Durban Very Small Steps for a Daunting Challenge


(E)  There was a lot going on this week for the media. European countries (to the exception of the UK) agreed on monitoring their budget deficits at their (last?) debt summit to save the Euro. The race for the US presidential election is starting to be interesting. In Africa, Tunisia has a new constitution, while Ivory Coast and The Republic of Congo are going through some challenging election processes. And, last but not least, in Silicon Valley, we are waiting for the IPO of Zynga anytime soon!

And by the way, there was also the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban in South Africa. The conference that the media did not much cover over the last two weeks. Out of a sample of a few major publications that I read every day: The New York Times, Le Monde, The Financial Times, The Economist, only the Economist did outline Durban as the first headline on its site over the weekend.

So what was accomplished at Durban?

A proposed agreement (to be further negotiated) that binds 40 wealthy countries (including the US, China, and India – out of 190 countries that were present at Durban) to legally commit to reducing their carbon emissions by 2015, and makes that agreement operational in 2020. One difference between the Durban agreement and the Kyoto protocol is that Kyoto was only signed by the developed countries (to the exception of the US) while the Durban agreement has been signed both by developed and developing countries. However, there is no mention in the agreement of how much those carbon emissions will have to be reduced by. But the Durban agreement includes an acknowledgment that there is a widening gap between the mitigation efforts currently promised, and those required to keep warming within the broadly recognized 2°C safety limit.

The Durban agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol that was enacted in 2007 and was due to expire next year. Governments that are part of the Kyoto Protocol agreed in Durban to a second commitment period to the protocol that will last five to eight years (though Russia, Japan, and Canada have said that they will not be part of it). The Kyoto agreement requires countries to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from the 1990 level initially over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012.

In addition, an agreement in Durban was also reached on a global “Green Climate Fund”, which will provide $100 billion that rich countries have promised to make available to poor ones by 2020, to help them cut their carbon emissions and to adapt to climate change. However, there is no mention in this second agreement of how those $100 billion will be financed.

So what should have been accomplished at Durban that was not accomplished at the previous climate change conferences namely Cancun in 2010 and Copenhagen in 2009?

I) The world needs to cut its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions sooner rather than later and sharply rather than lower to avoid a potential increase in average temperatures from 1820 below 2 0C or 3.6 0F considered as the tipping point beyond which climate change becomes uncontrollable. That goal translates on a different scale, that the world’s governments must succeed to cut worldwide CO2  emissions in half, from the 1990 levels, by 2050 with specific targets mostly for 2011, 2012 and 2015 and not for 2020 or 2040 when it will likely be too late!

II) Nations should be accountable to ensure their emissions targets. This is to avoid the failure of the Kyoto protocol where most of the 38 industrial nations (the EC, Japan, and Canada) which committed to reducing their emission targets of 5% in 2012 might not honor their commitments. Lack of reduction of emissions shall result in the payment of a national carbon tax to a Global Climate Change Fund (GCCF).  

III) Deforestation, which is responsible for around 20% of the concentration of CO2 into the atmosphere, should be stopped in particular in Brazil and the Amazon, Indonesia, New Guinea, and Congo. Appropriate programs and funding should be investigated and implemented to help those countries to fight deforestation by breaking up the demand for the lands and the wood and providing alternative economic developments that are not linked to deforestation.

IV) Together the United-States and China emit 40% of the world’s greenhouses. China is now the first worldwide emitter with 6 billion of tons or 4.58 ton per habitat and the United-States the second emitter with 5.9 billion of tons or 19.78 ton per habitant. As the two economic leading powers of the world, both the United-States and China shall lead the world to a decarbonized economy. Both the United-States and China are the world’s heavy coal-using economies (others are India, Russia, and Australia). 50% of the electric power is generated by coal in the US and although China is clearly leading in renewable energies, it is still building a coal power plant every ten days (coal is primary, by its molecule structure, carbon and so generates more COthan oil or gas do).

V) In order to realistically achieve emission targets, nations shall investigate, co-operate and implement bottom-up policies and practical measures to ensure decarbonized economies first by maximizing energy savings and second through the development and financing of large-scale sustainable cleaner technologies for power generation, industry production, transportation (both for aircrafts and cars and trucks) and heating buildings.

VI) The rich countries (the most CO2 emitting countries) should help the poor ones  (the least CO2 emitting countries) in particular in the South Hemisphere, in Africa and in tropical regions that are the most vulnerable to desertification and water stress to quickly introduce new programs to adapt to climate change. Funding to that end shall come from the Global Climate Change Fund (GCCF).

VII) The path to a decarbonized world can only be built with global cooperation between countries. The world needs to put the research and development efforts and the financing for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), technologies that will provide environmental sustainability, in parallel to operational policies and tactical measures for climate-change mitigation and adaptation.

So was Durban a success or a failure?

By all means, when you considered what should have been accomplished, and what was accomplished, Durban is a failure as was the previous Cancun and Copenhagen conferences.

Even as previously noted, the participants to the Durban conference acknowledge their failures by including “an acknowledgment that there is a widening gap between the mitigation efforts currently promised, and those required to keep warming within the broadly recognized 2°C safety limit.”

At this point in time, only 34 countries that signed the Kyoto protocol are still committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions – those countries exclude the US and China. Besides that, there are no present goals to reduce further any time any greenhouse gas emissions. That is what the Durban agreement is supposed to define before 2015 with an implementation planned for 2020! When it will be obviously too late. That simply failure!

So what is next for you and me, your country and my country, and the world?

Continuing the path to an ever-expanding carbonized economy is taking the risk that global society will not flourish anymore.  We all know that. The world’s current ecological developments are unsustainable. If we continue living and working in the developed countries as usual, and if we start working and living in the developing countries as the developed countries do, we are taking a significant risk of future humanitarian, social and economic crises. Mankind present disruption of the Earth’s climate and depletion of the Earth’s resources are causing the rapid destruction of life-vital ecosystems. And those two trends can only become worse with a growing human population and access to higher standards of living in the developing world. We can only use the Earth’s lands, water, biodiversity and energy in a sustainable way. Further disruption of the Earth’s climate and further depletion of the Earth’s resources will at least limit, if not endanger economic prosperity for ALL on the planet.

Every nation has not contributed in the same way to the present concentration of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But climate change is borderless. Every population, society, and nation is affected in various and subtle ways. Change to the climate by one nation will affect itself as well as all other nations. Climate change is breaking a century of diplomatic games. Cultural, economic and military competitiveness are no-sense in the context of climate change. Actions to block the consequences of climate changes must be shared globally with the same determinism and anxiety across world nations. Climate change is the business of every nation. And of EVERYONE!

United Nations Framework on Climate Change

Note: the picture above is from the United Nations Conference at Durban.

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