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UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

This post was written with Angel Hsu and originally appeared on

As its negotiators head to Durban, South Africa for the next round of the UNFCCC climate negotiations, China can point to significant progress in domestic climate policy since the Cancun negotiations a year ago. March, 2011 saw the adoption of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, binding domestically China’s first phase of its Copenhagen and Cancun commitments to reduce its carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020. In this first year of the new Five Year Plan, China also adopted a number of specific climate-related implementation measures (For a more exhaustive list, see China’s just published White Paper on its climate change activities):

The world must brace for more extreme weather. That is the clear message from a new report that finds climate change is likely to bring more record-breaking temperatures, heat waves, and heavy downpours. The much anticipated Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) – the summary of which was released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – provides new evidence that links extreme weather events and climate change.

This piece was written with Louise Brown, Research Analyst at WRI.

From November 28 to December 9, negotiators will gather in Durban, South Africa, for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP17 meeting. An outcome on climate finance – funds to support climate change mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries – is a key part of the overall Durban agreement. This includes agreeing on how the Green Climate Fund (GCF) will be structured and governed, setting in motion a process to identify how developed countries will meet their long-term finance commitment of $100 billion by 2020, and agreeing on the role, composition and functions of the Standing Committee, a body that will monitor finance flows and enhance overall decision-making on climate finance.

The thousands of delegates preparing to descend on Durban for COP17 should read Robert F. Kennedy’s famous “Day of Affirmation” speech en route. They will discover a call to action as powerful today as it was almost half a century ago. They will also find sensible guidance on how to overcome the sense of drift that has gripped the climate negotiations for much of this past year. If they heed his call they may discover that African soils are not for burying the climate regime as some pessimists suggest, but rather for growing the seeds of its future success.

If one thinks of the ongoing climate negotiations as a paint-by-numbers picture, the Cancun Agreements outlined what to paint and the basic colors to use. In last week’s Panama talks, Parties continued painting with various hues that, once complete, will hopefully create a detailed and beautiful picture. The painting does not yet have a frame, however, as the Parties still have to decide on what kind of “agreed outcome” the negotiations are leading to – i.e., a legally binding agreement or a non-binding one. At the same time the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends in 2012, which adds complexity but also opportunity to the picture.

The American author Tom Peters once wrote “if a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade”. Next week’s UNFCCC session in Panama is the penultimate stop in what has been a long and at times difficult year in the climate negotiations. The road to COP 17 in Durban has featured contentious agenda items, complex issue areas, and moments to test the resolve of the most patient negotiator. Yet despite these trying times glimmers of progress are evident, and as the year draws to a close we are beginning to see outlines of a deal that is both ambitious and imaginable.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that the United Nations is “a bridge upon which we can meet and talk”. The bridge builders were sorely missing during the first week of the latest round of climate negotiations in Bonn. Instead of moving forward on substance and laying the foundations for progress in Durban, negotiators became embroiled in a series of agenda fights. This resulted in days of paralysis in the formal process.

What can we learn from the first week’s events, are there any positives to take going into week two, and what should negotiators do to turn this session around?

As the reporting deadline for 2010 looms, developed countries will need to prove that they are honestly meeting their modest $30 billion commitment.

Today, WRI releases an updated summary of developed countries’ “fast start” climate finance pledges. These funds are intended to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change from 2010-2012.

To date, 21 developed countries and the European Commission have publically announced individual fast-start finance pledges totaling nearly USD 28 billion to meet the USD 30 billion commitment in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.


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