There is no concealing the fact that getting an agreement at Durban was one of the most painful and protracted processes in COP history. On the Saturday after the COP was due to have wrapped up, negotiators were becoming desperate. Predictions that all political will had been used up at Cancun seemed to be playing out. However, to the surprise of many at such a late stage in the negotiations, Sunday December 11th, 2011 ushered in what may pave the way forward for a new era in the global response to climate change after 2020.
Highlights of the Durban outcome include:
- Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action in order to “launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC applicable to all Parties” and which will come into effect from 2020.
- Decisions under AWG-KP, including that the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol shall begin on 1 January 2013 and end either on 31 December 2017 or 31 December 2020, to be decided by the AWG-KP at its seventeenth session (i.e. next year).
- Decisions under the AWG-LCA including in respect of:
- Shared vision
- Nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions by developed country Parties
- UNFCCC biennial reporting guidelines for developed country Parties
- Modalities and procedures for international assessment and review
- Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties
- A Registry for nationally appropriate mitigation actions
- Modalities and guidelines for international consultation and analysis
- International aviation and maritime transport
- New Market Mechanisms
- Review of the adequacy of the long-term global goal of limiting warming below 2˚C.
- Agreeing the governing instrument of the Green Climate Fund (GCF)
- Despite a desire shown by some parties that the CDM should be discontinued in the absence of a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period (a scenario which seems to have been avoided), a decision that reconfirms that the use of the market mechanisms shall be supplemental to domestic action and that domestic action shall thus constitute a significant element of the effort made by developed countries to reach their commitments.
Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action
One of the key issues that has loomed large over the climate negotiations has been the legal form of any future climate agreement and the extent to which it will be legally binding under international law. There has been significant lack of political will from major emitter developing countries to take on future legally binding obligations to reduce their emissions. In turn, this has led developed countries, particularly the US, to question whether they should also take on legally binding targets to reduce emissions.
It seemed for some time as if this issue would not be resolved at Durban, and the implications of this threw into question the ability to reach any substantive outcomes for Durban. In last-ditch efforts to salvage discussions early on Sunday morning, it was decided to:
“launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change applicable to all Parties, through a subsidiary body under the Convention hereby established and to be known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action;”
This will be remembered as the most significant outcome of the Durban negotiations, and may serve to unlock negotiations of such an outcome in future years. Helpful as this agreed language will be, we predict years of rocky negotiations in fleshing it out. One person’s “legal force” is another person’s “not very forceful at all”. However, this language is stronger than has been used in the past, including in respect of the Bali Roadmap agreed in 2007.
The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (AWG-DPEA is likely to be added as the latest climate change acronym)will start its work as a matter of urgency in the first half of 2012.
It was decided that the AWG-DPEA shall complete its work as early as possible but no later than 2015 in order to adopt this protocol, legal instrument or legal outcome at COP21 and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.
As significant areas of such agreement still need to be resolved, it was also decided at Durban to extend the AWG-LCA for one year in order for it to continue its work and reach the agreed outcome pursuant to the Bali Action Plan. The AWG-LCA will then be terminated. We note however that the AWG-LCA was intended to be terminated at Copenhagen in 2009.
Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol at its sixteenth session
“Saving the Kyoto Protocol” has been a significant negotiation priority for many developing countries, despite the fact that industrialised country emissions will not represent the majority of global emissions going forwards.
In another major development from Durban, it was decided that the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol shall begin on 1 January 2013 and end either on 31 December 2017 or 31 December 2020, to be decided by the AWG-KP at its seventeenth session.
However, the parties were only able to “take note of” the quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets to be implemented by Parties and of the intention of these Parties to convert these targets to quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives (QELROs) for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. In the absence of understanding about what underlies such QELROs, the Parties are invited to submit information on their QELROs for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol by 1 May 2012.
Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention
Those who have been following the international negotiations for some time will be aware that the AWG-LCA has been working to agree a broader climate change agreement under the UNFCCC for several years now. The work of the AWG-LCA will continue, but a number of important areas under the AWG-LCA were subject to a Decision at Durban.
