Post-Kyoto Durban Platform
What exactly did the Durban conference on Climate Change, which concluded on December 11, achieve? Simply pledges by developed countries indicating their intention to take on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even these are conditional on the domestic processes of some developed country parties or a new legally binding agreement on greenhouse gas emissions reduction that would effectively replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Those under a legal obligation to take on cuts are developed countries and countries with economies in transition listed in Annex 1 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Of the Annex 1 countries that are parties to the KP, the United States is notably absent.
But the US agreed in 2007 at the Bali climate conference that it would take ‘comparable efforts’ to KP parties in reducing its own huge emissions. The quid pro quo was that developing countries would take nationally appropriate mitigation actions as a trade-off to pull in the US into the global mitigation effort. This set of actions under the UNFCCC would complement the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period of emission cuts so that we move more quickly to slow down global temperature increase.
Meanwhile the KP legal regime was designed to avoid a gap between the first and second commitment periods. In December 2005, a structured approach was initiated with the specific mandate to agree on the reduction targets in aggregate and individually or jointly of Annex 1 Parties.
The first commitment period ran from 2008 and ends on 31 December 2012. But after more than five years of negotiations, the negotiators failed to yield an agreement, with only very low pledges made by mainly European countries. Since 2007 Annex 1 Parties had also increased their demands and conditions on developing countries such as China and India to take on mitigation commitments in a new legally binding treaty, hoping this would pull the US into taking action. As many observers and developing country delegates remarked, if the US Administration cannot even get a domestic climate law passed in the US Congress, how can it be part of any new international treaty?
However, before Durban, the European Union already made it clear that it wanted its ‘roadmap’ adopted in Durban: it would accept a ‘political’ second commitment period (not a finalized legal amendment to the Kyoto Protocol to be adopted in Durban to incorporate a second commitment period) on the condition that a new treaty process be launched. This new treaty would replace the KP.
On the other hand, developing countries were one voice in strongly insisting that the level of mitigation ambition of the second commitment must be in accordance with the requirements of science and there must be no gap after 2012. The Kyoto Protocol must be kept alive and its implementation strengthened – it covers only Annex 1 Parties, which, because of their historical responsibility for global warming and equity requires them to take the lead to do more.
Besides, since 2010 with the Cancun decisions, developing countries (except for least developed countries and small island states) have already committed to take mitigation actions that will be subject to international transparency requirements, beyond their UNFCCC obligations. So the pressure was intense in Durban as to who will be responsible for ‘killing’ the KP if no second commitment period was accepted.
As the dust settles on the Durban Platform, many developing country parties are concerned that there is still no legally binding second commitment period as envisaged under the KP; the ambition level is too low compared to what is required by science; there is no aggregate number for the overall greenhouse gases reduction, with each party free to set its own level; and the length of the commitment period is uncertain (it can be five or eight years to be decided in 2012). Some expert observers are of the view that the essentially voluntary nature of the Durban decision, with no political support for any more commitment periods, will mark the effective end of the Kyoto Protocol.