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Durban: Bringing Negotiations to a New Platform

Notwithstanding the optimism after Cancun, three years after Bali, still no agreement had been reached on a future climate policy, so that both negotiation tracks (AWG-KP and AWG-LCA) remained on the agenda of the COP. Building further on the renewed optimism after CancUn and the restored confidence in the UNFCCC process, COP-17 (Durban, South Africa, November-December 2011) had the task to open the window towards a new comprehensive, legally binding agreement on climate change. For that the COP had two main goals. First, it tried, via the AWG-LCA track, to build further on the recent development that both developed and developing countries had pledged measures to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, which opened the door to reach an agreement that included all main emitting Parties. Second, COP-17 tried to revitalise the Kyoto Protocol through the establishment of a second commitment period for the years 2013-2020, which could immediately follow the ongoing commitment period of 2008-2012, even though countries realised that ratification of a deal would not be completed by the end of 2012.

With respect to the second goal, COP-17 (which took two days longer than scheduled and which was the longest COP until then) was successful as the Durban Agreement contained the establishment of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which was scheduled to start in 2013 and end in either 2017 or

2020 (to be decided upon at COP-18) (UNFCCC-CMP 2012). It was agreed that developed countries would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 2540 % below 1990 levels by 2020 (IISD 2011). To realise this, developed countries’ pledges for emission reductions, as included in the Cancun Agreements, could be converted into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives (Taminiau 2011). In order to prevent a gap between the pledged reductions and the 25-40 % emission reduction goal, the COP decided on a review of pledges during 20132015 (UNFCCC 2012, p. 3).

On the first goal, COP-17 agreed on the start of a negotiation process which would have to lead to a “protocol, or legal instrument, or agreed outcome with legal force” for developed and developing countries which would have to come into effect in 2020 (UNFCCC 2012, p. 2, para 4). For this negotiation track, the Ad hoc Working Group on a Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (AWG-DP) was established with a scheduled completion in 2015.

Both results largely reflected the call for a ‘roadmap for climate action’ made by the EU prior to COP-17 (EU 2011), with the aim to link the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to an early start of new negotiations on a future climate policy regime (linking both negotiation tracks AWG-KP and AWG-LCA). At recent COPs, the role of the EU as negotiation party had become overshadowed by the focus on mainly the USA and China, as well as the position of the BASIC countries, but this time, the EU liaised with the group of small island states and least developed countries (Vidal and Harvey 2011) to form a block in favour of continuing the Kyoto Protocol and establishing a timetable for reaching a long-term climate agreement for after 2020.

For the EU, many ends came together with its roadmap proposal as South Africa, as COP-17 host, did not want that the Kyoto Protocol, so heavily desired by developing countries (as it only contained commitments in the short run for developed countries), would find its grave on African soil (IISD 2011), while the Durban Platform for a longer-term climate agreement was based on the assumption that both developed and developing countries would undertake emission reduction actions (Vidal and Harvey 2011). Chinese support for the EU’s roadmap proposal was obtained because of the EU’s willingness to commit to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. India did not like the lack of clarity about the legal nature of the post-2020 climate policy regime, as this left open the possibility of a commitment with legal force ‘applicable to all Parties’. However, India alone could not block an agreement.

Although COP-17 Chair Maite Nkoana-Mashabana said that countries had “made history” at Durban, it was already clear that Canada would not comply with its commitments during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ( 2011), while there were strong signals that Russia and Japan would not take part in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Also, the wording of AWG-DP to realize a “protocol, or legal instrument, or agreed outcome with legal force” was sufficiently ambiguous to allow for multiple interpretations about what was to come into effect in 2020.

In addition to the agreements on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the Durban Platform, COP-17 continued, under AWG-LCA, with building the organisational structure for further supporting international collaboration on climate change mitigation and adaptation, such as the operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund (UNFCCC 2012, pp. 55-66) and the Technology Mechanism (UNFCCC 2012, pp. 67-79), which both had been introduced in the Copenhagen Accords.

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