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Week Two in Durban Climate Talks: The Clock is Ticking

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? In the first week of COP17 in Durban, we’ve seen modest progress on many of the fifty-plus issues under negotiation. As ministers arrive for the second week, they need to bring a sense of urgency that will lead to a balanced package that could define success for this climate conference and drive greater ambition ahead.

The ministers will find a range of important issues waiting in their inbox (See WRI’s summary here.)

Among the areas where we’ve seen some progress:

  • On the implementation of the Cancun Agreements, there’s been progress on a number of issues that will make a real difference in the final outcome.

    • Despite the current global economic challenges, Parties have advanced the governance arrangements of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and for the establishment of a body - the Standing Committee - to enhance decision-making around climate finance.
    • On measurement, reporting and verification (MRV), draft decision text is now on the table that clarifies Party positions and options for accounting, reporting and review of greenhouse gas emissions, commitments, and actions, and finance.
    • With regard to technology, negotiators are reporting good progress and a constructive spirit, so that it seems likely they can resolve the tricky institutional questions to make operational the technology mechanism agreed in Cancun.
  • There have been signals that some key countries are keen to preserve the Kyoto Protocol, although the form, length and composition of a second commitment period remain open questions. What is clear is that the majority of Parties are eager to maintain Kyoto’s mechanisms, but more importantly they see value in defending the notion of a binding instrument while retaining the principle of equity and differentiation of commitments between developed and developing countries in the short term.

  • On the mandate for a future legally binding agreement, most of the major players have been coming out in support of a legally binding route, however there is considerable ambiguity in Parties’ positions and as a result, the potential for convergence remains uncertain. (Read more about the challenge of legal form in Jake Werksman's post.)

Getting to Yes in Week Two

Heading into the second week, a number of key issues remain to be resolved. This starts with a frank recognition that patience is being stretched, with real differences on the level of financial resources, the scale of ambition, and the shape of a future long-term climate regime.

  • On finance, we are looking for clear signals from developed countries of their intent to capitalize the GCF and begin the journey towards the long-term finance goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020. Finalizing the architecture of the fund is a good start, but success will be measured by the scale and flow of real resources.

  • On MRV, ministers should ensure that the international consultations around national reports will be public so that the process is truly transparent. There should be common accounting for Annex I countries and clarification of all countries’ pledges to ensure environmental integrity. The review process for all countries should result in a set of recommendations to facilitate implementation of actions and improvements in reporting. Lastly, technical details matter, so despite the pressure to “seal the deal,” it is important to maintain in the decision the tables that will ensure that countries report information in enough detail and in a harmonized manner.

What’s needed is a specific step-by-step plan and timeline that drives urgency and ambition, building upon the Kyoto Protocol and creating a framework for a global, binding agreement by 2015.

  • As the second week begins, ministers have the opportunity to establish a clear roadmap to a legally binding agreement in the very near future. What’s needed is a specific step-by-step plan and timeline that drives urgency and ambition, building upon the Kyoto Protocol and creating a framework for a global, binding agreement by 2015.


Much of the talk around the corridors of the International Convention Center is about whether countries can find common ground and come to an agreement around these issues over the next several days. Many people are saying we are taking baby steps, when we need long strides to reach the end goal.

Over the coming days here in South Africa, all of us would do well to heed the warning in the conclusion of Fugard’s wonderful play: “The clocks are ticking, my friends. History has got a strict timetable. If we’re not careful we might be remembered as the country where everybody arrived too late.”

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