The Durban Agenda II: What Near-Term Action to Combat Climate Change?

Countries have been negotiating the future of international climate policy since 2005. The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires in 2012. Considering that a peak in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions must occur in about 2015-2020 if global warming is to be held below the dangerous threshold of 2°C, it is necessary to reach an ambitious and robust agreement on the future climate regime as soon as possible.

The next UN climate conference will take place from 28 November to 9 December 2011 in Durban, South Africa. The conference will revolve around 2 key sets of issues:

  • The long-term perspective: The future of the Kyoto Protocol and a roadmap for a future agreement
  • The near-term perspective: Decisions to implement concrete near-term actions

After a previous post looked at the long-term perspective this post will look at the near-term issues.

The Near-Term Perspective
In addition to clarifying the long-term perspective the Durban conference should enable near-term action on the building blocks of the Bali Action Plan: mitigation (i.e. emission reductions), adaptation to the impacts of climate change, finance and technology.

Emission Reductions

The broad agreement on keeping global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels at most was one of the few advances of the Copenhagen conference. A series of reports that came out after Copenhagen unanimously conclude that the pledges countries made under the Copenhagen Accord fall at least 5-10 Gigatonnes short of what is needed to maintain a good chance of staying below 2°C. In particular the pledges of industrialised countries fall far short of the reduction of 25-40% by 2020 compared to 1990 considered in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report, especially when taking into account the various loopholes that exist under the Kyoto Protocol. One of the largest loopholes is the presence of “hot air”, the surplus assigned amount units (AAUs) allocated to the Central and Eastern European economies in transition (EIT). The AAUs of many of these countries exceed their emissions by far even without mitigation efforts. For example, the Kyoto targets of Russia and the Ukraine are stabilisation of emissions at 1990 levels. However, due to the economic collapse in the 1990s Russia’s current emissions are about 30% below 1990 levels and the Ukraine’s even 50%. According to the Kyoto rules, these surpluses can be carried over to the next commitment period, thus weakening the necessity to reduce emissions even in the years to come. The targets Russia and the Ukraine have pledged for 2020 would create further surpluses: While Russia has pledged a target of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, the Ukraine has pledged 20%. This target implies that even without the surplus AAUs carried over from the first commitment period, Russia and the Ukraine could in fact still increase their emissions significantly. Another important loophole are the accounting rules for land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). Most Annex I countries have proposed to account their LULUCF emissions based on projections rather than historic emissions. As these projections often include increased logging, countries would thus effectively be able to hide emission increases.

The Cancún Agreements repeated the long-term goal to keep warming below 2ºC and recognised that current ambition levels are inadequate. Durban should therefore agree on a process to determine the assumptions behind countries’ pledges in order to get clarity on what their net emissions will be in 2020, to close the loopholes and increase the level of ambition.

As for developing countries, it was agreed in Cancún that they should take nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs), supported and enabled by climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building support, to achieve a deviation in emissions relative to ‘business as usual’ emissions in 2020. However, clear guidelines on how to develop and assess NAMAs are still missing. These should be supplied by the Durban conference.

Measuring, reporting and verification

Closely linked to the emission reduction package, a further controversy revolves around the question of measuring, reporting and verification (MRV). The Bali negotiation mandate was to negotiate “nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties …, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner“. That is, developing countries agreed in Bali to take verifiable mitigation actions if these are supported by industrialised countries in an equally verifiable manner. However, the details of this deal “MRV for MRV” remain to be worked out. A further MRV question is posed by the non-participation of the USA in the Kyoto Protocol, which has significantly stronger MRV requirements for Annex I countries than the Convention. Annex I countries that have ratified the Protocol have therefore generally desired the Annex I MRV provisions under the Convention to be brought in line with those under the Protocol.

In Cancún, Parties compromised on enhancing both Annex I and non-Annex I MRV but the details are still to be worked out.

Finance and Technology

Financing ways for developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change has been one of the main stumbling stones of the climate negotiations of the previous years. Developing countries stress that, in addition to GHG emission reductions, providing sufficient financial support is the other side of the responsibility of industrialised countries in combating climate change.

While there are various negotiation items, they ultimately all relate to two main topics: mobilisation of the needed amount of financial resources and the institutional structure of funding.

In Copenhagen, developed countries pledged up to 30 billion USD for fast-start finance over three years, and a long-term commitment to “mobilise” 100 billion USD per year “from various sources” by 2020. There was also an agreement in Copenhagen and Cancún to establish a new Green Climate Fund which should channel a substantial share of the 100 billion. Here as well the details are still to be worked out. While a transitional committee was established in Cancún to elaborate the design of the Green Climate Fund and this committee did provide text for Durban (though the USA and Saudi Arabia withheld final agreement), the question how to actually mobilise the 100 billion USD that have been pledged has hardly been discussed in the negotiations.

In the technology area the Cancún conference agreed on the establishment of a new Technology Mechanism. A Technology Executive Committee is provide recommendations on actions on technology, recommend guidance, foster collaboration among public and private stakeholders and play a leading role in the development of technology roadmaps. In addition, a new Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) is to provide advice to Parties, identify best methods and technologies, facilitate training and enhance cooperation with existing initiatives and technology centres, as well as facilitate partnerships of the public and private sector. Here as well the details of how the Technology Mechanism is supposed to work and how it is to be funded are yet to be agreed.

Further crucial issues are combating deforestation in developing countries, which contributes about 20% to global CO2 emissions, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change. But these are not really my area of expertise.

Related Posts:

The Durban Agenda I: What Future Framework for International Climate Policy?

How to Mobilise USD 100 Billion for International Climate Finance?

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