by Martin Khor
Monday 12 December 2011
New climate talks launched at Durban
A new round
of climate negotiations aimed at an agreement by 2015 was launched
on Sunday at a stormy last session at the Durban climate conference.
The UN Climate
Change Conference in Durban ended on Sunday morning with the launch
of negotiations for a new global climate deal to be completed in 2015.
The new deal aims to ensure “the highest possible mitigation efforts
by all Parties”, meaning that the countries should undertake deep
Greenhouse Gas emissions cuts, or lower the growth rates of their
It will take the form of either a protocol, another legal instrument
or an outcome with legal force.
In a night of high drama, the European Union tried to pressurize India
and China to agree to commit to a legally binding treaty such as a
protocol, and to agree to cancel the term “legal outcome” from the
list of possible results, as they said this was too weak an option.
The EU and the United States have said they want major developing
countries to undertake emissions-cutting obligations similar to them.
This is a departure from the Climate Change Convention which distinguishes
between the binding commitments that rich countries have to undertake
and the voluntary climate actions that developing countries should
At the closing plenary on 11 December, Indian environment minister
Jayanthi Natarajan gave a passionate defence why India was against
committing to a legally binding protocol, and the need to base the
new talks on equity.
Why, she asked, should India give a blank cheque by agreeing upfront
to joining a protocol when the content of that protocol was not yet
“We are not talking about changing lifestyles but about effects on
the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers,” she said. “Why should
I sign away the rights of 1.2 billion people? Is that equity?”
that the resolution on the new round of talks did not even contain
the words equity or common but differentiated responsibility, a term
in the Convention meaning that rich countries should contribute more
than poor ones in the fight against climate change.
If such a protocol is developed, in which poor countries had to cut
their emissions as much as rich countries, “we will be giving up the
equity principle. It is goodbye to common and differentiated responsibility.
It would be the greatest tragedy.”
Several countries, including China, the Philippines, Pakistan and
Egypt, supported India’s position. Eventually, it was agreed that
the term “legal outcome” be changed to “outcome with legal force”,
and the Conference approved the launching of the new talks.
At the same time, it also took steps to wind down the current framework
of climate talks, comprising the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Road
The Kyoto Protocol was saved from extinction by a decision by mainly
European countries to enter a second period of emissions reduction
commitments to start in 2013.
However, Kyoto has been significantly and perhaps fatally weakened.
Japan, Russia and Canada have pulled out of a second period, while
Australia and New Zealand notified that they may or may not join in.
With only the European countries left, the Kyoto protocol may live
on till 2017 or 2020, but by then it may already be overshadowed by
the new deal.
The sketchy terms of reference of this new deal were remarkable for
being so one-sided in favour of developed countries, as the equity
principle was conspicuously absent, and the implied principle was
that all countries had to take part, and having a high ambition for
total emission cuts.
The Durban conference also finalized details for a new Green Climate
Fund, which will start operating with a Board and interim secretariat
by early 2012.
At times the Durban talks looked as if they were going off track,
with disagreements on many issues. Even at the last session there
were grumbles about how the South Africans, which managed the meeting,
were trying to push through resolutions and texts without allowing
In the end Durban may be remembered for phasing out climate change
frameworks based on equity and launching talks for a new treaty whose
contours are yet to be defined.