Rhein on Energy and Climate

Durban will not save the world

Diplomatic conferences rarely end with a failure! Diplomats do not like being accused of failure. This goes in particular for long conferences with thousands of participants which cost millions of euro.

The 17th international climate conference, COP 17 in the official jargon, that ended in the dawn of Sunday 11th December, 36 hours after its planned end, is no exception to that rule. After 13 days of speeches and endless discussions on actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change the key actors – EU, USA, China, India, Brazil and Japan – did not want to return home empty-handed.

In the early hours of December 11th , amid confusion that prevented many delegates from following, the COP 17 plenary “adopted” what will be called the “Durban Platform”, the text of which is not yet available on the Internet 24 hours after the end of the Conference.

In the usual self-congratulatory mood the key negotiators appeared to be very satisfied with the results. Nobody had still expected a positive outcome after the final days` aggressive negotiations.

As far as one can judge on the basis of scant press briefings the conference has reached four results:

  • The 194 parties will start negotiating as soon as possible a comprehensive, legally binding international agreement that is to take effect as of 2020.
  • The EU, Norway and Switzerland will extend the application of the 1997 Kyoto protocol for another five-year period.
  • The $ 200 billion climate fund will enter functioning in parallel with the comprehensive climate agreement.
  • The parties agreed on procedures for reporting and monitoring green house gas emissions, which will accompany the future climate agreement.

A priory, this sounds quite impressive. But when taking a closer look one discovers little substance and much hot air.

  • From the global climate point of view it is unacceptable to wait another eight years before a comprehensive climate agreement might finally enter into force.

By 2020 global green house gas emissions will have risen by about one third and have reached 56 Gt, making it illusory to contain global within two centigrade, the objective the international community had fixed in 2009 at the Copenhagen COP15 meeting.

Reducing green house emissions must start today with a massive deployment of wind and solar energy and increase of energy efficiency. But nothing of the sort happens and there is no prospect for a change.

The emerging countries are increasing their emissions at a frightening speed of more than three per cent annually; the developed countries, most of all the the USA, continue increasing them by more than one percent per year. Only the EU has succeeded in slightly reducing them, but by less than two percent per year; but with a contribution of less than 13 per cent to global emissions it has ceased to be a major agent of climate change.

Waiting therefore means that the climate will change much faster than human behaviour, with catastrophic consequences for human life and civilisation. The the human species proves incapable of responding to its most serious long-term challenge: it will have to experience more dramatic catastrophes before starting to act seriously.

Even by 2020 effective action is by no means guaranteed. Nobody can be sure that the US Congress will finally adopt the draconian measures that will be needed. For this to happen many more devastating natural disasters need to occur and convince the most reactionary Congress members believe that human -made climate change is at play.

  • The extension of the Kyoto Protocol by only 29 European countries is irrelevant for the climate. It helps the EU bolster its international reputation and justify internal climate measures decided as early as 2007 to its own citizens. It also reduces the burden of its climate policy, as investments in renewable energies abroad are credited to the domestic emission balance.
  • The UN climate fund had already been agreed upon last year at Cancun. But the modalities concerning sources and use of finance still remain unclear. In a way, the Fund is the sugar held out to developing countries for giving their assent to the deal, though they are not really expected to reduce their minimal emissions that have hardly any bearing on the global climate, except for deforestation.
  • The agreement on reporting and monitoring is a crucial element for both the EU and the USA to subscribe to any international climate agreement. It is therefore a strictly necessary element for the future.

In conclusion, to make the best of what is a meagre deal the EU must continue maintaining pressure on the key players, the USA, China and India. Before 2013 nothing of importance is likely to happen because of elections in the USA and China.

But the EU should keep the fire burning at small flame.

It should push the Climate Secretariat to improve update monitoring of emissions.

It might also lend a helping hand to the logistics in major meetings and offer short internships at the EU Council Secretariat.

But above all, it should intensify seminars between European officials and their counterparts abroad on the preparation of long-term road maps and effective incentives for the promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energies.

This sort of discreet but intensive climate and energy diplomacy might prove to be the surest way of accelerating the awareness for climate issues and, more important, the economic feasibility of effective climate policy. The EU should therefore dispatch one specialist in energy and climate to every major EU Delegation abroad.

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