Outcome at Durban Climate Negotiations Offers Limited Progress

For Immediate Release

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Elliott Negin
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enegin@ucsusa.org

Outcome at Durban Climate Negotiations Offers Limited Progress

WASHINGTON - Nations attending the annual U.N. climate conference reached a last-minute deal early Sunday morning that extends the Kyoto Protocol, launches negotiations on a more comprehensive and ambitious treaty regime to take effect by 2020, and begins to implement decisions made last year in Cancun on adaptation, finance, technology and transparency. Despite these achievements, the outcome of the Durban, South Africa, conference will do little to accelerate near-term emissions reductions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The outcome in Durban falls short of what is needed,” said Alden Meyer, UCS’s director of strategy and policy. “The Durban package preserves the rules-based, legally binding climate regime that experience and history show is needed to address the climate threat. But much more must be done to lift the world’s collective ambition to constrain carbon pollution if we are to have a fighting chance of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.”

The conference made concrete progress in some areas, including the Green Climate Fund, climate technology information sharing networks and the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plus pro-forest activities (REDD+) program.

“Countries teed up important decisions on how to cooperate on financing climate action, sharing clean technology, and protecting forests,” said Angela Anderson, director of the UCS Climate and Energy Program. “These practical decisions detailing how countries work together are essential to achieving emissions reductions and adaptation. Without them, it’s all talk and no action.”

Negotiators agreed on the governance structure for the Green Climate Fund, and several European countries pledged more than $50 million in seed money to establish it. They also reached agreements for a technology-expert panel to begin work, and agreed on criteria and a process for selecting the host institution for a Climate Technology Center, which will spearhead a global information-sharing network. “Together, these initiatives will provide developing countries wider access to modern, clean energy technology and help them adapt to the reality of climate change,” said Rachel Cleetus, UCS’s senior climate economist.

Negotiators also established benchmarks to accurately gauge emissions reductions through the REDD+ program. These benchmarks, known as reference levels, were a significant accomplishment, ensuring that technical experts have a scientifically credible way to determine carbon pollution reductions from forest conservation efforts.

“Though four years in the making, we’ve done incredibly well moving REDD+ forward,” said Doug Boucher, director of the UCS Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “The reference levels are a linchpin of the REDD+ program and the scientific process is vital in implementing them and saving forests while addressing climate change.”

REDD+ negotiators are still struggling with a way to measure if countries are adequately protecting indigenous people and the environment, but they did agree on major sources of REDD+ funding, including markets, foreign aid and the new Green Climate Fund. Negotiations next year will address financing options for REDD+ in more detail. 

The Durban talks made little progress in two key areas. First, there is still a large “ambition gap” between the emissions reduction pledges countries have made to date and the collective reductions needed to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, the goal set by President Obama and other world leaders at the annual U.N. climate conference two years ago in Copenhagen. Climate scientists warn that remaining below 2 degrees C is necessary to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

Second, there is still no agreement on how to ramp up funding for developing countries to deploy clean technologies, reduce deforestation, and adapt to the mounting impacts of climate change. This funding totals about $10 billion a year now, and developed countries pledged in Copenhagen to mobilize $100 billion annually for these activities by 2020.

“Preserving Kyoto and engaging the United States, China, India, and other major nations in a long-term climate treaty regime are important outcomes of the Durban summit,” said Meyer. “But it’s not the full deal the planet needs. That deal would have had much bigger actions on both emissions reductions and finance. Producing a new treaty by 2015 that is both ambitious and fair will take a mix of tough bargaining and a more collaborative spirit than we saw in Durban these past two weeks.”

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The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

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