I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.
By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 8:26 PM GMT on December 12, 2011
Durban – Conference of Parties – What Happened?
The Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa is over. The Conference of the Parties' (COP) are the annual meetings that are part of the governing body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. So what happened in Durban? (Rood Interviewed at livescience.com)
From the official point of view, the place to go is the UN Framework website. With a little bit of exploration, there are two official, short, perhaps preliminary documents. One is on the development of a Green Fund. This is something of a follow up from the 2010 COP in Cancun, Mexico. This is the development of a mechanism where the developed nations pay (certain) developing nations funds for both response to climate-change impacts and technological development. Tracing much further back, there were the seeds of this in the The Kyoto Protocol.
The other is being called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Here is the current official link and another link with a couple of readable introductory paragraphs. As I understand this agreement, in 2012 nations will start to develop a policy, a protocol, a treaty, some entity with legal implications, that will be completed in 2015 and will initiate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.
It is hard to look at these short documents from Durban and to state with any precision what will happen. It is the nature of high level diplomatic documents to be ambiguous or perhaps to support flexibility so that the parties can agree to work together but can leave the details of implementation and execution to the individual parties. The implementation will vary widely from country to country.
Given this ambiguity allows people to see success and failure in different ways. It is a measure of success that the countries keep talking, and one gets the impression from year to year that more and more major greenhouse gas emitters are agreeing that something has to be done to try to limit warming and its societal disruptions. On the other hand, there is no real evidence that these continued international machinations are leading to meaningful reductions or strategies for reductions. It remains true that an international “solution” to the greenhouse gas emission problem is an unrealistic expectation, and solutions will trickle up from below. As the solutions trickle up perhaps some will be disruptive enough to markets and economies to have major impacts. Then these will define the international response.
What seems to be important to me? Durban continues to show the realignment of global power represented by the emergence of China as a economic and political power. The role of India, South Africa, and Brazil continues to grow. The European Union is in an interesting position, because of their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, and the Kyoto Protocol, practically, expiring in 2012. There is, still, a seeming European commitment to emissions reductions, and this is motivating alliances of small island states and the “Least Developed Countries” with the European Union – at least there is a commitment to trying to reduce. The United States remains in its curious position as something of loner – a position that, IMHO, grows as the world economies realign. What is interesting to me is seeing that the countries that are most heavily investing in alternative energies are starting to say they might consider the 2020 reductions … even China, from Wall Street Journal.
Here are some links to different takes on the meeting:
Guardian: Durban a breakthrough leading towards a possible global treaty
Asian Age: India-EU deal saves global climate meeting.
Irish TImes: Durban falls short.
BBC: Durban winners and losers.
Aljazeera: “Important Advance”
Washington Post: Last Minute Compromise.
And here is a nice analysis from Mother Jones.
I will end this potpourri of Durbanesque events with a couple of points from the International Energy Agency (IEA). What is the IEA? From their website:
“The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous organisation which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond.
Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA’s initial role was to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets.” (about the IEA)
Prior to the Durban Conference the IEA did a press release associated with their annual World Energy Outlook. (Executive Summary ) The IEA documents state that the lock-in to current energy infrastructure and investments is making it increasingly difficult to imagine holding global-average warming to 2 degrees C. This year they do a thorough analysis of coal and the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. And in an Durban-related interview IEA Chief Economist, Fatih Birol, says that we are currently on the track for six degrees C warming. This analysis of our energy reality places any optimism reflected in some of the articles above in stunning realism. Here is the start of the Executive Summary:
“There are few signs that the urgently needed change in direction in global energy trends is underway. Although the recovery in the world economy since 2009 has been uneven, and future economic prospects remain uncertain, global primary energy demand rebounded by a remarkable 5% in 2010, pushing CO2 emissions to a new high. Subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption of fossil fuels jumped to over $400 billion.” Executive Summary
Without the availability and implementation of a low-carbon energy infrastructure that is cheap relative to fossil fuels, we have few choices and weak incentives to face the needed emissions reduction. So from Durban we are left with the same difficult choices, but with something of a new agreement and growing feeling of urgency for moving forward.
A new survey from Yale Project on Climate Change Communication: Majority in U.S. Support Emissions Reduction
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.