significant carbon price an no significant incentive to mitigate for the next few years.

    Both the last COPs and also the discussions at the International Maritime Organisation about climate mitigation policy show that there is no readiness on the part of the US, China, India or Russia to take serious steps to reduce emissions. These are the countries with the largest emissions and without them there will be no effective mitigation policy.

    Therefore, I see the way ahead for mitigation policy as a process of more limited agreements, either bilateral or multilateral and also support for NGOs and for involvement by the general public to raise the importance of the climate change issue in policy. In the long run, this will be helped by climate impacts, but these large long run impacts will make society poorer and less stable, particularly in poor regions of the world.

  2. I am an amateur in the KP/post-KP world. My only points would be:

    1. I don’t see “developing countries” in the 1990s sense as a useful term. I want to know what the BASIC countries want, if they are to avoid the impacts of climate change – desertification, water-stress etc. And then how to get them proactive, rather than defensive in the 1990s mode.

    2. What about David Victor, and trying to achieve an organised pledge and review system? I understand that this is heresy – but is this a way of operationalising a coalition of the willing?

  3. I think using the KP is interesting, but the case needs to be made more compelling for developing countries. I miss reference to the legal form discussion and the other big question (in addition to the future of the KP) as to whether we are negotiating a treaty in future, or not. You also, in my view, underplay some of the institutional developments and think you could make a stronger case if you outlined how the KP approach would take up an Adaptation Committee, TEchnology Mechanism, or indeed how an Annex C might relate to a registry of NAMAs.

  4. Thank you for sharing this piece and to you all for a fascinating set of comments. For those of us invested in the Kyoto structure broadening and strengthening Kyoto, with over a decade of rule-making behind it, is an intuitively attractive and eminently sensible move. I am also entirely in sympathy with the argument that the US and its constraints cannot be the starting point of any deliberations on a serious international agreement. Quite apart from its dire domestic politics on climate, the US is not in the habit of ratifying international environmental instruments. It has long seemed absurd to me that we would hang on their every word in these negotiations.

    However, since the US and Chindia do appear, however mistakenly, to be the starting point for many in the Umbrella group, and for each other, I’m not sure how politically feasible Plan C is. I would be surprised (pleasantly) if Chindia/BASIC would willingly join Annex C in a scenario in which even the EU is only willing at best to commit to a political 2nd CP and the US is not part (or will ever be) of KP. In this scenario developing countries in Annex C will have their commitments/actions (even if not prescriptive) couched/annexed in a legally binding instrument. Few of the major emitters will countenance this kind of lack of parity. So we will have very poor coverage of relevant GHG. How can one make Plan C attractive to BASIC/ Umbrella group or indeed effective in terms of environmental outcomes? In any case, it is certainly positive that the dominant abandon-Kyoto narrative is being countered with one to reinforce Kyoto, and that has value in itself, even if only symbolic.

  5. Here my take on Durban and beyond;

    · I am not any longer sure how much value there is in legally-binding, economy-wide targets, in particular where they are full of hot air and there is no track-record of them indeed triggering the transformational change in our economies and behavior that is needed to mitigate climate change. We do not need to go to the US, where an increasing part of the political spectrum challenges science, reason and rationality as a basis of policy-making, or to China, which despite a recognition of the problem sees little alternative but to fuel its rapid development with a huge amounts of coal. In a world where Canadian leadership (and lawyers) and declare that the targets of the Kyoto Protocol are not binding since they are not enforceable (!), I am wondering who actually cares whether there is a legally binding target or not. I remember the Canadians have even a national holiday celebrating the UN; still the country left the Kyoto framework when it was not any longer felt to be in line with national interest.

    · That said, the EU situation is different but not because the EU or citizens are so much more enlightened than the rest of the world. It is rather that the particular legal construct of the EU gives the EU Commission powers to facilitate treaty compliance. It is also that the EU has the (dis)advantage of having created a bureaucracy that is extremely powerful without facing to face the problem of democratic accountability. That means in the EU legally-binding targets actually trigger policy change, but in countries where such change has to be supported by the electoral vote, targets will always have to be aligned with policy priorities, otherwise they will just be ignored.

