COP in or COP out?

Global climate politics are incredibly complex. Climate ministers have been locked in decades of lengthy ‘all-nighter’ talks but have made little progress. Indeed, the United Nation’s COP series of International Climate Change Summits have long been under fire for lacking substance. So, what really happened during COP 17 in Durban this December? Were the additional 36 hours of negotiation worth the wait?

For the optimists among us, Durban did achieve positive change. The goal of the summit was to negotiate a new climate deal by 2015; a deal that would replace the Kyoto protocol. Indeed, progress towards that goal was made. The world’s biggest carbon emitters – China, the United States, the EU and India – have all agreed to negotiate legally binding restrictions. That’s a big change from the terms of the Kyoto protocol, which essentially excluded developing countries; among them China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter.

It was also agreed that poorer countries would get a $100bn fund by 2020, to help them develop frameworks for a green economy and cope with the effects of climate change. But the crucial issue at the talks, aside from the heated exchange between the UE, India and China, was whether a new agreement on protecting the climate should have full legal force.

That’s where the pessimists among us perhaps had a little bit more to play with. Some argue that securing the legality of the agreement gave way to scrimping on the detail. The Durban treaty will be negotiated by 2015, which means we could stand to see ministers locked in the same frantic negotiations for the next few years. Whatever is agreed will be coming into force from 2020, a full eight years from now! Until then we have the Kyoto agreement – although Japan, Russia and Canada stated that they would not take on further Kyoto targets. All three are, incidentally top ten emitters of Green House Gases (GHGs).

Post COP17, negotiators are under continued fire for having failed to commit to ambitious enough emissions reduction targets, so according to some, we are no further away from “dangerous” climate change than we were.

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