Conference backs 'fragile' deal on climate change


THE UN climate change conference finally concluded as dawn broke over Durban yesterday with a deal – hailed by some as a historic breakthrough – that would put the world on course to conclude an international agreement “with legal force” by 2015.

After a marathon round of negotiations that went well into “injury time” – as the conference president, South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, put it – exhausted ministers and delegates cheered when she finally brought down the gavel.

Urging delegates to adopt the “compromise package”, Ms Nkoana-Mashabane warned them that “this multilateral system remains fragile and will not survive another shock”, and said there would be “opportunities in future to raise the [level of] ambition.”

The Durban Platform, as it has been named officially, also kept the Kyoto Protocol alive, with the EU pledging to renew it after the end of next year at least until 2017 and possibly 2020, with developed countries such as Norway and Switzerland joining in.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told a 6am press briefing that Europe’s strategy had worked because, for the first time, all major economies had agreed to its roadmap for negotiations to conclude “not later than” 2015 on a deal to take effect in 2020.

Virtually sleepless for 48 hours, Hedegaard played a key role in convincing the head of India’s delegation, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan to go along with the compromise, which also included the Green Climate Fund to aid developing countries.

The EU had sought a protocol or other “legal instrument” under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the conclusion in 2015, but eventually agreed to this being watered down to the more nebulous “agreed outcome with legal force”.

Ms Natarajan won enthusiastic applause from bleary-eyed delegates when she told the plenary that, while India was “not happy” with the final text, “in the spirit of flexibility and accommodation shown by all, we have shown our flexibility . . . and we agree to adopt it.”

The US delegation also reluctantly went along with it, fearing where the Durban Platform might lead. “This is a very significant package. None of us likes everything in it. Believe me, there is plenty the United States is not thrilled about,” said its climate envoy, Todd Stern.

UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres said: “I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose – a long-term solution to climate change . . . that has met all major issues.” In addition to “charting the way forward” on reducing emissions, she said the Durban deal would also lead to “full implementation” of the package to support developing nations agreed last year in Cancún, including the Green Climate Fund and other important measures.

A spokesman for UN secretarygeneral Ban Ki-moon said he also welcomed the package, saying: “The Durban Platform represents a significant and forward agreement that defines how the international community will address climate change in the coming years.”

Reaction from activists was negative. Harjeet Singh, of ActionAid, said it was “disgraceful that a climate summit held in Africa delivered so little for Africans”, and the US “should be ashamed” that its role in the talks “effectively rendered the Green Climate Fund an empty vault”.  According to Oxfam’s Celine Charveriat, “the Durban Platform can only be described as a major disappointment”, and she said the blame “lies squarely on the shoulders of the US and other countries like Canada, Japan and Australia who dragged their feet from start to finish.”

Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, also hit out at “blockers led by the US” for inserting “a “vital get-out clause that could easily prevent the next big climate deal being legally binding”, saying this loophole “could be a disaster”.

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún said: “We need to recognise that even the best possible outcome from Durban still only takes us half way down the road we need to travel. We must . . . raise ambition levels and shorten timeframes. 2020 is far too late.”

Trócaire’s Eamonn Meehan asked “how the politics in Durban can be so disconnected from the reality of the people of Africa who are already suffering the impacts of climate change”.

“We are running out of time to head off dangerous climate change,” he said. Alden Meyer, policy director of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Sicientists, said: “The good news is we avoided a train wreck. The bad news is that we did very little here to affect the emissions curve”. There were record emissions last year.

Next year’s UN climate change conference is to be held in Qatar which holds the dubious record of having the world’s highest annual per capita emissions of carbon dioxide, at 53.5 tonnes. Ireland is in 36th place with per capita emissions of 9.8 tonnes.