What are the top four conditions for success in Durban? USA! USA! USA! USA!

There is a long list of conditions for success at the UN climate conference in Durban this December – “Number one, number two, number three and number four is the United States has to assume its responsibility.” Said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat according to a Bloomberg report.

She also talks up the possibility of the EU agreeing to a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, citing the EU position as being “exceedingly helpful”. While the EU has indeed signaled openness to agreeing on a second Kyoto period, it’s clearly not their preferred approach and they are putting up a lot of conditions. Yesterday’s EU Environment Council had this rather convoluted language to offer:

In the context of a stepwise approach, (the Council) STRESSES the need to see balanced progress and robust outcomes within and across both the Kyoto Protocol and Convention tracks at the Durban Conference; While reiterating its preference for a single global and comprehensive legally-binding instrument, CONFIRMS its openness to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol as part of a transition to a wider legally-binding framework, provided that:

– the essential elements of the Kyoto Protocol are preserved, its environmental integrity is guaranteed and its architecture is further enhanced, including on Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), surplus of Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) and marketbased mechanisms as set out below;

– the Convention addresses the key outstanding issues and determines a roadmap, including a timeline with a final date and process taking into account the 2013-2015 review, for encompassing all the outcomes of this track in a multilateral, rules-based legal framework engaging all Parties, with convergence with the Kyoto Protocol track after a second commitment period; EMPHASISES that such a framework should include mitigation commitments from in particular all major economies, in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

Unfortunately, Parties’ views on what such a roadmap and an ultimate legal framework should look like are poles apart. In particular, the USA wants to completely renegotiate the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the basis of all international climate policy. As the NYT reports, US negotiator Pershing

noted that the United States can only consider an agreement that applies with equal force to all the major economies; binds major developing countries to commitments that are not dependent on funding; and eliminates or redefines the categories that have for 20 years treated emerging powerhouses like India and China in the same manner as poverty-stricken African nations.

Not quite compatible with the Convention, which says things like


Noting that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs,

Art. 3.1

The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

Art. 4.1
All Parties, taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, shall:

(a) Develop, periodically update, publish and make available to the Conference of the Parties, in accordance with Article 12, national inventories of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, using comparable methodologies to be agreed upon by the Conference of the Parties;

(b) Formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national and, where appropriate, regional programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, and measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change;


Art. 4.3
The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in Annex II shall provide new and additional financial resources (…), including for the transfer of technology, needed by the developing country Parties to meet the agreed full incremental costs of implementing measures that are covered by paragraph 1 of this Article.

Art. 4.7

The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.

The Convention also called on industrialised countries to stabilise their emissions at 1990 levels by 2000 – and US emissions increased substantially. The fact of the matter is that the US doesn’t have anything to put on the table in Durban. In its current domestic situation it probably wouldn’t even get the Convention through the Senate a second time.

So the condition for success may actually not be whether the US lives up to its responsibility. The question may rather be whether more progressive countries will continue to wait for the US or whether instead they will be able to muster the courage to move ahead without Washington. As they did when Bush withdrew the US from the Kyoto Protocol.

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