SCCS blog from Durban climate change negotiations - week 2

The UN climate change negotiations are taking place in Durban, South Africa from 28th November to 9th December 2011.

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland will be represented at the talks by Lang Banks from WWF Scotland and Lexi Barnett from SCIAF. Each day, they will blog on this web page, bringing you the latest news from Durban as it happens.

Lang Banks and Lexi Barnett at UN climate change conference

DAYS 12 - 13 by Lexi Barnett and Lang Banks - Friday 9th to Sunday 11th December 2011

After a record-breaking, marathon session involving all-night negotiations for three nights on the trot, a deal was finally struck at the UN climate talks here in Durban shortly after 5am on Sunday morning.

To the surprise and relief of the dwindling number of delegates, observers and media, the world's governments salvaged a path forward for international negotiations on climate change.

After several days of simmering tension between nations, it took a ten minute "huddle" involving key countries on the floor of the main conference area to reach a deal agreeing to a 'road map' which commits countries to negotiating a protocol, another legal instrument or an "agreed outcome with legal force".

Countries also finally agreed to the establishment of the Green Climate Fund to secure billions of pounds to poor countries to help them cope with impacts of global warming - sadly no sources of money were identified. As the greatest impacts of climate change will be borne by the most vulnerable, who have done least to cause the problem, it is a matter of urgency that funds are found.

But, we must be under no illusion - the outcome of Durban leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of 4C warming. This would be catastrophic for people and the natural world.

Governments have spent crucial days focused on a handful of specific words in the negotiating text, but have paid little heed to repeated warnings from the scientific community that much stronger and more urgent action is needed to cut emissions.

Many countries came in good faith to seal a deal, but have been stymied by a handful of entrenched governments who have consistently resisted raising the level of ambition on climate change.

However, the fight will not stop here. One crumb of comfort in Durban has been the emergence of a large coalition of high ambition countries, led by the most vulnerable nations and small island states, including many in Africa.

It’s good that the UK and EU have aligned themselves with this coalition, but Europe must urgently convince the world that it is serious by increasing the ambition of its painfully weak emissions target for 2020 to at least 30% below 1990 levels. By doing so, the EU would actually benefit its own economy - saving billions on imported fossil fuels and creating the springboard for green growth and new green jobs.

Finally, Scotland's world-leading climate legislation went down well amongst delegates we spoke with here in Durban. We sincerely hope our politicians appreciate the global significance of ensuring Scotland's targets are met.

  • Lang Banks (WWF Scotland) and Lexi Barnett (SCIAF) were representing Stop Climate Chaos Scotland while in Durban.


DAY 11 by Lexi Barnett - Thursday 8th December 2011

We're heading into the final 24 hours of the climate talks in Durban, and so far we've seen a lot of very technical discussion, and not a lot of finalised agreements. The three major issues still on the table are: the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period; an additional agreement to ensure those countries who won't sign up to, or aren't part of, a second commitment period are reducing their emissions; and the path forward to fill the Green Climate Fund. And with talks predicted to go on til the early hours of Saturday morning, we're reaching crunch time.

There have been some positive developments today in terms of the EU working with the African states and small island states, putting forward ambitious proposals for a global treaty that includes those countries who won't accept or aren't part of the KP. We also heard that Germany and Denmark have begun the ball rolling on getting money into the Green Climate Fund- the urgently needed financing to help developing countries adapt to climate change and provide support for green development.

This is crucial. While we can expect to see an agreement on the 'operationalising' of the fund by the close of the Durban talks, we also need a clear path forward to ensure the fund isn't just an empty shell. We need to see plans to ensure that the $100 billion per year by 2020 that's been pledged is flowing into the pot.

In terms of the KP, and ambition to keep the average increase in global temperature below 2 degrees, the good news is that the US is signalling a shift in position. Talk from earlier this week about delaying a global deal til 2020 is being overtaken by calls to ensure that the fair, ambitious and binding global deal on climate change is agreed and ready to go by 2015, and that decisions need to be taken in Durban to get that process on track.

We cannot afford any more inaction or delay. A lot of work has already been done through the UN process, and by the campaigners and ordinary people around the world who recognise that the longer we wait the higher the cost- not only financially but in terms of human lives. The decisions needed in the next 24hours from Durban are the building blocks to ensure that the world is ready to get the deal and start the work.

