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A Look Back at the Durban Climate Talks

This post originally appeared in The Environmental Forum: The Policy Journal of the Environmental Law Institute.

The negotiations in South Africa were challenging and the politics complex. Countries were uncertain whether the international community would succeed in laying the groundwork for a legally binding agreement. Until the final weekend the prognosis was bleak, with several predicting the talks would collapse. Hence the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was by no means an insignificant achievement. It was a product of politically sensitive negotiations that saw, for the first time, the emerging economies taking on an active role in shaping a climate agreement. The platform launches a new set of talks, to be concluded by 2015 and operationalized by 2020, that will bring both developed and developing countries on board. While many have described this as an exciting turning point in global climate talks, much work remains to be done to increase the level of ambition in mitigation action beyond 2020. The agreement recognizes the serious shortfall in pledged emission reductions and widening financing gap, but falls short of outlining a real roadmap to keep global temperatures increases to 2 degrees Celsius.

A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was a key demand of developing countries in the lead-up to Durban. The decision to extend the Kyoto Protocol was important in building confidence and trust and provided parties, especially the European Union, with a basis for maintaining the current legal framework as they prepare to negotiate. Questions remain, though on the level of 2020 targets and the length of the second commitment period.

Another important outcome was the decision to launch the Green Climate Fund and approve its governing instrument. Civil society organizations played a role in monitoring the design process to safeguard transparency, participation, and accountability. The decision also clarifies the role of national designated authorities in ensuring that funding proposals are consistent with national climate strategies. This reflects demand from developing countries to create equitable institutional arrangements that provide them greater ownership in accessing and managing climate finance.

Despite the success in launching the GCF, the failure to clearly demonstrate how long-term finance will be provided to developing countries was a setback. Countries agreed to consider options for scaling up climate finance, but without any commitment on funding sources, targets or timelines, developing countries worry that the GCF could be an empty shell.

The next Conference of Parties won’t be easy. The agenda is huge, and there is much technical work to be done to operationalize the Cancun agreements, launch discussions under the Durban platform, and establish the GCF board. It is imperative that countries keep the ambition high, and continue to prepare national plans and strategies toward low-carbon, climate-resilient development while pushing for greater ambition at the international level.

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