UN Climate Treaty: Durban Platform and Youth Activism

Durban, South Africa – As the sun had risen over the COP 17 in South Africa on Sunday morning, the Durban Platform was approved. While not a legally binding agreement, the Durban Platform stipulates that a new protocol shall be agreed to by 2015 and take effect by 2020.

In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, which puts the burden on industrialized nations for greenhouse gas emissions (ghg) emissions reductions, since they are historically responsible for having produced them, the Durban Platform puts forth that developed and
developing nations must come together to take responsibility for reducing ghgs.

The UNFCCC negotiations seek to achieve three goals: 1. to establish greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions reductions commitments; 2. To secure funding and technology from developed countries for developing countries, to help them adapt to climate change; and 3. To decide on a method for monitoring, reporting and verifying (MRV) the agreed upon targets.

Although the Durban Platform has been praised by many as a major achievement, since it brings all nations – including the US, China and India, which have been at odds in recent years at the negotiations – together, not everyone is convinced by it.

First, the Durban Platform is not legally binding. Second, numerous NGOs indicate that most of the agreement's substance is missing and that decisions about it have been deferred, while emissions continue to rise and the effects of climate change continue to hit those least able to address them.

For example, the amount of emissions reductions – which countries, how much and by when – is left open. The Kyoto Protocol seeks to prevent temperature from increasing above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). The scientific community widely agrees that temperature
increases above 2 degrees Celsius would lead to irreversible effects of climate change.

And although a general sum of funding of $100 billion per year up to the year 2020 to finance a technology transfer from developed countries for developing countries has been agreed on, it remains unclear how much each country will contribute and by when.
Furthermore, although it was decided that the UN – not the Global Environment Facility as wished by the US and the EU – will oversee the funds, the details of who will oversee it remain unclear.

The Durban Platform suggests that the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which 37 developed nations have signed and which extends to 2012, be extended beyond 2012. But it remains unclear whether they would be extended to 2017 or to 2020. This decision will be made next year.

It was negotiated and decided that the agreement must have "legal force." It remains to be seen exactly what that means.

Mind the Gap

Up to 2020, nations would cut emissions based on their own national pledges, which are voluntary and not legally binding.

Here's the problem: According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report released last fall, year, the voluntary pledges made thus far by developed nations have led to an increase not a decrease in the levels of greenhouse gas
emissions. http://www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/emissionsgapreport/

In a subsequent report released last month, UNEP outlined how to bridge the emissions gap in order to keep temperature increase to the two degree Celsius target. http://www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/bridgingemissionsgap/

Aside from the issue of voluntary emissions reductions not being enough — on this issue, see also the Climate Action Tracker,
2020 as the year by which a new agreement would be reached was lambasted.

Last month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that if current emissions trends continue and are not reined by 2017, the planet will risk suffering irreversible climate change.

So emissions need to peak – not begin to be reined – by 2020.

We're on a Road to Nowhere: Response from NGOS

As a result of the fact that these major questions were left unanswered and deferred, NGOs were very critical of the Durban Platform.

"Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions," said Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International. "An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%."

According to Pablo Solon, former lead climate negotiator for Bolivia, "It is false to say that a
second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been adopted in Durban. The actual decision has merely been postponed to the next COP, with no commitments for emission reductions from rich countries. This means that the Kyoto Protocol will be on life support until it is replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker."

"What some see as inaction is in fact a demonstration of the palpable failure of our current economic system to address economic, social or environmental crises," said Janet Redman, of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. "Banks that caused the financial
crisis are now making bonanza profits speculating on our planet's future. The financial sector, driven into a corner, is seeking a way out by developing ever newer commodities to prop up a failing system."

US Obstructionism

What emerged starkly at this year's COP, as in previous years, was US obstructionism. 

What was new is that the mainstream media reported on it and to such an extent that US lead climate negotiator Todd Stern felt obliged to address it in a press conference.

Added pressure came from Abigail Borah, a 21-year old junior at Middlebury College, who on Thursday disrupted Mr. Stern's statement to 194 nations at the UN summit.

Borah, who was attending the UN negotiations as part of the International Youth Climate Movement, stated "I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot. The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait."

Addressing the accusations, Stern stated "I've heard this from everywhere from ministers to press reports to the very sincere and passionate young woman who was in the hall when I was giving my remarks." Despite the plethora of statements accusing him of obstructionism,
he denied the charges.

Yet the pressure seemed to have an effect. At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Stern indicated his support for the EU roadmap, stating "If we get the kind of roadmap that countries have called for – the EU has called for, that the US supports – we are strongly
committed … to move forward on that."

Stern was left backpedaling, however, after U.S. State Department spokeswoman Emily Cain released a statement the same day clarifying that the U.S. would not sign on
to a "legally binding" treaty: "Todd Stern said in his press conference today that the United States could support a process to negotiate a new climate accord. He did not say that the United States supports a legally binding agreement."

In his closing remarks at the president's plenary, Stern shied away from the words "legally binding," "treaty" or agreement" and said instead that road map proposed by Europe had "the potential to become [pause] an historic document."

Michael Dorsey, Professor of Environmental Sciences at Dartmouth College said, "The lack of a vision from the US is astounding." "If anyone knows the science backwards and forwards," Dorsey continued, "it's [climate negotiator] Jonathan [Pershing]. So for him to push this out to 2015 is dangerous. And it's dangerous to come out of the diplomacy department."

Deputy Special for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, second in command after Stern, served as the director of the Climate, Energy and Pollution at the World Resources Institute (WRI), prior to joining the State Department. "Pershing," Dorsey said, "knows the science
well and knows what game of roulette he is playing. It's diplomatic brinkmanship.

"The UN stats are saying we're going see 150 to 200 million climate refugees," Dorsey said, "When you have that kind of data up front, when you have fact after fact of data, when you know that reality of the science of what this is based on, that should cause alarm."

Civil Society: "It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done"

Civil society, weary of the delays in these annual negotiations, are not standing down. Aside from the interruption of Stern's address, on Wednesday six Canadians stood and turned their back on Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent, as he addressed the UNFCCC.

On Thursday, Anjali Appaduria, a college student at College of the Atlantic in Maine and a member of the Youth Delegation, delivered a succinct speech thatsummed up the science regarding global warming and the status of the UNFCCC negotiations.

Opening, she stated, "I speak for more than half the world's population. We are the silent majority … You have given us a seat at the table. But our interestsare not represented. What does it take to get a stake in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money?"

"You have been negotiating all my life. In that time, you have failed to meet pledges, you have missedtargets."

"But you've heard this all before. We're in Africa, home to communities at the frontlines of climate change. The world's poorest countries need funding for adaptation. Now. The horn of Africa …  needed it, yesterday. But as 2012 dawns our Green Climate Fund
remains empty."

"The International Energy Agency tells us we have five years until the window to avoid irreversible consequences of climate change closes. The science tells us that we have five years maximum. You are saying, give us ten. The most stark betrayal of your generation's responsibility to ours is that you call this ambition."

Citing Nelson Mandela, Appaduria said, "It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done."

The next Conference of the Parties 18 is scheduled to take place in Qatar, from November 26 to December 7, 2012.

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic, who covers international climate
negotiations, domestic energy policy, and related direct actions. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Earth Island Journal, Grist, In These Times, The Nation and the Progressive. She has appeared on GRIT tv's Laura Flanders' Show; KPFA's Against the Grain, KPFK's Sojourner Truth and WBAI's Wake Up Call; and the National Radio Project.  

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