I heard a South African bishop address the plenary this morning, asking the delegates if they will ransom our children's futures to those who are trying to delay agreement. It's a good question. But it is not only our children's futures, it is the lives of people across Africa, Asia and Latin America who are paying a high price for climate inaction. With a full day of negotiations to go, anything could happen.

  • Lexi Barnett works for SCIAF and is representing Stop Climate Chaos Scotland while in Durban.

Read the ECO newsletter for Thursday 8th December


DAY 10 by Lang Banks - Wednesday 7th December 2011

We woke to news that overnight Brazil’s Senate had decided to pursue short-term gains over long-term security in a vote to do away with long standing protections for the Amazon and other key forested areas.

The new Forest Code, promoted by some rural and agribusiness interests, opens vast new areas of forest to agriculture and cattle ranching and extends amnesties to illegal deforestation conducted prior to 2008.

If signed into law by Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, the changes will jeopardize Brazil’s significant environmental achievements of recent years and severely undermine global efforts to fight climate change and halt biodiversity loss. The changes are also expected to expose poor Brazilians to larger risks from floods and droughts.

But, what does this vote have to do with the talks here in Durban?

Quite a lot actually.

Brazil has committed to 2020 targets of a nearly 40 percent cut in its growth curve of greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction of Amazon deforestation levels by 80 percent compared to average rates registered for the period of 1996-2005. These are commitments of global interest, now almost certainly out of reach because of the revisions to the Forest Code.

Critically, the move also threatens to set back the chance of progress here on a scheme (known as REDD+) designed to support countries reduce climate emissions by preventing deforestation.

However, REDD+ is not the only area of the talks where trouble is brewing. Despite the presence of top-level ministers from almost 200 countries, there have been no obvious moves forward in processes leading to a new, legally-binding agreement covering all nations or ways to help least developed nations through a Green Climate Fund.

Those pledges that are on the table simply aren't good enough. So, in these closing few days we urgently need to see ministers here increase their ambition, because being legally bound to a world of 4 degrees warming is simply not acceptable.

My day finished as a participant in a symbolic handover of planet Earth from adults to some local school children, along with a message to world leaders to ensure these talks deliver a safe climate for everyone.

The time for excuses is over.

The science is clear and the warning is being sounded as loudly as the traditional African drumming that accompanied the handover.

  • Lang Banks works for WWF Scotland and is representing the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition while in Durban.

Read the ECO newsletter for Wednesday 7th December


DAY 9 by Lexi Barnett - Tuesday 6th December 2011

The 'high level segment' of the climate talks officially opens this afternoon, and first to address the conference is President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. It's fitting that we hear from Ethiopia first- a country ravaged by climate change, where drought and famine are destroying lives, right now, while certain member states at the UN continue to drag their feet.

I met this morning with the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) to discuss where we are in the talks and how to go forward. While it looks like we may get some progress on funding to help people in developing countries adapt, the discussions on the Kyoto Protocol and industrialised countries' emissions reductions targets are still looking daunting. The message from PACJA was that there has to be progress on both. One delegate from Ethiopia said: "They can't solve this by saying 'Okay, we'll give you some money but we won't reduce our own emissions' - we need progress on both. If they don't reduce, we'll see a rise in temperature across the globe of 4 degrees. And in Africa it will be 7 degrees."

Amidst the increasing frustration from developing countries here in Durban, and a lack of ambition from industrialised nations, I was pleased to see the First Minister giving a speech in China today, touching on some central themes: recognition of the clear links between dangerous climate change; poverty and human rights; the severity and disproportionate impact borne by women in developing countries; and the moral duty of industrialised countries, which created anthropogenic climate change, to take urgent action.

But the speech comes against a backdrop of powerful nations seeking to delay key decisions to save our planet. The hope of having the Green Climate Fund set up and ready to go by the end of the Durban conference is stil alive, but we need to see money on the table. The EU is being pushed to progress on Kyoto regardless of powerful member states like the US trying to delay. As the Ethiopian delegate in this morning's meeting said, there has to be progress on both emissions and financing. And now the high-level segment of the negotiations have begun, and world leaders have arrived to make decisions, we urge them to do just that: decide, and lead.

  • Lexi Barnett works for SCIAF and is representing Stop Climate Chaos Scotland while in Durban.

Read the ECO newsletter for Tuesday 6th December


DAY 8 by Lang Banks - Monday 5th December 2011

Ministers have now started to arrive and everyone is hoping negotiations can really begin to move forward now. They certainly need to.

