Surprise Deal Emerges at United Nations Climate Talks
15 Dec 2011
In a surprise turnaround, the United Nations climate talks managed to produce a new deal to eventually curb global emissions moving forward. In a press release announcing the agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called it a “breakthrough.”
The new agreement marks a break from the Kyoto Protocol, which divided the world into two categories—the developed and the developing world. Instead, said the European Union’s Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, the new agreement reflects “today’s mutually interdependent world,” and moves toward an agreement that partners all countries in combating climate change.
The new agreement—dubbed the “Durban Platform“—created a group with an unwieldy name, the Ad Hoc Working Group on a Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which has the mandate to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force.” In essence, it is an agreement to finalize an accord no later than 2015, which would go into effect in 2020.
The agreement would also extend the Kyoto Protocol, set to expire at the end of 2012, for an additional five years, allowing the system’s carbon trading to continue. This won’t have much impact on carbon markets or renewable investment in the next few years, analysts told Reuters, but could have an effect over the longer term.
How the Deal Was Done
To forge the deal at the thirteenth hour, the talks were extended nearly two days.
The push for the new agreement reportedly came from developing nations and those likely to be most affected by climate change, which put pressure on the European Union to work for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.
The bloc of emerging countries known as BASIC—Brazil, South Africa, India and China—was divided, with India the strongest holdout against binding emissions cuts for these countries—at least until richer countries met the targets they’d already committed to.
India was persuaded by an addition in the Durban text of an option of an “outcome with legal force”—although the difference in meaning between that and a protocol or “legal instrument” is not yet clear. The United States’ Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, said overall it is “pretty clear that we’re talking about something probably in the nature of a protocol.”
Just after the talks wrapped up, Canada pulled out of Kyoto Protocol, saying it won’t meet the goals it had agreed to for cutting its emissions, bringing condemnation at home and abroad. Nonetheless, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said Canada still has a “legal obligation” to cut its emissions.
Landmark or Disaster?
Opinions were divided over the new pact’s significance.
A Nature editorial called the outcome “an unqualified disaster” for the climate, and argued politicians can no longer talk “with a straight face” of meeting the 2-degrees-Celsius goal. With India’s agriculture under major threat from further warming, the country’s reluctance to sign a binding climate treaty was “suicidal,” argued Gwynne Dyer.
Persian Gulf Tensions
Meanwhile another deal was being hashed out, among the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). They agreed to raise officially allowed production to 30 million barrels a day—but since production is already at that level, the agreement will likely have little effect on oil prices. The compromise came out in Saudi Arabia’s favor, since the country defied other OPEC members earlier this year and unilaterally raised its own production.
Tensions between Iran and the West continued, with some saying a covert war has already begun. An escalation would likely drive oil prices much higher, and the U.S. and European Union are reportedly trying to find ways to apply pressure to Iran that would neither raise oil prices nor hand Iran windfall profits.