It has never been clear if countries of the world have acknowledged both the challenges and opportunities of climate change. In Durban they need to take the next decisive step in their response to the challenge.
They have a solid foundation for action, laid at last year’s UN Framework Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in Cancun, Mexico.
The Cancun agreements provide the strongest signal countries have ever given to the private sector that the world is moving toward low-carbon economies.
With near-universal support, the world committed to a maximum temperature rise of 2ºC, and to consider a maximum of 1,5ºC in the near future. All industrialised countries and more than 40 developing countries officially announced emission reduction targets and actions.
UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres says the two negotiating sessions, and a number of other meetings this year, have advanced work on building institutions to deliver finance and technology to developing countries. There has been progress on the governance-related issues of the Adaptation Committee.
In the big picture of global climate change, however, the international response is lacking in one critical area, the sum total of official emission reduction pledges adds up to only 60% of what is needed to keep the temperature increase to 2ºC.
This means with the present pledges, the world is heading towards what is universally considered to be an unacceptable temperature rise. Because of this, every effort needs to be made to find a realistic way to increase the level of interest to close that 40% gap.
In this context, a key question that needs to be answered in Durban is the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Many countries want the treaty to continue, but some are not willing to continue with it, at least not in its current form.
Others would like those elements of the Protocol which ensure predictability and compliance with national commitments to reduce greenhouse gases to be integrated into future mitigation action.
Countries have always called for the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol’s flexible mechanisms. This is one of the strongest points of convergence.
But, for COP 17 to be a success, high-level political engagement is needed throughout the rest of the remaining weeks of this year to guide the negotiations — notably on the question of the Kyoto Protocol – and also for middle-ground options for the overall emerging global framework to reduce emissions.
It is hoped to facilitate this involvement, the incoming South African presidency and the outgoing Mexican presidency of the COP could have engaged heads of State and government on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September.
The reminders grow stronger and starker each year. This year’s new record greenhouse gas concentrations and temperatures acts as a clear reminder of the urgency of the situation that no country can ignore. Durban needs to be the next essential step in the international effort to resolve the long-term climate change challenge, without which there can be no long-term solution to the many other problems of sustainable development humanity faces.
Since the COP 17 is being held on African soil, the continent should place the global fight against climate change at the very heart of its strategies for success.
Already, developed countries have made five key promises for adaptation funding — adequate funding, fair burden sharing, balance with mitigation, needs-based targeting and good governance. But they have yet to show they can meet these commitments.
Hence poor countries won’t get predictable and sustained climate finance if this depends only on national treasuries raising taxes. So, Durban should set up a prioritised series of constant, international funding mechanisms, such as levies.
The negotiators must address the blind spot of climate finance: the 2013–2019 scale-up period when total annual contributions are to rise to $100 billion. Specific targets for each year are needed, along with an accountability framework.
At least the 2009 Copenhagen Accord made a concrete, dollar pledge to vulnerable countries feeling the impacts of climate change. Rich nations agreed to give developing countries $30 billion in “fast-start” finance to tackle climate change between 2010-2012, scaling up to $100 billion a year by 2020.
The funding was to be “balanced” between mitigation activities that reduce emissions and adaptation to cope with impacts already underway — a principle reiterated in the Cancun Agreements the following year. Fast-start adaptation finance, in particular, is crucial for the poorest countries to deal with unpredictable disruptions they have done almost nothing to cause.
Sadly, since Cancun, donor countries have made little progress toward their overall fast-start adaptation target. At only between 19-25% of total fast-start finance, adaptation funding is still far from balanced with mitigation and it lacks transparency.
Current adaptation finance also fails to fulfil broader expectations dating back to the original 1992 UNFCCC that these funds should be adequate to address vulnerable countries’ urgent needs.
There is an ever-widening chasm between the support developing countries need to adapt to climate change and the funding promised and delivered by wealthy nations.
While UN climate meetings endlessly debate terms such as “new and additional” or “balanced allocation”, even some basic commitments to adaptation funding are going unfulfilled.
Although funding pledges in Copenhagen are a step towards a precautionary approach, they fall well below even highly conservative estimates of what is needed to prevent harm in vulnerable communities in Africa.
The types and sources of funds are also an issue. It is not clear what proportion of adaptation funding will be pure grants, loans with concessionary terms, or purely market-rate loans.
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