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Policy & Politics

Published on December 12th, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer


How the Durban Climate Agreement Sidesteps Republican Obstruction

December 12th, 2011 by  

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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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m sorta thinking folks missed this paragraph…

    “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”.”

    This is a significant step forward. It brings China and India into the mix. It makes it possible to start the next phase of negotiations.

    Remember, the US was holding back because other countries were getting a pass. Now that rat hole/excuse (depending on your point of view) has been closed.

    This is going to put more pressure on the US, the truly worst CO2 producer, to make a commitment to cut emissions. We can no longer excuse ourselves because others aren’t agreeing to comply.

    I label the US as the worst CO2 producer because we are the country of some size that has the highest CO2 emissions per person. We tower over India and China in terms of per capita emission.

    We’re the 400 pound guy complaining to the flight crew that the 150 pound guy in the other seat is taking up too much room.

    • Great analogy! I actually think the 2020 deadline is not a problem, either. A lot of writers are thinking it is too late, but our experience in California and in the EU shows that change happens in advance of a deadline.

      A deadline with plenty of notice like this injects the certainty that climate policy needs (because it is long term investment that it takes).

  • Lukas Palmer

    Aspirational? Yes. Practical? No. What I mean is, it’s a welcome start, but it’s not even remotely good enough.

    To sum up Durban COP17 in a few words: “We’ve agreed to agree to cut emissions!”.

    What a day.

    • Anonymous

      “We’ve agreed to agree to cut emissions!”.
      — That is probably the best summary i’ve seen 😀
      — On the up note, that first agreement is pretty big. On the down note, it seems we’re submitting an overweight American for a 100-meter Olympic race — in other words, better than not submitting anyone, but far from what experts say is needed to win the race.

    • Yeah, but before we can act, we had to agree to act.

      This is the next step from 1995, when the world did agree to act, but only developed nations had to cut. (Then the US reneged on ratifying it)

      This time is significant because ALL nations will be bound by the same rule. That is a first.

      As far as slow… think of the DOHA economic talks, also incremental. Getting 191 countries to agree to anything is huge.

      As far as too little: think of wind target for Texas (2% or something?) under Gov Bush… now Texas is in top 3 wind powers in world.

  • Ledit

    what a complete crock of garbage; they decided only one thing and that is to do NOTHING; making up drivel is for mental midgets; global warming is DEAD but the delusion lives on

    • Gygyg

      Why do you come on this site to leave such nasty comments. Stick to oil! Climate change is real, and Im sure a number of people here would agree with me.

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