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UNFCCC

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Three years ago, I attended a performance of Athol Fugard’s powerful play “My Children! My Africa!” Set in South Africa at the end of apartheid, the play deals with a conflict over the most effective means to address a great injustice. Throughout the play, there are signs of progress but it’s slow and it’s hard-won. The protagonists struggle to reconcile the growing demand for urgent change with the need to show patience with a fragile process. Sound familiar?

This post originally appeared in the National Journal Energy & Environment Expert Blog. The question was, "What should negotiators seek to accomplish during this year's international climate talks?"

As the climate negotiations open in Durban, we find a peculiar paradox. While expectations for the talks remain quite low, the urgency is very high.

This dynamic is even more pronounced in the United States, where climate change continues to be largely ignored in political circles; except, that is, when the science is under attack. Meanwhile study after study show that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as the climate crisis worsens.

The first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in 2012, and the negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have yet to reach an “agreed outcome” to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions post-2012. This impasse raises the prospect that in a year’s time – even as the scientific evidence mounts that human impact on the climate system is veering out of control – there will be no internationally agreed legally binding commitments regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Are our current efforts to avert dangerous climate change, safeguard the development aspirations of vulnerable communities, and catalyze the transition to a low-carbon future sufficient? One of the key results from last year’s climate talks in Cancun was the decision to periodically review collective efforts to stabilize the climate and prevent global average temperatures from reaching 2°C above preindustrial levels. At COP17 in Durban negotiators will be tasked with finalizing the scope, modalities, and other design elements of the first so-called Periodic Review, which is scheduled to take place between 2013 and 2015. With careful design this often-overlooked product of Cancun could inject urgency and purpose into the negotiations once more.

Though forests play an essential role in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the development of systems to monitor deforestation and forest degradation has been slow. This is due to the demanding technical requirements and the large capacity gaps in many countries. Measuring and monitoring change on the ground and via satellite in a consistent way is no easy task.

Countries need to develop national measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems to monitor progress towards achieving REDD+ goals. Establishing procedures to do so would be a significant outcome of the UN climate negotiations in Durban. This task falls to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

With all its complex processes and acronyms, it’s easy to forget that the international climate change negotiations are supposed to lead to changes on the ground. There have been several developments this year, however, which should remind us of the urgency of the task and the importance of getting each piece of the puzzle right, including incentives for developing countries to reduce their emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

The Cancun Adaptation Framework agreed during COP16 provides potential for a new action orientation to adaptation under the UNFCCC. COP17 in Durban presents a big opportunity to resolve several critical pieces of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, to integrate and streamline the many strands of adaptation negotiations, and to move forward on helping countries around the world adapt. Expectations of significant progress on adaptation are high – especially since Durban is an “African COP,” taking place on a continent where vulnerability to climate change is palpable and affects so many people’s future. But the Durban adaptation agenda is long, and negotiation time limited, so Parties have no time to waste. Key issues are summarized here:

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. This is one reason it is important to track countries’ individual and aggregate progress in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Next week, COP17 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban will mark an essential milestone in the design of an effective system to “measure, report, and verify” countries’ emissions, commitments, and actions. Known as “MRV,” this is one of the fundamental issues to watch in the negotiations.

At the United Nations climate conference (COP17) in Durban, delegates will negotiate detailed decisions on measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV). In another post, we review the importance of MRV and the main decisions facing negotiators in Durban. As negotiators for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) consider new MRV mechanisms, they may not need to reinvent the wheel.

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