Durban roadmap avoids difficult details

13th December 2011

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The international agreement signed in Durban to work towards a follow up to the Kyoto Protocol has been hailed as a positive step towards a multilateral approach to tackling climate change, but one that lacks definitive actions

Politicians, business leaders and green groups have described the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”, as a sign governments are committed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but the real challenge lies ahead in agreeing the details of carbon reduction targets.

The agreement is seen as particularly positive because it has been signed by both industrialised and developing countries, including for the first time China and India, and commits all 194 UN member countries to developing a new “legal instrument” outlining individual carbon reduction commitments by 2015 and implementing it by 2020.

However, the platform does not include any specifics of emissions reduction targets or the length of the commitment period and some have criticised its planned 2020 start date as potentially too late to restrict global temperature increase to 2ºC.

While agreeing that any global political consensus on a topic as difficult as climate change should be celebrated, David Symons, director at WSP Environment & Energy, said the Durban platform followed other such treaties in putting off the difficult actions for the next regime.

“The platform provides is an anodyne set of words with much of the detail yet to be agreed and the teeth not really coming for eight years,” he said. “We should celebrate the global commitment, but recognise that there has been precious little agreement on actually cutting emissions.”

Rhian Kelly, director for business environment at the CBI, agreed: “Tangible progress towards a global deal in the form of a roadmap and the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol is a great result and shows that the UN process is not dead in the water.

“However, this isn't a deal itself and must be used as the base camp for the mountain we're still to climb.”

While acknowledging that many details were yet to be agreed upon, climate change secretary Chris Huhne, said: “The headline message is clear. The ‘Kyoto architecture’ – the rules and legal framework for managing emissions – have been preserved and can be built on in the future. We still have much to do... But we have taken a clear and vital step toward our goal.”

The agreement should be seen as a positive signal for businesses and investors, of the global commitment to transitioning to a low-carbon economy according to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of UNFCCC.

“Countries, citizens and businesses who have been behind the rising global wave of climate action can now push ahead confidently, knowing that Durban has lit up a broader highway to a low-emission, climate resilient future,” she said.

However, Symons commented: “The platform provides business with some certainty that there is long-term political will in tackling climate change and sustainability, but it is national governments and business that will lead progress on climate change. The platform provides the base, but not the pinnacle.”

Kelly agreed: “We need to keep the momentum going and ensure this roadmap results in something concrete. Businesses have not slowed their pace in managing their emissions, developing new low-carbon products, and investing in new sources of low-carbon energy - we need the same level of ambition from our politicians.”

Alongside the commitment to creating a new treaty, EU nations and a number of other countries agreed to a second phase of the Kyoto protocol, which is due to end next year, extending its remit until 2017. However, the news was followed by the Canadian government confirming it was pulling out of the protocol due to the cost of meeting its carbon reduction obligations, which it predicted as $13.6 billion (Canadian dollars).

Canadian environment minister Peter Kent said: “Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past… We believe a new agreement that will allow us to generate jobs and economic growth represents the way forward.”


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