Guest Article #64

The Road to Durban - The State of Play of the Climate Negotiations

Record greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, record peak temperatures in many parts of the world, but also record investments in clean technologies that show that countries are ready to reap the benefits of going green: this is the compelling backdrop against which governments meet in November in South Africa for the UN Climate Change Conference.

It has never been clearer that the nations of the world have acknowledged both the challenges and opportunities of climate change and, 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 Climate Change Conference in 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, countries of the world committed to a maximum temperature rise of 2ºC, and to consider a maximum of 1.5ºC in the near future. All industrialized countries and more than 40 developing countries officially announced emission reduction targets and actions.

The Cancun Agreements also include the most comprehensive package ever agreed by governments to help developing nations deal with climate change, including new institutions to boost technology cooperation, to provide climate finance to developing countries, and to help the poorest and most vulnerable adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.

The two negotiating sessions, and a number of other meetings this year, have advanced work on building the institutions to deliver finance and technology to developing countries. On the Technology Mechanism, work has moved ahead on the Climate Technology Centre and Network. There has been progress on the governance-related issues of the Adaptation Committee. And the Transitional Committee to design the Green Climate Fund has outlined the path towards completing its work in Durban, as agreed by governments in Cancun. This institution-building needs to be accelerated in the final months of the year so that the goals that the international community clearly set for itself in the Cancun Agreements can be achieved.

However, in the big picture of global climate change, 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 that 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 ambition to close that 40% gap.

Good discussions on the future global framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have already taken place during the first two negotiating sessions of 2011. 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.

Meanwhile, governments have time and again called for the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol's flexible mechanisms. This is one of the strongest points of convergence.

There is also an emerging consensus on what nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries could look like, and the role of a registry to match developing country action with climate finance and technology.

For COP 17 to be a success, high-level political engagement is needed throughout the rest of this year to guide the negotiations, notably on the question of the Kyoto Protocol - but also for middle-ground options for the overall emerging global framework to reduce emissions. To facilitate this involvement, the incoming South African presidency and the current Mexican presidency of the COP plan to engage Heads of State and Government on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September. Further ministerial meetings are scheduled ahead of COP 17. And a final round of UNFCCC negotiations will take place in Panama in October.

The reminders grow stronger and starker each year. This year's new record greenhouse gas concentrations and temperatures act as a clear reminder of the urgency of the situation that no country can ignore. And, indeed, the record-high investments in clean technology are an indication that the momentum is there; the potential is there; and the private sector is waiting for its cues. I am confident that Durban can build the next decisive step in the global response to climate change, provided that middle-ground solutions are developed at the appropriate level, and that governments can demonstrate the same spirit of compromise and commitment as they did in Mexico last year.

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 that humanity faces. I congratulate the IISD for its continued leadership in the area of sustainable development and, in that context, I ask that you also continue to place the global fight against climate change at the very heart of your strategies for success.