    · MRV and accounting frameworks are extremely important. Those frameworks jointly with the –possibly reformed – institutions and mechanisms created by the KP should certainly survive; I agree that there is absolutely no use in engaging in a process of forming institutions with very similar roles and functions again. This would be a waste of time; time that we don’t have.

    · Despite the importance of accounting appropriately for baseline emissions and progress, the regime and negotiations should start facilitating action rather than spending most of its time talking about process and measurement. What we need are policy processes that challenge the paradigm of the industrial revolution, that discuss how a whole economy can be transformed. I am currently in Costa Rica, I think this country is the closest to this process, it happens to be a developing country without a target. It may also be very special, but neither my home country (Germany) nor the countries where I have legal residence (US, but also NL, have embarked in a process that would challenge the essential link between emissions and development).

    · In that sense I think that nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs jointly with subnational engagement) may hold promise. I am following the process of formulating NAMAs in a number of African and Latin American countries quite closely. While the ambition is limited, it is refreshing to start the engagement process with thinking about change, about policies, political costs and implementation rather than with inviting consultants to that teach methodologies and MRV. In his respect, the NAMA process may at the end prove to be more effective than REDD+ where there is the risk that the community yet again spends most of its effort, time and money on MRV and reference levels rather than engaging in a process that would tackle the drivers of deforestation.

    · That all said, the general outlook for the climate and the process is rather bleak. I may just need a break, but at the moment, honestly, I do not see how any treaty can help us (but I will continue to fight for one). Within the boundaries of international law, I fail to see how we ensure global ambition, equity and effectiveness, while creating incentives for real change on the ground.

  6. Hi Michael ZC, and all.

    Here are the details for Benito’s Plan C:

    Plan C – the role of the Kyoto Protocol in a legally binding outcome
    available at


    The majority of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change still would like to see their current negotiations lead to a legally binding outcome. But opinions differ on what form this outcome should have. Should it be a new treaty under the UNFCCC that complements the Kyoto Protocol (Plan A), or one that supersedes it (Plan B)? This new brief OIES argues that both are unlikely to succeed, and that the quest for a legally binding outcome should abandon the idea of a new treaty altogether and instead make do with what we have got: the Kyoto Protocol (in a suitably modified form).

  7. A further PS:

    It is always tempting to imagine a world that is not constrained by US politics. But is China ready, at this point in its political evolution, to accept graduation to greater responsibility without a manifestation of “leadership” from the US? And will the KP framework itself not raise a lusty chorus of “no new commitments for developing countries”?

    What CPH/Cancun have done is move the (universal) Convention back to centre stage, outlining a set of mechanisms to enable it to deliver on its initial promise. Getting those mechanisms to work as effective game-changers, responding to the genuine needs of common-or-garden developing countries, should strengthen the political foundation for another shot at raising mitigation ambition through the 2013-2015 review.

    Durban must show results in institution-building. Not very sexy, perhaps, but it is what we have.

    That said, Benito: What is your Plan C?

    Michael ZC

  8. I guess this piece is aimed at an inner circle of specialists; it is not easy to digest.
    It appears to be EU/KP focused, whereas the real deal for increasing mitigation ambition is outside that frame, i.e. US-China. I don’t see US joining any effort under KP, even if the aim is to redesign it.
    More could be made of the need for Durban to advance significantly on the Green Climate Fund and the $100bn per annum commitment. E.g. by clarifying what is meant by “mobilizing” that money. We’ve seen enough of empty funding vessels and of offsets disguised as finance.

    PS I agree on the importance of a common accounting system, that should logically be built on what we already have under the KP. (cf. Recent Oz-Norway paper) I recall from CPH strong US resistance even to that degree of recognition of KP. Has that position changed?

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