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Durban: l'analisi del Wuppertal


Progressive Countries Score a Realpolitik Victory in Durban While the Real Climate Continues to Heat Up

A first assessment of the climate conference in Durban by Wolfgang Sterk

19 December 2011

Setting a new record, the Durban climate conference finished in early Sunday morning, oneand a half days after its scheduled end. The fruit of all the overtime labour was agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, a mandate to launch negotiations on a new comprehensive climate treaty, and decisions to push forward near-term climate action on the basis of the Cancún Agreements.

How to judge the Durban outcome depends on what yardstick one uses: what is possible in terms of Realpolitik, or what is necessary to actually prevent dangerous climate change?
In terms of Realpolitik, Durban probably achieved the maximum of what was possible. The
conference decided to launch a new dedicated process to negotiate a new comprehensive climate agreement, “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force“. So progressive countries succeeded in getting a roadmap for a new treaty, despite the strong objection from in particular the USA, India and China. Indeed, there was a very real possibility of getting no outcome at all and it is doubtful whether it would have been possible to put the process back on its feet after another such blow two years after Copenhagen.

The new “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” is supposed to start work in 2012 and finish as early as possible but not later than 2015. However, the new agreement is supposed to come into effect and be implemented only from 2020. Until a new agreement takes effect, which will hopefully be in 2020, all there is are the non-binding pledges from Copenhagen and Cancún and these are much too weak to achieve the 2°C target.

The decision therefore stipulates that the new process shall raise the level of ambition and that there shall be workshops to that effect in 2012. However, there already were such workshops this year and they delivered rather few results.

In addition, while a lot of the reporting asserts that countries agreed to work out a deal that will force everyone in a legally binding manner to reduce emissions after 2020, that is unfortunately not true. The agreement is “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“. However, a legally binding treaty must not necessarily contain legally binding commitments. The force of an agreement does not depend on what label it carries but on what content it has. The Framework Convention is a legally binding treaty that is applicable to all its Parties but it lacks legally binding emission reduction commitments. The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding treaty applicable to all its Parties, which includes most of the world's developing countries, but it only defines legally binding emission targets for industrialised countries.

The Durban agreement says that there is supposed to be a new legally binding agreement but it does not say anywhere that this agreement is supposed to include legally binding emission reduction commitments, so this question is still completely open. And it can be expected that the USA and others will continue to fight tooth and nail against having legally binding emission reduction commitments in the new agreement. Therefore, while Durban re-opened the door to a regime with enforceable reduction targets that seemed to have been closed in Copenhagen, the road to get there will be long and difficult.

It is also clear that the outcomes of the international process are driven by national politics, not vice versa. No government is going to let itself be compelled by an international treaty to cut emissions faster than it wants to. International agreements are reflections of national will, not something that can be used to force countries to do things that they are unwilling to do – as evidenced by Canada’s decision to leave the Kyoto Protocol and the US decision to not ratify the Protocol in the first place. The problem is hence not the international process but the lack of national will to tackle climate change seriously. Most governments are simply not willing to challenge vested interests whose business models rely on using fossil fuels. This will only change if a critical mass of voters and “green” businesses becomes loud enough to constitute a counterweight to the incumbent industries.

The UN climate process is nevertheless indispensable as it is the only forum where the small and most vulnerable countries can make their voices heard. And as Durban has once again shown these voices are indispensable for aiming at a sufficiently strong level of ambition. It was the alliance between the EU, small island states, least developed countries and other progressive developing countries that forced the USA, China and India to agree to launching a new process towards a legally binding agreement. It is also undeniable that ultimately a global deal is needed to achieve sufficiently ambitious emission reductions and prevent emissions leakage.

And the process does deliver results. While Copenhagen failed to deliver the anticipated climate treaty, the summit was not without successes if seen in a broader context. The deadline imposed by the Copenhagen conference injected a significant momentum into national discussions. One country after another elaborated domestic targets and actions, and presented them to the international audience. The run-up to Copenhagen hence resulted in a much better understanding of national mitigation potentials, available policy options and actions that countries are prepared to take. This momentum would hardly have materialised without the positive pressure exerted in the run-up to Copenhagen. Indeed, who would have expected a mere three years ago that countries such as China and India would put forward mitigation targets? And in addition to the big-picture issues, Durban delivered further results on how to translate these pledges into actual actions, and on how to do so in a transparent manner.

However, the question is what is the best route to achieve a sufficiently ambitious global outcome. Over the last 20 years the approach has been to organise all the world’s countries into a global convoy. But in a convoy the speed is determined by the slowest ship. And unfortunately the UN climate convoy includes very many countries such as the USA, Canada and Russia which have nothing to bring to the table and countries such as Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries whose sole intention is to block progress as much as possible.

The amount of energy that is required just to keep Saudi Arabia in line is enormous.

Those countries who are actually serious about tackling climate change should therefore maybe consider speeding ahead of the convoy in order to put pressure on the laggards to follow after. One of the main reasons why progress is so slow is that many people are not convinced that it is actually possible to sharply reduce emissions without wrecking the economy. Pioneers that show that it is possible are hence critical. What is necessary is to create a virtuous cycle where the international process serves to keep the climate issue on the agenda and serves as catalyst for bottom-up processes, which then in turn serve to inject further momentum into the international process.

It is hence encouraging that the shift to a green economy is increasingly picking up steam, even in those countries whose national governments are the greatest blockers of the international process. For instance, California, the largest US state, this year decided to introduce an emission trading system, and other US states and Canadian provinces will probably follow suit. Another emission trading system is already in operation on the US East Coast. China is investing massively in energy efficiency and renewable energy. In 2010 it jumped to first place in terms of installed wind power capacity and will probably set another renewables record this year. It also just increased its 2015 target for solar power by 50%.

Globally, investments in renewables for the first time outstripped investments in fossil fuels in 2010. Over time these developments will unavoidably change the narrative at the political level as well.

However, so far these developments are taking place below most people’s radar screen. The public image of climate policy is one of excruciatingly small progress. It might therefore be worthwhile if those countries who are actually serious about tackling climate change formed a high-profile climate leaders’ alliance to bring together all their efforts in a publicly visible manner and further deepen their collaboration, and to in this way inject some much-needed momentum into the UN climate process. Next year’s Rio+20 summit should be just the opportunity for such an undertaking.

The Wuppertal Institute will shortly publish a more detailed analysis of the Durban conference.

Tratto da www.wupperinst.org