Europe in the middle

Durban’s first day of negotiations was a fight for framing the debate – who is not doing their share? How much time do we have to reach a long term agreement? Was the Cancun agreement a huge success or rather just a stepping stone?
Umbrella group, representing The US, Canada and other developed nations described a reality of relative success post Cancun, with a challenge of implementation and widening the circles of participation in emission reduction through it. While they did not claim that time was in abundance, US negotiator Jonathan Pershing’s estimation that a long term agreement would not happen until 2020 illustrated de facto acceptance of he pace negotiations have been conducted. Reciprocity was also key issue – we cannot move ahead until all emitting parties are seriously committed to binding mitigation goals, as the emission map today is highly different than it was 20 years ago when the convention was being drafted.

The G77 plus China as well as other developing nations Tried to draw an opposite reality. Aosis, the group representing small island nation states, cried “the time for action is now”, not willing to accept further delay on mitigation which might endanger their very existence with sea level rise threatening to put them under, literally. Developing nations argued for developed nations responsibility to immediately increase mitigation efforts through legally binding instruments – most notably by ensuring a second commitment period to Kyoto, in which the US and others would also participate. At the same time a long term agreement should be reached based on the “common but differentiated” principle, laying most of the responsibility on developed nations.

Europe tried to offer a bridge: urgency is real. If serious action is not taken in the next five years, effects of climate change will be irreversible. Already we are paying the price of inaction with extreme weather events becoming more forceful and frequent. Thus, while operationalizing the Cancun agreement is an immediate necessity, it is not sufficient. Durban must also establish a road map that would lead to a legally binding agreement, in which all states would be legally committed in a similar way, but to different goals based on their differentiated responsibility and capacity. The key is creating concrete deadlines, new arenas for discussions, a new framework that would cover much more than Kyoto’s 25% of emissions and more than the Cancun obligations which leave an ambition gap not providing the necessary revolution to avoid the adverse reality of climate change.

So which will it be? Discussions of implementing what has already been agreed upon, or a groundbreaking new basis for a long term agreement?  Europe is trying to get it all, hoping to turn Durban into a practical but historical milestone in climate change history.