UN climate change conference yields commitment to negotiate legally-binding initiatives

[JURIST] Delegates from 194 countries at the Durban UN Climate Change Conference [official website] in South Africa agreed on Sunday to negotiate global initiatives that would eventually force countries to take legally-binding action in order to slow the pace of climate change. After two weeks of debate, the delegates agreed on four major proposals. First, the countries decided to extend the Kyoto Protocol [text, PDF; UN backgrounder], whose first phase of emissions cuts runs from 2008 to the end of 2012. Under Sunday's proposal, the second commitment to Kyoto will extend from the beginning of 2012 until the end of 2017. Second, in light of a failure to create a new, internationally-binding treaty at a climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the delegates agreed to form a process known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action [proposal text, PDF] which entails negotiations to form a legally-binding climate change agreement by 2015 to be enacted by 2020. Third, although poor nations have consistently needed help to finance the adaptations to climate change, the debt crisis has forced developed nations to also limit their contributions to the initiative. The delegates broke ground in agreeing to design a Green Climate Fund [proposal text, PDF] to pool up to $100 billion a year by 2020 for poor countries, but they did not establish how they would reach this number, nor who would contribute to it. Finally, the delegates agreed that implementing a new internationally-binding instrument would raise ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As such, they decided to launch a work plan to close the "ambition gap" between countries' current emissions reduction pledges for 2020 and the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius. Other proposals that were raised but not agreed upon include mechanisms for national adaptation plans [proposal text] and an extension of emissions cut pledges made in Copenhagen in 2009 and in Cancun in 2010.

The negotiations at Durban came shortly after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC [official website], a UN-led scientific panel, released [JURIST report] its summary for policymakers [text, PDF] regarding risk management for disasters related to climate change. In July, the UN Security Council [official website] made its first official statement [JURIST report] implicating climate change as a serious threat to world peace and security. At the urging of Germany, which released a Concept Note [text] to lead the discussion, the Security Council debated global warming [EPA materials; JURIST news archive] for the first time since 2007. Though Germany took the initiative, its attempt was reportedly not as strong as some of the nations wanted [BBC report], including Russia's push for "possible security implications," and other countries' urging to create a "green helmets" peacekeeping force [Guardian report] that would intervene in conflicts where environmental resources became scarce. UN delegates have met several times to discuss an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. Notably, the delegates met in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 to negotiate the Protocol's replacement following its expiration. There, members agreed to the Copenhagen Accord [text, PDF] which was not legally-binding nor a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, but nonetheless endorsed its continuation.

 

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