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Our Insights 11 Dec 2011

Good COP or bad COP?

By Geoff Lye

This is the last in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

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.

Gary Kendall – Segway Superstar

Miscellaneous musings

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.

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Appendix: key outcomes from COP 17 (extracts from UN Press Release 11 December 2011)

Governments decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015. Work will begin on this immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

Governments, including 35 industrialised countries, agreed a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from January 1, 2013. To achieve rapid clarity, Parties to this second period will turn their economy-wide targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and submit them for review by May 1, 2012.

Green Climate Fund. Countries have already started to pledge to contribute to start-up costs of the fund, meaning it can be made ready in 2012, and at the same time can help developing countries get ready to access the fund, boosting their efforts to establish their own clean energy futures and adapt to existing climate change.

A Standing Committee is to keep an overview of climate finance in the context of the UNFCCC and to assist the Conference of the Parties. It will comprise 20 members, represented equally between the developed and developing world.

A focussed work programme on long-term finance was agreed, which will contribute to the scaling up of climate change finance going forward and will analyse options for the mobilisation of resources from a variety of sources.

Adaptation. The Adaptation Committee, composed of 16 members, will report to the COP on its efforts to improve the coordination of adaptation actions at a global scale. The adaptive capacities above all of the poorest and most vulnerable countries are to be strengthened. National Adaptation Plans will allow developing countries to assess and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. The most vulnerable are to receive better protection against loss and damage caused by extreme weather events related to climate change.

Technology. The Technology Mechanism will become fully operational in 2012. The full terms of reference for the operational arm of the Mechanism – the Climate Technology Centre and Network – are agreed, along with a clear procedure to select the host. The UNFCCC secretariat will issue a call for proposals for hosts on 16 January 2012.

Support of developing country action. Governments agreed a registry to record developing country mitigation actions that seek financial support and to match these with support. The registry will be a flexible, dynamic, web-based platform.

Other key decisions. A forum and work programme on unintended consequences of climate change actions and policies were established.

Under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, governments adopted procedures to allow carbon-capture and storage projects. These guidelines will be reviewed every five years to ensure environmental integrity.

Governments agreed to develop a new market-based mechanism to assist developed countries in meeting part of their targets or commitments under the Convention. Details of this will be taken forward in 2012.

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