Back in the UK now and reflecting on the news filtering out this (Sunday) morning. Given the threat yesterday of a chaotic collapse, with echoes of Copenhagen, I was relieved to hear of the final outcome. The very best was never going to be equal to the full climate challenge we face, but this COP has made some major strides in securing a long-term mitigation roadmap with ‘legal force’. At risk of overload for a blog, I feel it is worth including the key decisions coming out of Durban and have copied these from this morning’s UN release as an appendix at the end.
Meanwhile, some early and interesting responses:
US climate envoy Todd Stern’s view? ‘In the end, it ended up quite well.’ Now this is open to two interpretations. On this side of the Atlantic, the word ‘quite’ is distinctly qualified; in other words ‘quite well’ means ‘reasonably well’. I’d concur with that. If he was, as I would assume, using it in the American meaning, it would translate as ‘very well’. I once gave a presentation to Ford’s executive board and was told afterwards that it went ‘quite well’. Only months later did I become aware of this crucial distinction. I wonder how many Anglo-US relationships have been de-railed by this misalignment of meanings?
A few minutes ago, I received an email from Gary Kendall – previously an Executive Director of SustainAbility and now with the S African chapter of the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (as well as a genius on Segways: see below). His take? ‘I was up until 02:30 watching the plenary online last night / this morning – it was riveting! In the grand scheme of things, Durban may just go down in history as a turning point. South Africa had an almost impossible brief after Cancun, and to get what they ended up with is monumental. Is it sufficient? No. Is it a massive step forwards? Definitely. What is it about these odd-numbered COPs (Kyoto COP3, Marrakech COP7, Bali COP13, Copenhagen COP15…) that makes them so compelling? The even-numbered ones are fillers – skip Doha and head to COP19 where there are sure to be more fireworks. I live in hope.’
And the public view from Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary (who will, I am sure, sleep better tonight than at any time in recent weeks)? ‘While it is clear that these deadlines must be met, countries, citizens and businesses who have been behind the rising global wave of climate action can now push ahead confidently, knowing that Durban has lit up a broader highway to a low-emission, climate resilient future.’ Note that this reaffirms my view in an earlier blog that there is a growing assumption that the UN agreements are being seen as necessary platforms to stimulate the level of additional unilateral action necessary to stay below 2 degrees of warming. Let’s hope the business community gets the message.
All things considered, I believe we are definitely back on track in terms of securing a base level of international agreements. On current trends certainly not enough to deliver the reductions in emissions necessary to stay below 2 degrees of warming, but enough, hopefully, to inspire all other actors and agents to accelerate their own mitigation and adaptation plans and commitments through the short window of opportunity left to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change.
My first blog was titled ‘Don’t count on a good COP’. On balance, and against expectations, this actually turned out to be a very good COP.
A new phrase that was emerging in many conversations and papers was ‘equitable access to sustainable development’ – introduced by India and seen by many as helpful way of shifting from the circular debates about historical responsibilities to a more positive future framing.
Women farmers produce 80% of the crops in Africa, I learned at one workshop (‘So what are the men doing?’ quipped one panellist). Last year, I led a strategy review for Yara, the world’s leading fertiliser company; their work on environmental solutions in Africa came up in a variety of fora. Their ability to have a profound effect on lessening the environmental burden (especially the climate impact) of fertilisers puts them in the front line of companies who can, and hopefully will, shape positive outcomes.
Hot goods. Or hot drinks? As a member of the teaching faculty, I am on Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute’s mailing list and received the following email as I sweltered in 30 degrees of heat:
Subject: A German Christmas has appeared in the MOA Room
Mulled wine, stolen and all… Hurray along!
Rapidly followed by:
That would be stollen….typo!
Talking of ECI, I had a really enjoyable dinner with their alumni who regularly meet for dinner at COPs. It was great to meet past students who are now active in fields as diverse as banking (including Assistant Vice President to the Vice Chairman of Deutsche Bank – quite a title!), social enterprises and policy advisers. James Painter was at the dinner in his capacity as a Teaching Fellow but attending the COP wearing a number of different hats including as one of three BBC reporters (at COP 15 there were 65!). He has extensively researched how the media report on and handle the science of climate change. His latest report was launched ahead of this COP under the title Poles Apart it is a comparative study on the prevalence of climate scepticism in the media around the world.