In the absence of stringency in terms of existing emissions reduction pledges and commitments, the Parties agreed to continue to work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050, and to consider it at COP18. The Parties also agreed to continue to work towards identifying a time frame for the global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions and to consider it at COP18.
Nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions by developed country Parties
Quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets to be implemented by Parties contained in document FCCC/SB/2011/INF.1/Rev.1 were noted by the Parties.
The Parties decided to continue the process of clarifying these targets in 2012, with the objective of understanding assumptions and conditions related to individual targets. This process will involve submission of relevant information using a common template, to the UNFCCC secretariat by 5 March 2012 to be compiled into a miscellaneous document as well as workshops.
UNFCCC biennial reporting guidelines for developed country Parties
Guidelines for biennial reporting for developed country Parties were adopted. It was decided that developed country Parties shall use the UNFCCC biennial reporting guidelines for the preparation of their first biennial reports and submit their first biennial reports to the secretariat by 1 January 2014, and their second and subsequent biennial reports two years after the due date of a full national communication (i.e. in 2016, 2020). Parties included in Annex I to the Convention (Annex I Parties) shall submit a full national communication every four years.
Modalities and procedures for international assessment and review
The Parties also adopted modalities and procedures for international assessment and review (IAR). It was agreed that the first round of IAR should commence two months after the submission of the first round of biennial reports by developed country Parties.
Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties
It was decided that non-Annex I Parties should submit their first biennial update report by December 2014. Least developed country Parties and small island developing States may submit biennial update reports at their discretion.
The Guidelines for the preparation of biennial update reports agreed at Durban should be used as a basis to provide guidance to an operating entity of the financial mechanism for funding the preparation of biennial update reports from non-Annex I Parties and, in the case of the first biennial update report, the Global Environment Facility.
The question of establishing some kind of system or registry to record what developing countries are seeking to do and attempt to match such actions with finance has been under discussion for some time.
It was decided at Durban that a registry of nationally appropriate mitigation actions should be developed. This should be developed as a dynamic, web-based platform, managed by a dedicated team in the UNFCCC secretariat. Participation in the registry will be voluntary and only information submitted expressly for inclusion in the registry should be recorded.
Modalities and guidelines for international consultation and analysis
A contentious issue for many developing countries has been demands by developed countries to be able to scrutinise the implementation of developing country emissions reduction actions.
It was decided at Durban that the first rounds of international consultation and analysis (ICA) will be conducted for developing country Parties commencing within six months of the submission of the first round of biennial update reports by developing country Parties. The frequency of participation in subsequent rounds of ICA will be determined by the frequency of the submission of biennial update reports.
The Parties also adopted modalities and procedures for ICA. They will be revised based on experiences gained in the first round of ICA, no later than 2017.
International aviation and maritime transport
Another “bete noire” of the climate negotiations has been the question of how to deal with international aviation and maritime emissions. This question was dodged once more, with an agreement to continue consideration of these issues. ICAO and IMO are likely to remain the significant drivers for progress in this area, though the European Commission is currently evaluating the inclusion of shipping in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
A REDD mechanism was established at Cancun. At Durban, the Parties agreed that regardless of the source or type of financing, REDD activities should be consistent with a number of protections, including the safeguards, in accordance with relevant decisions of the COP.
The Parties recalled that for developing country Parties undertaking results-based actions to obtain and receive results-based finance, these actions should be fully measured, reported and verified and meet other key requirements such as safeguards. It was also agreed that results-based finance provided to developing country Parties that is new, additional and predictable may come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources. The reference to private finance is significant, as many have questioned the role of private finance in REDD.
After a long and arduous negotiation process it was also agreed that, in the light of the experience gained from current and future demonstration activities, market-based approaches could be developed to support results-based actions by developing countries. This is an important step forward for the many developed and developing countries that support the development of market-based approaches that meet key principles such as environmental integrity, robust MRV and compliance with safeguards. The decision also calls for submissions by 5 March 2012 on modalities and procedures for financing results-based actions and sets out a work plan to move to a decision on these at COP18.
The Parties also agreed a separate decision in respect of guidance on systems for providing information on how safeguards are addressed and respected and modalities relating to forest reference emission levels and forest reference levels.
