Durban ends as qualified success

Tuesday 13th Dec 2011 by theWeather Club

So the Durban climate change conference has finished. The delegates have taken various modes of transport back to their diverse parts of the worlds in order to report on what has happened. The question that will emerge most out of this years flurry of air miles will be was it worth it, did all the talking, politicking, grandstanding and eventual compromising produce something that was worth all the effort. While it will be possible to find opinions from every possible angle, the general consensus is that the world is a marginally better place after the summit.

At the end of the gruelling negotiations - which necessitated the summit clock being ‘stopped’ for two days - the world decided on the ‘Durban Platform for Enhanced Action’. The two-page document commits all countries to cutting carbon, the first time such an undertaking has emerged from a climate conference.  The plan also says a road map will be drawn up which will guide countries towards drafting a legal deal to cut carbon in 2015, but it will only come into affect after 2020. 

The major achievement is that for the first time the world’s three biggest emitters - the USA, China and India - have all signed up to a legal treaty to cut their carbon emissions.  At least the small print arrives just after the headlines in this communiqué, as the commitments are not nearly as legally binding as many of the smaller states wanted any document to be. They argued that the legal language needed to be a lot stronger not only to force countries to act by certain already agreed dates, but that these dates should be brought forward to further reduce human effects on global temperatures. 

The world agreed to help poor countries cope with climate change through a new Green Climate Fund that will hand out around £60bn per year from 2020. Here again however, the details of the agreement are very vague.  While the conference agreed to create a body to distribute and manage the funds, it will not have a great deal to do for some time as there has been no agreement as to how the funds will be raised. It will initially be the guardian of a large but empty piggybank.

While at first it might seem like a negative, there has been official acknowledgement that what the world has planned to do is not enough. The actual science has forced it’s way back on the table, with the acknowledgement of the six gigatonne gap between the carbon cuts we have pledged to make, and the carbon cuts we need to make. This has led to calls for imaginative new ideas about to improve on what we are doing, hopefully making it easier for new approaches to receive a hearing. 

However the real success was simply keeping the climate change roadshow on track. There was a genuine fear that no agreement would be reached, which  after the collapse of the Copenhagen talks in 2009 would have been a serious blow to any real notion of concerted global action on climate change. So while in the end it might seem like an awful lot of time, effort and resources went into talking about talks, the fact that the effort was made has to be applauded. History has shown us that it is when the talking stops, that the worrying should start.