Richard Ottinger, Dean Emeritus and founder of the Pace Energy and Climate Center, is in Durban, South Africa for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework  Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto  Protocol.  He is serving on the delegation for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  Here is his first post from Durban.


IUCN has a very large delegation here and they are fully engaged, particularly on REDD forest preservation and gender issues.  Each delegation member is assigned to a topic here — mine is the Kyoto Protocol — and all are encouraged to network.  I was asked particularly to contact the US delegation to ascertain its positions on key issues and its degree of flexibility.

With expectations for Durban so low, the conference got off to at least an enthusiastic start.  The principal issues laid before the COP by Christina Figuerez, its remarkable President, are:

1.  Implementation of the Cancun agreements, especially the specifications for the Green Fund to assist developing countries and application of MRV monitoring, reporting, and verification;

2.   Whether and how to extend the Kyoto Protocol scheduled to expire next year, 2012 (more below); and

3.  The legal form of a future climate agreement, namely how to include the countries with the largest emerging economies and thus carbon emissions — namely the US, Canada, Russia and Japan — all of which have indicated unwillingness to participate in a future agreement that doesn’t include binding commitments for all countries.  This position is vastly complicated by the fact that the BASIC countries don’t want requirements for mandatory emission reduction commitments (maybe intensity reductions); the US couldn’t make a binding commitment even if President Obama was disposed to do so because of the intransigent Congress; and the Canadian, Russian and Japanese delegations’ current positions are that they won’t make any commitments unless the US acts and won’t exceed any US reduction commitments. The developing countries won’t take litigation actions and really can’t take many of the adaptation actions they need without funding from the developed countries that is hard to come by during the current global recession.

So the enthusiastic atmosphere will only take us so far.  The problems indicated are deep-seated and difficult.

The Kyoto Protocol Session started off with a bang.  Virtually all the country groupings who spoke strongly advocated extension of the Protocol, to cheers and applause from the diplomatic delegates. very unusual for these conferences, usually very staid affairs.   Many of the delegation groups said that mere extension of the Protocol, with its current commitments and membership, was clearly inadequate to prevent a more than 2 degree rise in temperature which the scientific community has said would be disastrous.  They asked for more and greater commitments despite the world recession.

It was impressive that even the Arab delegation group supported KP extension as did the ALBA group led by Bolivia and Venezuela that took such obstructionistic positions in Cancun.

Representing an international youth organization, a 16-year-old delegate from Canada was particularly impressive speaking on behalf of youth and future generations.

Silence spoke louder than words, however.  The US, Russia and Japan never took the floor and we heard a presentation by the US delegation head on TV last night blasting the Convention positions and hypocritically saying that the US would take no part in a Kyoto extension or new agreement that did not include proportional commitments from all countries.

The speculation is that a settlement will be reached extending Kyoto temporarily through 2015 with a goal of reaching a final settlement by 2020.