COP 17: Will Durban deliver?

The next two weeks will see nearly 20,000 people descending on Durban for this year’s Climate Change negotiations.  What might they achieve? Not much, if you believe some of the pessimistic assessments in the press. Are the gloomsters right? No, not necessarily.

What could be achieved?

Here goes… starting with the practical decisions that are on the agenda, and could affect peoples’ lives fairly quickly:

·    A global system of technology centers that would provide access to knowledge and capacity building in developing countries for climate smart technology – which in turn could yield more investment, more jobs and lower costs.

·    A system that would help developing countries prepare and finance their adaptation plans.

·    A decision to incorporate agriculture fully into the Convention (something that, oddly, has never been done), allowing poor farmers to benefit from climate finance.

·    Simpler rules on how to credit greenhouse gases from forests, in turn making it simpler to prevent deforestation, and for forest dwellers to access support.

·    Common rules allowing city-wide approaches to dealing with climate change. (Many cities are showing more leadership than countries).

·    New eligibility procedures that would help bring sustainable energy to the 65% of African households that currently have no electricity.

·    Agreements that would encourage the development of a long-term networked carbon market that would lower the costs of addressing climate change and bring finance and technology to developing countries.

There is a risk that these measures will be crowded out by the big political decisions at Durban. This would be a mistake. While not game-changers individually, they are important building blocks towards an eventual global deal.

Finance and Kyoto

On top of these practical measures, of course, are the two big political issues at Durban: The Green Climate Fund, and the post-2012 arrangements.

The Green Fund has a good chance of being launched, and should be one of the key legacies from Durban. Crucial here is that it be created in a manner and tone that will promote scale and effectiveness.  As structured, resources for the Fund will be from voluntary contributions – so it’s essential that it is seen by all as efficient and competent to do the heavy lifting required.

With Kyoto expiring at the end of 2012, it’s understandable that the pre-Durban buzz as been dominated by what happens next. The past few weeks have indicated some hope for a compromise, whereby a timeline towards negotiating a comprehensive deal might be agreed, and in return Europe would sign up to a new commitment period under Kyoto. There’s all to play for on this. As a long shot, delegates in Durban could agree to a global target for GHG emissions for 2050, and a “peaking year” for global emission (by 2020 if there’s a serious chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees Centigrade), but don’t count on this.

The World of Action

Perhaps the greatest hope comes from the thousands at COP 17 who won’t be negotiating UNFCCC text. These are the private sector, civil society, researchers and international organizations. Their job is to move forward the world of action, sharing experiences and analysis, launching new programs, and doing deals. The pace of innovation on both adaptation and mitigation is remarkable – and now needs help from internationally agreed rules in order to scale up.  The more the negotiators look over the shoulders at this group, and see that success is possible and affordable, the better the prospects will be.

By Andrew Steer
World Bank’s Special Envoy for Climate Change

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