Thursday, 12 January 2012 10:53

Durban UN Climate Change Conference in review

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The 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, concluded on December 11 after two weeks of tense negotiation. The outcome?  An agreement to be part of a new treaty to address global warming. This comprehensive global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is different from past climate agreements, as none of its predecessors have been legally binding. The precise phrase used is "a protocol, a legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force," which admittedly leaves a lot of wiggle room, but experts agree this is still a step forward from prior voluntary arrangements.  The agreement, referred to as the "Durban platform," is expected to go into effect in 2020, with discussions slated to finish by 2015. Other takeaways from the Durban conference:
  • Unlike Kyoto, the pending treaty will apply to both developed and developing countries
  • A new Green Climate Fund will provide support to the poorest countries to help them reach their emission reduction goals and adapt to the realities of climate change
Michael Jacobs, visiting professor at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, said of the Durban agreement:

"[It] has not in itself taken us off the 4°C path we are on, but by forcing countries for the first time to admit that their current policies are inadequate and must be strengthened by 2015, it has snatched 2°C from the jaws of impossibility."

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (right) gets a congratulatory hug from the conference executive director Christiana Figueres at the closing session."][/caption] The 2 °C to which he refers is the safe threshold, beyond which we'll begin to see catastrophic climate changes.  4 °C refers to the average surface temperature increase in the next century if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at the rate we are. As Jacobs' statement implies, despite the moderate advances made in Durban, there were also astonishing losses—among those, Canada, Russia and Japan's decisions to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol, citing an inability to meet their reduction targets.  It's clear that no matter what the UN climate conferences achieve, negotiations between state leaders aren't going to be enough. Individuals and businesses must do their part by reducing what they can and offsetting what they can't. Carbonfund.org provides helpful tips and resources for reducing your emissions on our site, as well as tools to help you calculate you, your family, or your business' carbon footprint. Once you've reduced as much as possible, donate to our portfolio of carbon reduction projects to become entirely carbon neutral! To avoid 4 °C, we must remain committed to the fight on climate change.  Join us today!
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