UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Deal reached in Durban

Hailed as a ‘breakthrough’ the new agreement fails to deliver a real solution to climate change

By Alanna Mitchell

Finally, after all these agonizing days and two all-nighters for the negotiators, we have a deal in Durban, reached at 5:10 a.m. today, nearly 36 hours after the talks were to have ended.

Called the Durban Platform, it’s being hailed as a “breakthrough” to a new era of halting global climate disturbance.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s Commissioner for Climate Action, who brokered the central plank of the deal by enlisting the help of the small island states and the very poorest countries, put it this way in an early morning tweet: “We made it. EU’s strategy worked. We got a roadmap that marks a breakthrough for international fight against climate change. Good night.”


Is it really a breakthrough? Opinions are sharply divided. The best thing about it is that the world’s only legally binding system for cutting carbon emissions hasn’t totally collapsed. Many coming into this critical round of talks in South Africa feared that the Kyoto Protocol would die here.

And for a while, it seemed as though that would happen. The first Kyoto period ends on Dec. 31, 2012, and if countries had not agreed to a second period, the Protocol would have perished, along with all the mechanisms contained within it for counting carbon, reporting it and funnelling money to poor countries to make greener energy.

So the Kyoto Protocol lives on for another five years at least. While details were not clear, it seems the Protocol now contains mainly European countries and covers less than 15 percent of global emissions.

It does not include Japan, Russia or Canada. The United States, which did refused to ratify the first Kyoto Protocol, is also not part of the extended agreement, despite being responsible for about 27 percent of the extra carbon now in the atmosphere.

The other breakthrough is that the nearly 200 countries in the talks agreed to start negotiating a new deal that would for the first time require everyone to reduce emissions by 2020. This has been the central sticking point.

Nations such as China, India and Brazil, whose economies and emissions are growing mightily, have resisted binding targets, saying that the responsibility for cutting emissions must fall first to the countries that benefited from burning all those fossils fuels in the first place: the United States, Canada and Europe, for a start.

Europe embraces that position, but both Canada and the United States reject it.

Under the Durban Platform, this principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” holds, but all nations will begin negotiating next year to reach a deal by 2015 that has “legal force,” requiring cuts from all. It’s to kick in by 2020.

As well, the architecture for a new Green Climate Fund seems to have been built. By 2020, this fund is to administer $100 billion a year to poorer countries most affected by climate disturbances. It’s not clear where the money will come from or exactly how it will be administered. The United States and Canada have said that much of the money must come from the private sector, while many other nations say it needs to come from governments.

What’s not in the Durban Platform is a guarantee of the involvement in any future deal of the United States, still by some measures the most carbon-fat nation in the world. The U.S. Congress has been the focus of agonized criticism here for its refusal to understand the risks of a high-carbon world and take steps to bring its carbon use down.

More crucially, the Durban Platform lacks a real solution: a plan to bring emissions down far enough to keep average temperature rise to 2 C, which is what the world leaders say they want to do to avoid catastrophic climate disturbance. Instead, it’s a rather vague pledge to do something later to bring emissions down by an uncertain amount.

Without a new plan to cap temperatures right away, the world is still on the road to more than 3 C warming by the end of 2100, according to climate scientists with Climate Action Tracker based at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

And that means we’re closer than ever to several tipping points that we might otherwise avoid if we kept warming to 2 C: the global death of corals reefs, the melting of the Greenland ice sheets, the perishing of the Amazon rainforest and the release of high-carbon methane from melting permafrost and warming ocean shelves.



December 2011

Waiting for a miracle

By Alanna Mitchell

Despair builds as the climate talks wind down with no agreement in sight

December 2011

Disdain for Canada

By Alanna Mitchell

Environment Minister Peter Kent’s official address is drowned out by applause — for six young protesters

December 2011

Where’s the science?

By Alanna Mitchell

Political leaders seem more interested in continuing to pollute than how to cut carbon emissions. Meanwhile, our very existence on this planet is at stake.