One region many are looking towards to help secure a deal by the end of this week is the European Union. The EU has identified itself as leader on climate change for many years. However, concerns have been raised here in Durban about its failure to increase its ambition to cut emissions to 30% by 2020 from the current meager 20% - a commitment that no longer shows a position of real climate leadership.

At today's EU press conference they were also forced to defend accusations that Europe was in fact divided on the issue of climate.

"It is incorrect to say that the EU is not united," said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, "We have a publicly known mandate. There are some differences, but the position is united."

A question by a reporter asking if Poland will use its Presidency of the EU to push Europe to adopt a 30% target was met with the answer from the Polish representative of: "There are only 25 days of the presidency left, including Christmas."

So, I'm guessing that will be a 'no' then.

Perhaps it's just as well we wait until Denmark takes hold of the EU presidency as they, like Scotland, have declared a target of at least 40% cuts in emissions.

In fact, Scotland's world-leading climate targets are being talked about here in Durban thanks to the presence of Scotland's Minister for Environment and Climate, Stewart Stevenson, plus hundreds of delegates sporting striking 'SCOTLAND 42% by 2020' lanyards brought to the talks in my suitcase on behalf of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.

The need to step up the ambition was further underlined today with a report from the Met Office warning that a quarter of people in the UK could suffer more water shortages by the end of the century without action to tackle climate change.

It is now clear that the UK can expect significant disruption to its water, transport and other critical infrastructure. However, it must be remembered that developing countries will be much harder hit by climate change with devastating threats to their food and water security.

Perhaps if many more of the big nations currently slowing these talks down remembered this too then we might see things move more quickly to a positive conclusion for people and the planet.

  • Lang Banks works for WWF Scotland and is representing the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition while in Durban.

Read the ECO newsletter for Monday 5th December


DAYS 6 & 7 by Lexi Barnett - Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th December 2011

Durban climate change march, credit SCIAF

As the first week of climate negotiations drew to a close, Saturday saw people from across Africa and beyond march through the streets of Durban to demand progress on a fair, ambitious and legally binding global climate deal. I joined the march, speaking to many different people about what climate change means to them, and why they felt it important to be here in Durban. One woman, a local fisher woman, told me that she had to be there because climate change meant she was unable to catch enough fish to survive. I also spoke to the Pretoria chair of the Landless People's Movement, who told me he had travelled all the way here because for him, climate change was 'a matter of life and death.'

While there were no official negotiations on Sunday, negotiators were still meeting and civil society groups were hardly pausing in their planning and lobbying, preparing for the arrival of ministers for the high-level negotiations beginning on Monday. The work done in the first week wil be passed on to ministers for agreement- although time is running short to hammer out the complex issues where the UN process is still stalling.

The key issues remain the legal framework of a global agreement, particularly around the Kyoto Protocol and levels of ambition for keeping temperature rise to a 'manageable' limit. The KP, the only existing legally binding framework for industrialised countries to reduce their emissions runs out in 2012, yet players are still unable to agree whether it should be renewed, amended, or abandoned altogether in favour of 'voluntary' reductions.
It's impossible to predict at this stage what will happen with the KP this week- negotiations on this will really run up to the wire. But progress must be made not only on the form, but, crucially, on the substance. There's a concern that focus on the process is sidelining progress on targets to keep temperatures down.

Worryingly, Germany spoke out over the weekend to say they might change their mind on supporting the KP. The UK, however, is still saying it is 'willing to consider' a second commitment period of the KP. But with so many options still on the table - some of them strong, but some extremely weak - all eyes this week will be on the EU.

In terms of financing to help people in developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, the other key issue in these talks, there is an urgent need to fill the pot with money instead of just words.

The conference is agreed that there must be progress on the Green Climate Fund in Durban, as the initial pledges - "fast start finance" - run out in 2013. There's a worry that without a new mechanism for filling the pot beyond 2013 we'll see a huge drop off in support for developing countries to survive climate change. It's looking hopeful that this mechanism can be agreed at Durban, and that the fund can be 'operationalised' by the end of this conference, but we also need to see clear plans for filling the pot, and forward planning and timelines to ensure that the money for it is forthcoming.

As ministers arrive to begin work on Monday morning, there's a lot to do. But the message from people across Africa and around the world is that progress must be made. And fast. The words of a woman I met on the climate march are ringing in my ears: 'While they are in there arguing over words, I am out here, trying to feed my children. They need to fix this.'

  • Lexi Barnett works for SCIAF - the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund - and is representing Stop Climate Chaos Scotland in Durban.


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