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Let’s Walk the Talk After COP17

Let's walk the talk after COP17The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa has ended  and was held from 28 November – 11 December 2011. The conference involved a series of events, including the seventeenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 7).

The Conference drew over 12,480 participants, including over 5,400 government officials, 5800 representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations, and more than 1,200 members of the media.

The meetings resulted in the adoption of 19 COP decisions and 17 CMP decisions and the approval of a number of conclusions by the subsidiary bodies. These outcomes cover a wide range of topics, notably the establishment of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, a decision on long-term cooperative action under the Convention, the launch of a new process towards an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all parties to the Convention, and the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

After the frustrations at the Copenhagen conference and the struggle to rescue the multilateral climate regime in Cancun, negotiators in Durban turned a corner and not only resuscitated the Kyoto Protocol but, in doing so, adopted a decision that will lead to negotiations on a more inclusive 21st century climate regime. There was a strong sense that elements of the Durban package, guided by a need to fulfill long overdue commitments that go back to the Bali Roadmap, restored sufficient momentum for a new negotiation process, one that will continue to witness a series of differentiated interests across and within the traditional lines of division between developed and developing countries.

Many welcomed the adoption decisions including on the GCF, and the Durban Platform, as well as the process to launch an agreement with legal force, while others continued to insist on the urgent need to significantly scale up the level of ambition to address the gap between existing mitigation pledges and the needed emission reductions recommended by science.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE UNFCCC AND THE KYOTO PROTOCOL

The international political response to climate change began with the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. The UNFCCC sets out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate system. The Convention, which entered into force on 21 March 1994, now has 195 parties.

In December 1997, delegates to the third session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Kyoto, Japan, agreed to a Protocol to the UNFCCC that commits industrialized countries and countries in transition to a market economy to achieve emission reduction targets. These countries, known as Annex I parties under the UNFCCC, agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008-2012 (the first commitment period), with specific targets varying from country to country. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005 and now has 193 parties.

At the end of 2005, the first steps were taken to consider long term issues. Convening in Montreal, Canada, the first session of the CMP decided to establish the AWG-KP on the basis of Protocol Article 3.9, which mandates consideration of Annex I parties’ further commitments at least seven years before the end of the first commitment period. COP 11 agreed to consider long-term cooperation under the Convention through a series of four workshops known as “the Convention Dialogue,” which continued until COP 13.

BALI ROADMAP (COP 13)

COP 13 and CMP 3 took place in December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia. Negotiations resulted in the adoption of the Bali Action Plan. Parties established the AWG-LCA with a mandate to focus on key elements of long term cooperation identified during the Convention Dialogue: mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and a shared vision for long-term cooperative action. The Bali conference also resulted in agreement on the Bali Roadmap. Based on two negotiating tracks under the Convention and the Protocol, the Roadmap set a deadline for concluding the negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009.

COPENHAGEN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, took place in December 2009. The event was marked by disputes over transparency and process. During the high-level segment, informal negotiations took place in a group consisting of major economies and representatives of regional and other negotiating groups. Late in the evening of 18 December, these talks resulted in a political agreement: the “Copenhagen Accord,” which was then presented to the COP plenary for adoption. Over the next 13 hours, delegates debated the Accord. Many supported adopting it as a step towards securing a “better” future agreement.

However, some developing countries opposed the Accord, which they felt had been reached through an “untransparent” and “undemocratic” negotiating process. Ultimately, the COP agreed to “take note” of the Copenhagen Accord. It established a process for parties to indicate their support for the Accord and, during 2010, over 140 countries did so. More than 80 countries also provided information on their national emission reduction targets and other mitigation actions.

On the last day of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, parties also agreed to extend the mandates of the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP, requesting them to present their respective outcomes to COP 16 and COP/MOP 6.

CANCUN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE (COP 16)

Following four preparatory meetings in 2010, the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, took place from 29 November to 11 December 2010. By the end of the conference, parties had finalized the Cancun Agreements, which include decisions under both negotiating tracks. Under the Convention track, Decision 1/CP.16 recognized the need for deep cuts in global emissions in order to limit global average temperature rise to 2°C. Parties also agreed to consider strengthening the global long-term goal during a review by 2015, including in relation to a proposed 1.5°C target. Parties also addressed other aspects of mitigation, such as measuring, reporting and verification (MRV); reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+).

DURBAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE (COP 17)

Following a welcoming ceremony attended by South African President Jacob Zuma and other high-level dignitaries, delegatesgathered for the opening plenary meetings of the COP, CMP, the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). COP 16 President Patricia Espinosa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mexico, urged delegates to agree on, inter alia, full implementation of the Cancun Agreements, capitalizing the Green Climate Fund, and the future of the Kyoto Protocol, reaffirming the relevance of a rules-based system.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres stressed that two decisive steps must be taken in Durban: tasks from COP 16 must be completed and key political questions from Cancun answered. She highlighted launching the Adaptation Committee, operationalizing the Technology Mechanism in 2012, approving the GCF, and providing more clarity on fast-start finance. She stressed the need for a fair and responsible

In support of these two main bodies, four other bodies convened: the resumed 14th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA); the resumed 16th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP); and the 35th sessions of SBI and SBSTA.

WHAT NEXT?

The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the eighth Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 8), among other associated meetings, are scheduled to take place in Doha, Qatar, 26 November – 7 December 2012.

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