by Elizabeth Burleson

The Durban agreements provide a mandate with which all greenhouse-gas emitting countries will commit to a common UN legal regime as early as possible but no later than 2015. Country parties also agreed that the new deal will take effect no later than 2020. For the first time, major emerging economies have agreed to negotiate a legal arrangement to reduce their national greenhouse gas emissions.


EU’s Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard notes that “outcome with legal force” is unclear consensus language but at least uses the term legal, an improvement over the Bali Roadmap.


The new Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been established and can facilitate the dispersal of funds to poor countries. One of the areas still in need of work involves making substantial sums of money available now that the Green Climate Fund has been operationalized. The recommendation to raise funding via international shipping fees on carbon emissions was not retained in the final text. Yet, work done at COP 17 in Durban may result in a global deal on maritime emissions at the IMO Assembly in 2013.


The new Climate Technology Centre and Network is well positioned to greatly enhance the diffusion of pro-poor, ecosystem based, environmentally sound technologies. The Climate Technology Centre and Network can help coordinate Green Climate Fund financing to share R&D as well as existing mitigation and adaptation technologies. The annual Durban Forum is tasked with tracking capacity-building progress. The new Adaptation Committee is tasked with coordinating distribution of Green Climate Fund financing to low-income country adaptation measures, many of which will depend upon environmentally sound technology. Now that the Technology Mechanism is being established, low-income parties can develop and submit project proposals.  These developments increase the ability of countries to cooperate to reach Cancun commitments agreed to last year, building upon innovative funding through the Green Climate Fund and adaptation coordination through the Adaptation Committee. Energy and ingenuity are core to bringing the Durban agreements to life. While we still struggle to agree on what constitutes a timely and robust response to climate destabilization, innovation is fueling common ground upon which to build multilateral trust.


Discussing the TRIPS / UNFCCC nexus on technology transfer can help close the 6-11 gigaton(ne) greenhouse gas gap. Retaining trust needs to go beyond postponing controversy. Addressing Intellectual property rights is within political reach and should be addressed in an open and inclusive manner. It appears that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) will support the operationalization and activities of the technology mechanism. It remains important to provide a framework for innovation hubs that ensure “environmentally sound” technology transfer. Life cycle analysis, capacity building, and cultural sensitivity can become central discussions. Knowledge portals can share best practices may through on-line uploading/downloading of innovations. This can help spread environmentally sound distributed power, battery innovation, rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, culturally sound solar cookers and a wide array of other environmentally sound technologies. In addition to online clearinghouse capacity building, a network of innovation centers to facilitate diffusion of climate friendly innovations can now become a reality through the new Technology Mechanism.


Taking Stock – we are still on track for an unacceptable 3 to 4 °C rise in average world temperatures. Much remains to be done to get on track to limit average global temperatures to the political target of 2 or the scientific target of 1.5°C.


To address the urgency chasm, actions need to occur at every level and at a much greater pace. Among these actions, countries can strengthen pledges, implement strict emission accounting procedures that address carry-over and double counting.


It is important to realize that the journey is still a long one but to celebrate the significant international legal accomplishment set forth in Durban. The alliance among the EU, small island states, and least developed countries began to melt China, India, US frozen stances. Key emitting countries are now working together to flesh out a single legal arrangement to bring down greenhouse gasses. Innovation development, demonstration, and diffusion can help further enhance trust and close the emissions gap. While a political breakthrough, the success of the Durban agreement rests upon the ability of the international community to ramp up funding in order to accomplish both form and content – pledges and action.


Poor countries within the G77 reached out beyond larger emerging economies, encouraging major emerging economies to take on mitigation commitments. Collectively developing countries insisted Kyoto not end at an African gathering. The Kyoto Protocol has been extended, without Canada, Japan and Russia but including the newly listed greenhouse gas called nitrogen trifluoride that is used in semiconductor manufacturing. The EU conditioned extending the Kyoto Protocol upon launching new negotiations toward a comprehensive legal arrangement. Japan, Australia, Canada, Russia and the US insisted that a new agreement include major developing countries commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Durban Platform encompasses this diplomatic agreement. It is officially known as the “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” and has begun to be referred to as AG-DP.


Another highly debated issue was included, namely to allow carbon capture and storage projects in the Clean Development Mechanism program under the Kyoto Protocol. A portion of these credits would be set-aside in a reserve given the uncertainty regarding carbon capture.


The details of project reporting as well as national appropriate mitigation action reporting continue to be worked out. Forestry discussions are also still underway. Countries agreed to increased transparency and accountability via detailed guidelines for biennial emissions reporting, subject to expert review and formal consultation among countries. Developed countries and funding institutions are to submit assistance strategies. Countries are also continuing efforts to enhance shared understanding of the water / climate nexus. Doing so can help achieve effective, reasonable, and equitable (1) mitigation, (2) adaptation, (3) environmentally sound technology diffusion, and (4) funding.


Climate adaptation and mitigation measures are to be coordinated with nationally defined development to achieve genuine sustainable development. The international community is now tasked with meaningful follow through on commitments agreed to in the Durban agreements.