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Durban Climate Deal a Desperate Delay

December 12, 2011

At the weekend, negotiators in Durban spent inevitable sleepless nights so that everyone could finally come to an agreement to negotiate to do something at some point in the future.

That’s about the sum of it, despite the outlook that some observers have that this represents a significant step forward.  Everything of substance has yet to be agreed.

The further delay to action means that greenhouse gas emissions levels will stray into dangerous territory.

In reality, the outcome really only means that a process is still alive.  Those observers that are pleased, are pleased that all Parties, including large developing countries, have agreed to negotiate:  that hope persists and the UN talk fest still has legs.

UNFCCC delegates have four years to agree a globally binding treaty.  The new body which will undertake these discussions is the pithily-named “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action“.

Oh: even if a treaty is reached under these negotiations, then national parliaments may not ratify it. This happened when the US administration agreed to Kyoto under Clinton, but congress refused to ratify.  What is more, it may still be that a change in Government or policy in any significant country may yet lead to them refusing to participate in any negotiation.

The Green Climate Fund was agreed to, which is meant to provide funding to mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries.  Yet it is still unfunded. There are 8 years before it will allegedly disburse $100 billion per annum.  A Standing Committee under the UNFCCC has the job of trying to figure out where the cash will come from.

The tricky part is, that the original concept of rich countries contributing funds to pay developing countries for climate change activities is blatantly an anachronism:  countries previously considered rich are now begging for funds from the fast-growing developing countries.  With continued deleverage in OECD countries likely persisting for years to come, it is hard to see the viability of such a substantial wealth-transfer mechanism in the future.

So the brouhaha about an agreement to negotiate a global deal with legal force by 2015 is as devoid of substance as it sounds.

In the period leading up to a supposed global binding treaty in 2020, countries will get on with their voluntary climate pledges.  Maybe.

The common denominators to prospects of achieving outcomes from any agreed approach are: a public commitment; transparent and comparable tracking and reporting mechanisms; and appropriate penalties and retribution in case of non-compliance.

It’s not like anyone is that scared of compliance measures or penalties under the current Kyoto accords.  There are clear examples of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol missing their targets by a country mile.  It is not clear how any future compliance provisions might work any better, or if countries will be willing to sign up to them.

For that matter, it’s pretty obvious that nations aren’t too worried about (the lack of) penalty instruments associated with other international accords either.  Just think of attitudes towards sanctions under international monetary (Euro) and non-proliferation (nuclear) treaties.

We have a commitment to commit.  We don’t have agreed monitoring, reporting, and verification processes.

As yet, none of the crucial factors for success are in place. Significant barriers persist, but the Durban agreements at least provide a chance that, one day, a global compact will be reached.  Let’s hope it’s not too late.

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