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Deferred deal may save COP17

Pessimistic commentators are predicting that the earliest a new global deal on reducing carbon emissions is likely to come into force is 2020 — eight years after the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end.

Amid growing evidence that the standoff between rich and poor nations over signing up to a second Kyoto commitment period will not be resolved at next week’s COP17 conference in Durban, parties are discussing fall-back positions.

One proposal suggested by the European Union’s top climate diplomat, Connie Hedegaard, earlier this month would see COP17 parties agreeing to a road map that would provide mandates for different countries up to 2015.

A binding global agreement that would aim to deal with up to 85% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO²)emissions would then be drawn up by the first COP meeting after 2015, in December 2016, and would take effect in 2020. The proposal “would give countries more time, until 2015, to comply with international climate protection obligations and to introduce the corresponding monitoring”, Hedegaard said.

One of South Africa’s negotiators said the idea of a Durban mandate or treaty was gaining traction. The EU’s proposal had received buy-in from several countries, although others were insisting that the details had to be hammered out before they would support it. A 2020 mandate would follow a similar trajectory to the Kyoto Protocol, which started out as the Berlin Mandate in 1995 and only kicked in between the years 2008 and 2012, he said.

“In negotiating circles, everyone is saying, if we can’t get consensus on Kyoto, let’s launch a treaty negotiation that will lead to consensus so that in years to come there will be an agreed outcome,” the negotiator said.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top official on climate change, did not deny that a delayed outcome is possible. “Making an agreement is not easy. What we’re looking at is not an international environment agreement — we’re looking at nothing other than the biggest industrial and energy revolution that has ever been seen,” she said.

But developing countries, including China, were unlikely to support a deferred agreement, observers said.

‘Differentiated responsibilities’
China’s top climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said this week that his government would continue to support a second period of the Kyoto Protocol and its principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. These would require developed nations to take on binding emission cuts while allowing poorer countries to undertake voluntary cuts “appropriate to their stage of development”.

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the COP17 presidency, which is held by South Africa, said no proposals had been put on the table to replace or present an alternative to Kyoto.

“All parties in all the consultations undertaken by the incoming COP president, [International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane], are talking about the need for Durban to deal with a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol,” Monyela said. A statement issued after a pre-COP meeting in Stellenbosch in late October — attended by representatives from 42 countries, including the EU — indicated consensus had been reached on “finding a resolution to the issue of the second commitment period. “In the statement there is nothing about a 2020 road map,” he said.

Postponing an operational agreement until 2020 would be fatal to hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change, said Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency and one of the world’s foremost authorities on climate economics.

“If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017 then the door [to holding temperatures below 2°C] will be closed forever,” he said.

Two reports released this week highlighted the urgency of COP17 reaching an accord on the reduction of harmful emissions.

Last year, the UN World Meteorological Organisation’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin recorded the highest level of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere since pre-industrial times. It also noted that the rate of increase of greenhouse gases had accelerated in recent years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a new report that, as the planet warmed, extreme weather events would become more frequent and severe. Some areas could become “increasingly marginal as places to live in”. Birol said voluntary pledges by individual countries might not be enough. “Our analysis shows [what happens] if you do not change investment patterns, which can only happen as a result of an international agreement,” he added. — Additional reporting by Fiona Harvey of the Guardian

Milestones on the Road to Durban this week included:

  • Hosting COP17 will cost South Africa about R400-million, it emerged this week. Previous estimates put the total at R320-million.
    Reports this week said that the treasury provided R310-million and the department of international relations and cooperation was raising the rest from local and international companies.
    The funds would be used to provide meals, transport, security, conference facilities and accommodation for an expected 20 000 delegates at the 12-day event.
    Eight heads of state, including Mexican President Felipe Calderón, have reportedly confirmed their attendance so far.
  • A Climate Change Response Expo set up next to the formal UN negotiating space will feature a range of green innovations aimed at reducing the conference’s carbon footprint.
    These include rainwater harvesting, an on-site recycling station, energy-efficient lighting and water coolers instead of bottled water. Local, organic, fair-trade and fresh food will be available at the food market.
    Organisers said 104 exhibitors would showcase their innovations and a 6m-high canopy of wild banana leaves had been designed by architect Andrew Makin of the Design Workshop to provide shade over the food and entertainment areas and to block out city noise.
    Entrance to the expo is free and open to the public.
  • President Jacob Zuma said the government had done everything possible to ensure that delegates could do their business smoothly and efficiently at COP17.
    He urged the more than 190 expected participants to reach an outcome that was “balanced, fair and credible”. “Parties must come to Durban expecting a credible, sustainable and implementable outcome. It cannot be business as usual,” he said.
    This included a prompt start for the Green Climate Fund and a resolution to the issue of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Africa, the continent most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, was leading the push for clean energy policymaking, said Achim Steiner, the head of the UN Environment Programme.
    “On the African continent, there is sometimes more leadership being shown by countries, by governments, than we see in some of the industrialised nations,” Steiner told Reuters. In 2010, most of the $211-billion invested in renewable energy was spent in the developing world, he said.
    He was speaking in Kenya, which he said was doubling its energy-generating infrastructure largely using renewables such as hydroelectricity and geothermal and wind power.
  • South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa said the development achieved by Africa in the past decade was at risk from the effects of climate change.
    Leading the South African delegation for COP17, she said the conference’s main aim was to reach agreement on how to tackle climate change on a global level in a fair manner, addressing the threat it posed to human development and growth.
    She reaffirmed South Africa’s commitment to implement mitigation measures that would result in the reduction of greenhouse emissions by 34% relative to a “business as usual” baseline by 2020, and by 42% by 2025.
    “For Africa, the success of the climate change talks is central since it is projected that, by 2080, about 70 million people and up to 30% of Africa’s coastal infrastructure could face the risk of flooding because of rises in sea level,” she said.
  • The public enterprises department announced that it had developed a climate change policy framework for state-owned companies. The focus of the policy was to start integrating climate and green-economy considerations in the planning and procurement processes of state-owned companies, said Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba.
    The policy had not set specific carbon emission targets for state-owned companies, as it wanted them to set their own targets based on what they believed they could achieve. — Fiona Macleod

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

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Fiona Macleod
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements.

She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga.

An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation.

She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive.

She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice.

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