December 12, 2011 – Climate Change Agreement in Durban: the Politics of Compromise

In a last-minute deal reached yesterday at the UN Climate Convention meeting in Durban, governments decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015. Work will begin on this immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

The value of an international consensus on any topic should never be underestimated. International law rests largely on agreements in the form of treaties and protocols. Consensus proceeds at the pace of the slowest and to the level of the most reluctant.

The existing treaty, the Kyoto protocol, had not secured the participation of developing countries and some of the leading developed countries, not least the USA. With the existing Kyoto targets due to expire next year, only the EU among major developed countries had committed to a continuation.

Against this background, the agreement in Durban, to write a comprehensive global agreement to reduce GHG emissions, covering developed and developing countries, to come into force in 2020. is groundbreaking. But it comes at a price.

Scientists at the Climate Action Tracker, an independent science-based climate change assessment, warn that the world continues on a pathway of over 3°C warming  with likely extremely severe impacts.

The agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.

“What remains to be done is to take more ambitious actions to reduced emissions, and until this is done we are still headed to over 3°C warming. There are still no new pledges on the table and the process agreed in Durban towards raising the ambition and increasing emission reductions is uncertain it its outcome.” said Bill Hare, Director of Climate Analytics.

The next major UNFCCC Climate Change Conference, COP 18/ CMP 8, is to take place 26 November to 7 December 2012 in Qatar, in close cooperation with the Republic of Korea.

Details of key decisions that emerged from COP17 in Durban Green Climate Fund

  • Countries have already started to pledge to contribute to start-up costs of the fund, meaning it can be made ready in 2012, and at the same time can help developing countries get ready to access the fund, boosting their efforts to establish their own clean energy futures and adapt to existing climate change.
  • A Standing Committee is to keep an overview of climate finance in the context of the UNFCCC and to assist the Conference of the Parties. It will comprise 20 members, represented equally between the developed and developing world.
  • A focussed work programme on long-term finance was agreed, which will contribute to the scaling up of climate change finance going forward and will analyse options for the mobilisation of resources from a variety of sources.


  • The Adaptation Committee, composed of 16 members, will report to the COP on its efforts to improve the coordination of adaptation actions at a global scale.
  • The adaptive capacities above all of the poorest and most vulnerable countries are to be strengthened. National Adaptation Plans will allow developing countries to assess and reduce their vulnerability to climate change.
  • The most vulnerable are to receive better protection against loss and damage caused by extreme weather events related to climate change.


  • The Technology Mechanism will become fully operational in 2012.
  • The full terms of reference for the operational arm of the Mechanism – the Climate Technology Centre and Network – are agreed, along with a clear procedure to select the host. The UNFCCC secretariat will issue a call for proposals for hosts on 16 January 2012.

Support of developing country action

  • Governments agreed a registry to record developing country mitigation actions that seek financial support and to match these with support. The registry will be a flexible, dynamic, web-based platform.

Other key decisions

  • A forum and work programme on unintended consequences of climate change actions and policies were established.
  • Under the Kyoto protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, governments adopted procedures to allow carbon-capture and storage projects. These guidelines will be reviewed every five years to ensure environmental integrity.
  • Governments agreed to develop a new market-based mechanism to assist developed countries in meeting part of their targets or commitments under the Convention. Details of this will be taken forward in 2012.

This post has now been published in EHS Journal and can be found at the following link COP 17 Climate Change Agreement in Durban: the Politics of Compromise 

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