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Durban Climate Talks Produce Imperfect Deals

  • Gabe Joselow

Ministers gather in a huddle where agreement was reached to extend the Kyoto Protocol during a plenary session at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban, December 11, 2011.

Ministers gather in a huddle where agreement was reached to extend the Kyoto Protocol during a plenary session at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban, December 11, 2011.

Negotiators at the U.N. climate conference in South Africa have approved a package of agreements to combat global climate change.

While the deal is a step forward, observers say more should have been accomplished.

After hours of political wrangling and compromise on all sides, delegates emerged from an all-night session Sunday with a way forward on climate change.

Going into the last-minute negotiations, the South African president of the conference, Maite Nkoana Mashabane told delegates the package of deals would not please everyone.

“I think we all realize they're not perfect, but we should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good and the possible,” he said.

Among the biggest achievements was the approval of a European Union plan to negotiate a future legal deal to combat climate change.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard lobbied fiercely for the so-called EU “roadmap,” saying, “We are on the brink, it is within our reach to get what the world is waiting for and what only few thought would happen now: a legally binding deal,” said Hedegaard.

The agreement calls for parties to end negotiations on a future pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and to implement the new regime no later than 2020.

Emotions ran high in the middle-of-the-night plenary session about plans for the future agreement.

Karl Hood of Grenada, representing a coalition of small island states took issue with the language in the draft text, which did not specify what legal form the agreement would take.

“And if there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions then, Madame Chair, I'm saying that we are relegating vulnerable economies to the whims and fancies of beautiful words like 'self-determination' like 'access to development'; while they develop, we die in the process,” said Hood.

The future deal will replace the Kyoto Protocol - an existing legal framework that was enacted in 2007 and was due to expire next year.

Governments that are part of Kyoto, including the EU, agreed in Durban to a second commitment period to the protocol that will last five to eight years, though Russia, Japan and Canada have said they will not take part.

The conference did not produce any immediate promises to further cut emissions blamed for climate change.

Tim Gore, the climate policy advisor for Oxfam, said developing countries will not benefit much from the deals passed here in Durban.

“They didn't get a great deal out of this, I think this was largely an agreement which was struck between the big boys, between the U.S., the European Union, perhaps some of the emergency economies did a deal on a future legal agreement, and that's significant, but it hasn't necessarily delivered the action that the very poorest countries, and the poorest people within them, need here and now,” said Gore.

Parties also agreed in Durban to put into operation a Green Climate Fund, which is to provide assistance to developing nations for environmental projects. However, there was no agreement on how to actually finance the Fund, so, for the time being it remains an empty shell.

Some of these issues will likely be addressed again at the U.N. climate conference next year in Qatar.

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