How the Durban Climate Agreement Sidesteps Republican Obstruction

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For the first time in the history of climate negotiations, all nations, including the world’s largest carbon emitters – China and the US – have agreed to work towards emissions-reduction targets binding every nation equally “with legal force.”

The last-minute successful agreement at Durban puts pressure on what has been the world’s biggest obstacle to a climate agreement – the US Republican party.

For ten years or more, they have walked out of hearings on renewable energy or climate policy with “We won’t act on climate because China won’t!” – a petulant mirror image of the parental favorite: “Would you jump off a bridge, just cause your friend does?”

But now – China will

With the Durban Platform, for the first time, there will not be one rule for developed, and another for “developing” nations.

For the first time, all nations have committed to one universal legal agreement on climate change to be completed by 2015, and enforced by 2020. Work on the treaty is to begin immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

The nearly 40 major industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol will submit emissions targets for a second commitment period beginning next year, when Kyoto had been due to expire. But the new agreement to be hammered out by 2015 is to be universal, and cover all nations.

“You could hear the shifting of tectonic plates,” said one diplomat. “This is hugely important not just for the climate talks but in geopolitical terms.”

What’s more, to offset its own carbon emissions, China will by 2015 become a net buyer of credits from carbon abatement projects, rather than a seller, giving a boost to clean development worldwide. The carbon markets in the EU, Australia, New Zealand, California, a few Canadian provinces and the RGGI states will all be boosted by being joined by China’s.

Every nation will be covered by the new treaty, so now no nation can get out of acting on the basis that “My carbon emissions don’t make a difference, because some other nation is not acting”.

Now the world can begin to nail down the details of a worldwide binding treaty for legal enforcement by 2020. This is already the date for many greenhouse gas emission targets worldwide so the whole world has both reasonable time to prepare, and no more reason not to.


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