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An “Agreed Outcome with Legal Force”

An “Agreed Outcome with Legal Force”An agreed outcome with legal force – That’s the major aim of the conferees from the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that wrapped up its work this past weekend in Durban.  What that headline phrase signifies, according to a decision of the parties, is that work will begin immediately “to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” that will drive progress toward substantially mitigating the threat of climate change.  The significance of the new accord, the “Durban Platform,” is that all parties to the Convention have now agreed to work toward a legally binding instrument that requires emission reductions.  That means China, India and other rapidly emerging economies will make a commitment to measurably reduce their greenhouse gases.  That in turn means that the United States can no longer claim that these developing economies are getting a free ride and therefore the U.S. shouldn’t be committed to reductions.

The agreement should be hammered out by no later than 2015 and come into force no later than 2020.  The aim is close “…the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels…”  Absent significant progress in this regard, we are on track, according to some analyses, to a greater increase in temperature than that, with dire consequences.

The Durban Platform also extends the life of the Kyoto Protocol to at least 2017.  This will keep the market-based instruments such as the Clean Development Mechanism and emissions trading up and running.  These programs have had good success, although the hope has been since 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated that they would be greatly expanded.

Further important components of the Durban Platform, as enunciated in this UNFCCC release, are a commitment to begin the operations of the Green Climate Fund in the coming year, as well as bringing the work of the Adaptation Committee and the Technology Mechanism into full flower in 2012 as well.

David Biello has a fine summary of the outcome of the conference here for Scientific American.  The BBC has a smattering of comment from key negotiators and some others.  Connie Hedegaard, the EU Climate Commissioner, was given high marks, along with her EU colleagues like Chris Huhne, UK Energy and Climate Secretary, for wrestling this difficult agreement into being.  Hedegaard said:  “We think that we had the right strategy, we think that it worked. The big thing is that now all big economies, all parties have to commit in the future in a legal way and that’s what we came here for.”

There has been and will be posturing and proclamations from far and wide on the conference but the bottom line seems to be that parties are still trying to drive this process forward, no matter how slow it may seem to be happening.

Meanwhile, progress continues on many other fronts, as I noted in my recent year-end review, as well as in many, many other posts at this blog.  Mary Nichols, head of the key California agency, the Air Resources Board, charged with effecting greenhouse gas regulations and many sustainability initiatives, noted here that “Instead of waiting for them to negotiate some grand bargain, we have to keep working on the ground.  Progress is going to come from the bottom up, not the top down.”  I see that it’s happening from both directions and across many sectors.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change