December 2011

The heavyweights enter the ring

By Alanna Mitchell

China and the United States, the world’s biggest carbon emitters, step into the fray with vague promises and confusing conditions

December 2011

Colossal fossils and creative bakers

By Alanna Mitchell

Canada’s divided presence at the climate change talks

December 2011

Hope, passion, urgency and destiny

By Alanna Mitchell

Why Africans are leading the charge to renew the Kyoto Protocol

November 2011

Why I don’t 'believe' in climate change

By Alanna Mitchell

Carbon emissions are a fact, not a faith system

November 2011

Lacking leadership in a high-carbon world

By Alanna Mitchell

Withdrawing from Kyoto would show that Canada is part of the problem rather than the solution

November 2011

Climate is not a negotiation

By Alanna Mitchell

Either we play by the planet’s rules, or the planet ‘shakes us off like gnats’

August 2011

Prophets in our midst

By Miriam Spies

A transformative weekend comes to a close

August 2011

Finding our voice

By Miriam Spies

Youth dream big at Rendez-vous 2011

August 2011

The power of story

By Miriam Spies

Tales of transformation inspire at national youth gathering

August 2011

New friends, abundant community

By Miriam Spies

Rendez-vous 2011 begins with a bang

August 2011

Time for a Rendez-vous

By Miriam Spies

A national gathering of United Church young people kicks off today in Toronto

September 2010

Truth and crayons

By Carolyn Pogue

In praise of September and new beginnings

June 2010

A moment of peace

By Samantha Rideout

While G20 protesters and police squared off on Toronto’s streets, a downtown church offered a sanctuary from the fracas.

June 2010

Collective chaos

By Samantha Rideout

With so many people at the G20 trying to make themselves heard, the result is a confusing din.

June 2010

Big hopes for simple solutions

By Samantha Rideout

Faith leaders call on politicians to support the Millennium Development Goals as the World Religions Summit wraps up in Winnipeg

June 2010

Open to interpretation

By Samantha Rideout

Senator Roméo Dallaire advises religious leaders to express their goals more clearly

June 2010

Religious influence

By Samantha Rideout

Should faith play a role in world affairs? Leaders at the 2010 World Religions Summit in Winnipeg think so.

June 2010

Dancing at the Forks

By Samantha Rideout

The first Truth and Reconciliation event winds up with a spirited powwow, but much work remains to be done

June 2010

Restoring connections

By Samantha Rideout

The damage caused by residential schools echoes through the generations. But sharing stories of the hurt is bringing young and old together in Winnipeg.

June 2010

Today’s broken families

By Samantha Rideout

First Nations children are far more likely to end up in foster care than their non-Aboriginal peers

June 2010

A time to heal

By Samantha Rideout

Residential school survivors give voice to painful memories at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s sharing circle in Winnipeg

June 2010

Do meetings matter?

By Samantha Rideout

The discussions that take place at the World Religions Summit, the G20 meeting and the first national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will demonstrate whether talk can transform us

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

Standing up for Canadian values

Video

ObserverDocs: First World War Centenary

by Observer Staff

This year marks 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. And still, the images of film and the words of poets from that era resonate today.

Retrospect

July 2015

Bosnia’s invisible war

by Mike Milne

A relief convoy carrying church aid finds determination amid destruction in a forgotten corner of former Yugoslavia — September, 1996

Justice

May 2015

Broken dreams in Little Mogadishu

by Andrew Livingstone

Canada's Somali community continues to struggle with higher-than-average levels of violence, unemployment and discrimination

Society

March 2015

Beyond Ferguson

by Alicia von Stamwitz

Did Michael Brown’s shooting death in Missouri last August reawaken the civil rights movement?

World

June 2015

‘Es complicado’

by Christopher White

Nothing about Cuba is straightforward or simple — including its impending reconciliation with the United States

Justice

June 2015

Grim reminders

by Pieta Woolley

What should be done with Canada’s remaining Indian residential school buildings?

Faith

June 2015

'Do we still believe that something vital is in the making?'

by Phyllis Airhart

The United Church of Canada at 90