Durban, 11 December 2011 Several key and important steps forward were agreed at the UN climate convention meeting that closed today in Durban, including an agreement to negotiate a new and more inclusive treaty and the establishment of a Green Climate Fund.
But the outcome in the South African coastal city has left the world with some serious and urgent challenges if a global temperature rise is to be kept under 2° Celsius in the 21st century.
The ‘Bridging the Emissions Gap’ report, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with climate modeling centres across the globe, underlined in the run-up to Durban that the best available science indicates that greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2020.
It also underlined that annual global emissions need to be around 44 Gt of C02 equivalent by around that date in order to have a running chance of achieving a trajectory that halves those emissions by 2050 below 2005 levels.
The report also concluded that bridging the divide is economically and technologically do-able if nations raise their emission reduction ambitions and adopt more stringent low-carbon policies across countries and sectors.
The key question of the Durban outcome is whether what has been decided will match the science and lead to a peaking of global emissions before 2020 to maintain the world on a path to keep a temperature increase below 2° Celsius.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The outcomes of Durban provide a welcome boost for global climate action. They reflect the growing, and in some quarters unexpected, determination of countries to act collectively. This provides a clear signal and predictability to economic planners, businesses and investors about the future of low-carbon economies. A number of specific commitments agreed in Durban also indicate that previous decisions on financing, technology and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) are moving to implementation.”
“The big question many will ask is how this will translate into actual emission reductions and by when? Whatever answer will emerge in the coming months, Durban has kept the door open for the world to respond to climate change based on science and common sense rather than political expediency,” he added.
By some estimates the cost of cutting emissions will cost four times more beyond 2020 than they would cost today with the price rising over time.
By some estimates the current emissions trajectories, unless urgently reversed, could lead to a global temperature rise of 3.5° Celsius or more sometime by the end of the century.
“The Government of South Africa and the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change should be congratulated for what has been achieved, given the low expectations in the months and weeks before Durban,” added Mr. Steiner.
Today the European Union and several other countries agreed to continue the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 if other governments, including major emitters from developed and developing ones, agreed to negotiate a new legally binding treaty with deeper emission reductions by 2015 to come into force afterwards.
The continuation of the Kyoto Protocol during this new negotiation phase means the provisions of this existing emission reduction treaty, ranging from emissions trading to the Clean Development Mechanism, will also continue providing some benefit to the climate and the ambitions of developing economies over the near term.
Green Climate Fund, Adaptation and Technology
Durban also made progress on the decision at last year’s UN climate convention meeting in Cancun, Mexico, to establish a Green Climate Fund.
The operationalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a key step forward as is reconfirmation of the commitment of mobilizing US&dollar100 billion to support developing countries by 2020.
Readiness actions in developing countries will be a vital part of helping prepare for the investments that will eventually flow from the GCF. Other steps forward included operationalizing Cancun agreements on adaptation and technology.
In Durban governments agreed to establish an Adaptation Committee and a process that will lead to the establishment of a Climate Technology Centre and Network with likely funding from the Global Environment Facility.
“The movements forward on the Cancun agreements in respect to adaptation and climate technology institutions are welcome, as is the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund. But the core question of whether more than 190 nations can cooperate in order to peak and bring down emissions to the necessary level by 2020 remains open-it is a high risk strategy for the planet and its people,” said Mr. Steiner.
“Nationally many governments are acting as are companies, cities and individual citizens. In 2010, over US$210 billion was invested in renewable energy, for example. But this bottom-up approach needs a top to which it can aim-and a time line for building that top is narrowing ever year,” he added.