The COP17 climate change meetings in Durban produced several interesting outcomes after the 12-days of talks over ran into the early hours of the 14th day. Top negotiators stretched their powers of endurance in the final week of the conference so that some of them did not sleep at all in the last two days.
The talks extended through the nights because enough people were determined to produce some kind of agreement in spite of the vastly differing positions among the 195 parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There were various sticking points blocking negotiations, but it appears that most of the acrimony centred on the legal nature of the agreement - there were considerable differences about the extent to which the final documents would bind signatories.
At the time of writing, there is no final document for the media to analyse, but is seems that the parties agreed on a range of issues that were informally called the Durban Package, but now has a more dignified name - the Durban Platform.
The agreements focus on four key areas:
1. The Kyoto Protocol (KP)
2. Green Climate Fund
3. A new agreement or treaty to come into effect in 2020 and
4. Technology Mechanism
Kyoto Protocol - take two
African governments, the European Union and the G77 plus China argued in favour of making a second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) which expires at the end of next year. They are in favour of KP because first of all, it imposes no obligations on developing nations and secondly because it is the only legally binding climate change treaty currently in effect.
European leaders have claimed the second commitment period to KP as one of their major successes, but as the world's biggest polluters, China and the United States, have not ratified the agreement, detractors say that the African and EU success will prove to be of little consequence.
The United States, Canada, Japan and several other industrialised countries rejected the second KP commitment period because they say it is based on the state of world economies in 1992 and is therefore out of date. These countries say they are fully committed to addressing the problems of global warming, but prefer to do so in terms of the Cancun Agreements which require voluntary cut-backs of greenhouse gas emissions rather than the legally binding demands of the Kyoto Protocol.
Green Climate Fund (GCF)
It was somewhat surprising that there was so little controversy over a fund that involves so much money - $100 billion annually from 2020. The GCF is aimed at channelling substantial sums of money from developed countries to those that are still developing. Much of this funding is directed at helping the poorer nations to adapt to changing climatic conditions brought on by climate change.
The GCF was agreed on in principle at the COP16 meetings held in Cancun, Mexico last year and it envisages what US negotiator, Todd Stern, describes as a "ramping up" to $100 billion a year. At this year's meetings there was ample discussion about the mechanics of setting up this fund. So far we are not aware of any cash deposits into the GCF, but there have been several pledges of substantial amounts of money.
An agreement for 2020
The most difficult element of the Durban Platform was the negotiating process around a new treaty or agreement which is set to come into effect in 2020. Delegates agreed that the text of the new document would be ready for signing by 2015 and this would give the parties enough time to ratify the new agreement to come into effect in 2020.
There were heated arguments about the binding nature of the new agreement. What legal force would it have? Would it be a treaty in terms of international law, or would it merely be yet another list of voluntary commitments somewhat like the Cancun agreements? The terminology was critical and it appears that the parties have agreed to work towards "a protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force".
Supporters of this new agreement or treaty say that it is far better than the Kyoto Protocol because it would cover the obligations of all 194 countries that belong the UNFCCC, whereas KP only covered the obligations of 37 industrialised countries.
The Durban Platform includes an agreement to create a Technology Mechanism which will become fully operational in 2012. The purpose of this mechanism is to provide developing countries with appropriate technology to enable them to cope with the effects of climate change. The terms of reference for the operational arm of the Mechanism - the Climate Technology Centre and Network - are agreed, along with a clear procedure to select the host. The UNFCCC secretariat will issue a call for proposals for hosts on 16 January 2012.
The Durban Platform as it stands now is clearly not a final document in the form usually produced at high level United Nations meetings, but it certainly provides a solid set of agreements that will enable the UNFCCC to continue to fight global warming. Various working groups and committees will be set up during the course of the next year in preparation for COP18 in Qatar where a more refined set of documents will probably be presented for approval.
If the process goes ahead as envisaged in the final hours and minutes of COP17, most countries will for the meantime, voluntarily do their best to curb emissions, but as of 2020, there will be a brand new agreement in place that will impose at least some legal obligations on all countries to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases.
The problem is that only 35 countries have accepted limited legal obligations in terms of the second commitment to KP - and then only until 2017. Between 2017 and the expected implementation of a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol in 2020 - there will be absolutely no legally binding treaty in place to constrain the world's polluters.