The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Durban, South Africa in December 2011. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCC, from Costa Rica, said at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, on January 19th: “Without doubt, the Durban Climate Change Conference was the most encompassing and furthest reaching conference in the history of the climate change negotiations.” While some are optimistic about the conference outcomes, which include a decision by Parties to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015, others feel that Durban hit many of the same road blocks as previous COPs in terms of making real progress, and that we may be running out of time in our battle to protect the planet for future generations.
Numerous ELP alumni participated in the COP17, and here they reflect on their experiences. Yani Septiani (ELP 2011) highlights methodological guidance for REDD+ related activities as an important product of Durban, and Denis Sonwa (ELP 2010) notes the important progress made at the conference on REDD+ negotiations. Osmond Mugweni (ELP 2008) remarks that he learned as much from the city of Durban’s climate change planning as from the conference itself, writing: “Africa is complex, unpredictable, diverse and wonderful. It is also one of the most vulnerable continents on the planet, when it comes to impacts of climatic change. As an African city, we found Durban to have been remarkably innovative in its unique response to climate change.” Negash Teklu (ELP 2011) comes away from the conference optimistic about the future while Hafijul Khan (ELP 2011) is wary of the Durban Platform and the mounting delays in directed action in the face of irreversible climate impacts. All of the alums reiterate the need to make real progress on climate change strategies before it’s too late.
Ethiopia’s Negash Teklu (ELP 2011) is very optimistic about the COP’s overall outcomes, but warns of catastrophic outcomes if emission reduction commitments are not fulfilled He writes: “In real words, it means that for the first time in history, by 2020 all major emitters, including the United States, China and India, will be held to the same legal obligations in the quest to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The UNFCCC decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015, to be adopted and come into force from 2020. At the same time they recognized the need to raise their collective level of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. A temperature rise of 2C above pre-industrial levels is estimated to be the limit beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible. In order to have even a 50:50 chance of staying within that limit, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculates that emissions must peak by 2020 at the latest and fall rapidly thereafter. Carbon output must be roughly halved by mid-century, compared with 1990.”
Osmond Mugweni (ELP 2008), a member of the Zimbabwe Climate Change Working Group (ZCCWG), focused on the Development and Climate event. The event spotlighted “effective climate change adaptation planning in response to last year’s decision under the Cancun adaptation Framework to invite all countries, especially developing countries, to develop National Adaptation Plans (NAPS). Operationalization of the NAPs was due to be discussed at Cop 17 in Durban. The event was therefore aimed at addressing some of the lessons and challenges emerging from existing adaptation planning processes. The focus was on improving ‘evidence- based adaptation decision making’, exploring issues of information needs, challenges of robust evidence generation, information use, and the politics of decision making in practice.”
Mugweni reports that he and his colleagues learned a great deal, not only at the conference, but also through experiences and excursions in the city of Durban. Mugweni writes “Africa is complex, unpredictable, diverse and wonderful. It is also one of the most vulnerable continents on the planet, when it comes to impacts of climatic change. As an African city, we found Durban to have been remarkably innovative in its unique response to climate change. Among other things, we saw that Durban has established a dedicated Agricultural Management Unit that aims to create food sovereignty for all the city`s residents by helping communities to establish gardens that enhance their own food security and provides their economic security through selling fresh produce.” Mugweni and his colleagues concluded that Zimbabwe could learn a lot from South African progress, and in particular, he hopes that the Zimbabwe government will find a more effective way of working with the NGOs for the benefit of the country.
Yani Septiani (ELP 2011) and Denis Sonwa (ELP 2008) participated in many of the forest and REDD+ related activities at the COP17. Septiani writes “Recent regional discussions on REDD+ point to the increasing need to incorporate gender issues and attend to women’s inclusion and empowerment. I was invited as panelist for Gender and REDD+ in the Asia Pacific: Supporting Innovation for Women’s Leadership and Gender Equality. Presentations were made on a series of innovations for addressing the gap between women’s involvement and REDD+ in the Asia Pacific region”. As a member of the Indonesian Delegation of COP17, Septiani was also invited by the International Institute for Environmental Development (IIED) to be a panelist in the “REDD+, poverty reduction and sustainable development” workshop. She was also responsible for arranging a forestry event to promote Indonesian Forestry with the themes: World Challenges & Modalities of Forestry in Indonesia; Policy on Forestland Utilization for Mitigation and Adaptation of Climate Change; Indonesia’s Achievement in Building MRV Readiness; and Current Status of REDD in Indonesia.
Denis Sonwa from CIFOR, Cameroon, was involved in the dry forest symposium, “Defining a New Research Agenda for Africa’s Dry Forests” (see www.cifor.org/dry-forests), and also presented in the “Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) Challenges for REDD: How Can Latin America and Africa Collaborate?” session. As a CIFOR staff member, Sonwa was also part of the organizing team of the Forest Day http://www.forestsclimatechange.org/events.html. Sonwa writes, “As a scientist working on forests, I noticed that the REDD+ negotiations are moving ahead, despite the fact that some of the key issues such as finance will not be decided until later. I also believe that the decision to establish a “green climate fund” is a good milestone.”
Septiani shared Sonwa’s concern for REDD+ financing structures, and reports that the need for financial consistency through the next two phases of REDD+ implementation will be key in countries like Indonesia if the program is to be successful. Septiani notes that one of the important products of Durban was methodological guidance for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. She writes: “there is some homework we must do to be ready for the implementation steps of REDD+, to prepare infrastructure for the implementation of REDD+, including: preparing a National Strategy for REDD+, developing a system for Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) documentation at a national and sub national level, developing a system for forest monitoring and reporting, and establishing information systems for the implementation of ‘safeguards’ within REDD+.”
Hafij Khan, from Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association – BELA (ELP 2011), attended the conference to assist the LDCs Chair on Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change (http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=218237) and to aid Bangladesh delegates in legal issues. He notes that although the parties agreed to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, “in fact the protocol has been paralyzed”. UNFCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said, “The breakthrough and departure from the past that Durban achieved lies in the fact that, on top of confirming what they will do over the next 8 years, countries agreed to negotiate a universal legal agreement, the so-called Durban Platform, under which all countries will mitigate their emissions in the long run. However, it remains to be seen how Durban outcomes will affect climate change policy in the coming years. Khan writes, “Under “Long-term Cooperative Action” in the Convention agreement, the global community agreed for a new protocol to be adopted by 2015 to come into force by 2020, and a new working group was proposed to work to adopt a legally binding instrument. In fact, if a new protocol is adopted replacing Kyoto, that would take time to come into force and by then the planet would face irreversible climate impacts.”
Negash Teklu leaves us with some main conclusions and recommendations to maintain the Durban achievements in the coming years:
Equity Governments must agree on country-by-country targets for emissions cuts, taking into consideration the historic emissions each is responsible for, the efforts on emissions each have made, their populations and how countries can continue to develop.
Money Developing countries are demanding financial assistance to cut emissions and cope with the effects of climate change, but it is not clear where this will come from.
US elections If a Republican becomes president next year, it may be impossible to negotiate a deal.
The legal form The form of words settled on – “an agreed outcome with legal force” – means a legally binding commitment, as it is vague enough for countries to dispute.