New Market Mechanisms
The parties have agreed to “define a new market-based mechanism”, operating under the guidance and authority of the COP, to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions, bearing in mind different circumstances of developed and developing countries. Subject to conditions to be elaborated, this mechanism may assist developed countries to meet part of their mitigation targets or commitments under the Convention.
We note that significant amounts of text had been tabled in respect of this issue, and that more detail had been provided during Durban, including with respect to a “framework”. The US in particular was concerned about the mechanisms being cast whilst any domestic offset schemes were still under development.
This decision seems useful in preserving a space for the role of market mechanisms in the future (as had already been loosely acknowledged at Cancun), but does not provide significant clarity about their role or nature. In any event, the establishment of such new mechanisms appears to be meaningless in the absence of significant ambition to reduce emissions.
The provision of climate finance has been another issue which has served both to unite and polarise discussions. It was decided that the Standing Committee on finance shall report and make recommendations to the COP, for its consideration, at each COP on all aspects of its work.
It was also decided that the Standing Committee shall assist the COP in exercising its functions with respect to the financial mechanism of the Convention in terms of improving coherence and coordination in the delivery of climate change financing, rationalization of the financial mechanism, mobilization of financial resources, and measurement, reporting and verification of support provided to developing country Parties.
The parties also decided to undertake a work programme on long-term finance in 2012, including workshops. The aim of the work programme is to contribute to the on-going efforts to scale up the mobilization of climate change finance after 2012. It will analyze options for the mobilization of resources from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources and relevant analytical work on climate-related financing needs of developing countries.
The analysis will draw upon relevant reports including that of the High-level Advisory Group on Climate Financing (AGF) and the report on mobilising climate finance for the G20 and the assessment criteria in the reports, and will also take into account lessons learned from fast-start finance for 2010 - 2012 which was pledged at Copenhagen and Cancun. The AGF has been widely criticised for its lack of ambition, but many have praised the more thorough work done by the workstreams that actually fed into the AGF report.
It was agreed at Copenhagen and Cancun that a review of the adequacy of the long-term global goal of limiting warming below 2˚C be undertaken. However, parties have been concerned that the Review is not being taken seriously and will lack teeth. It was confirmed that the first review should start in 2013 and should be concluded by 2015, when the COP shall take appropriate action based on the review. The Parties will continue working on the scope of the review and considering its further definition, with a view to taking a decision at COP18.
Green Climate Fund – report of the Transitional Committee
A major step forward for the Parties was the approval of the governing instrument for the Green Climate Fund. This issue was held up by the US at the beginning of Durban. The Parties decided to designate the Green Climate Fund as an operating entity of the Financial Mechanism of the Convention.
Arrangements will be concluded between the COP and the GCF at COP18 to ensure that it is accountable to and functions under the guidance of the Conference of the Parties to support projects, programmes, policies and other activities in developing country Parties. The GCF’s Board is requested to operationalize the Fund in an expedited manner.
Emissions trading and the project-based mechanisms
In a separate decision under the Kyoto Protocol relating to market mechanisms, it was reconfirmed that the use of the mechanisms shall be supplemental to domestic action and that domestic action shall thus constitute a significant element of the effort made by each Party included in Annex I to meet its quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments.
The outcome of the Durban climate talks will not at this stage prompt additional emission reductions before 2020 and there remains significant political reluctance to beefing up emission reductions commitments. Whether action to reduce global emissions from 2020 will actually be taken remains to be seen.
The EU’s negotiating position to create a “roadmap” which would allow it to sign up to a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period has been successful. This is a bit of a coup for the EU, which was not successful in imposing itself at Copenhagen or Cancun. The EU is likely to resume talks early next year about moving to a commitment to reduce its emissions to 30% below 1990 levels. However, as Durban did not lead to more stringent pledges being put on the table, but instead provided more clarity on the legal form of such future pledges, this may yet prove an uphill struggle.
Funds should be able to get moving under the Green Climate Fund relatively quickly. Provided that they do, this should help underscore confidence from developing countries that developed countries are “doing their bit”.
Durban was a torrid time for the carbon markets, with many questioning the role of the CDM in the absence of a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period. Not only does this potential absence seem to have been staved off, but the significant role of the market mechanisms (both new and existing) was highlighted in two separate decisions.