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Hints from Panama: What can global warming negotiations accomplish in Durban, South Africa? (Part 2)

Jake Schmidt

Posted October 5, 2011 in Greening China, Solving Global Warming

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IMG_6667[This post is part of a three-part series on the state of the global warming negotiations in the lead-in to the Ministerial meeting in Durban, South Africa this December.  This post—Part 2— outlines the state of play on the implementation of the Cancun Agreements.  Part 1 outlined the state of negotiations on the key political issues that will dominate the overall narrative in Durban – the “fate of the Kyoto Protocol” and “where are we headed”.  Part 3 outlines “what really matters” – actions on the ground.]

The Cancun Agreements were adopted with a large standing ovation.  The agreements include key aspects which are a foundation from which we can build a greater international response to global warming.  The Cancun Agreements included: (1) commitments by key countries to take action to reduce emissions; (2) systems to improve transparency and accountability; (3) creation of a “Green Climate Fund” to help mobilize significant investments in developing countries to address climate change, and (4) progress on helping reduce deforestation emissions, speed up the deployment of clean energy, and assisting the most vulnerable in becoming more resilient to the impacts of global warming. 

The final decision on each of these elements wasn’t spelled out in the Cancun agreements, but the agreements established some important parameters for each element.  Breathing life into these agreements was to be one of the key aspects of the negotiation leading into Durban (or so we hoped).  If countries can resolve the major political issue confronting Durban then these implementation details are ripe for agreement.

Reaching agreement in Durban on these elements could then change the dynamic on-the-ground as these new frameworks could be implemented immediately.  Can countries get agreement on the key operational details to implement the Cancun Agreements?  (For more details on each of these listen to my recent webinar for Yale University and see the presentation from this event).

Mitigation commitments.  Developed and developing countries accounting for over 80% of the world’s global warming pollution made specific commitments to reduce their emissions in Copenhagen and Cancun.  Unfortunately, at this stage countries aren’t proposing deeper commitments that will put the world on a more solid path to address global warming.  But we are starting to have some greater clarity in key countries about the actions they’ll implement to reduce emissions.  For example, the US has new car standards, new appliance efficiency standards, and is developing carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants.  China has begun to release detailed rules and regulations for the implementation of their energy and carbon intensity targets, including new policies to significantly ramp-up solar energyThe Australian government has unveiled the details of their national climate law, which are expected to be voted on this year.  Will these (and other) countries continue to follow through?

Transparency and accountability for developed and developing countries.  In Cancun countries decided to specific details on how to increase the transparency and accountability of their emission reduction actions and financial support.  While the formal negotiations haven’t outlined the exact operational guidelines for these provisions, more countries understand the importance of resolving these issues and recommendations for detailed guidelines have been outlined.  In fact, NRDC provided specific recommendations on this in the lead-in to Cancun.  Without progress on fleshing out the details on these provisions a number of countries are likely to block progress on other elements of a “Durban Agreement”.

Creation of a “Green Climate Fund” to help mobilize investments in developing countries.  In Cancun, countries agreed to develop a new multilateral fund to help invest in developing country emissions reduction and adaptation actions.  The Transitional Committee – that was established to craft the rules for this new fund – has met three times with different work streams to hash out the rules for specific elements.  The discussions on the new fund have made important progress and could be moved much closer to operation in Durban.  Whether it can move to this next level will depend on whether the transparency and accountability guidelines have adequately progressed. 

There is also an important debate emerging around whether Durban can launch a more formal negotiation on how to generate sizeable and sustainable funding for the medium- and long-term.  International transportation, as the World Bank notes, is shaping up to be a very promising route to scale-up resources, while at the same time addressing emissions from one of the fastest growing sources.  Will the US and developing countries block the beginning of a negotiation on generating finance from international transport (e.g., aviation and shipping)?

Removing policy, technical, and finance barriers to low-carbon energy deployment in the developing world.  In Cancun, countries agreed to establish a “technology center and network” to help speed up the deployment of low-carbon energy in the developing world.  This is an important tool in removing key barriers to low-carbon energy deployment.  It would provide technical, financial, and other expertise to help developing countries.  If implemented right it would lead to larger demand for low-carbon energy.  No longer would policymakers, companies, or financial institutions be able to say: “we don’t know how to do that, the policies aren’t right, or we can’t access financing”.  Negotiations on the “centers and networks” could progress to the point in Durban that it could be quickly turned from concept to reality.     

We can clap (and agree), but can we implement?  Countries proved in Cancun that they can rally around a package of agreements which can help to address global warming.  But can they prove that they can turn agreements into action?  Durban is a key moment for countries to show that they want to do more than negotiate – they want to act.

Tomorrow’s post will cover what really matters – is action happening on the ground?

* Photo Courtesy: Adopt a Negotiator.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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