Durban diary 11: UN’s global pact won’t pay environmental debt
The three part Durban pact extends the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012; mobilises a $100bn Green Climate Fund by 2020; and sets nations to work on a comprehensive global agreement which is due to be completed by 2015, but will not take effect until 2020. Four more years of talks lie ahead.
Sure, unions would, at the very least, want governments to continue negotiations. And the UK’s Environment Secretary Chris Huhne diligently supported the EU’s climate change Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, in striking a deal that meets the EU’s aims. But his climate diplomacy somewhat had the rug pulled when his Chancellor discredited the UK’s domestic green economy programme in the Autumn Statement.
Osborne said: “We shouldn’t price British business out of the world economy …with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right.” Climate diplomacy is tricky enough without mixed messages on green industrial policy.
Meanwhile, key elements of the UN’s statement include:
- “Governments decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015. Work will begin on this immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.
- Governments, including 35 industrialised countries, agreed a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from January 1, 2013. To achieve rapid clarity, Parties to this second period will turn their economy-wide targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and submit them for review by May 1, 2012.
- This is highly significant because the Kyoto Protocol’s accounting rules, mechanisms and markets all remain in action as effective tools to leverage global climate action and as models to inform future agreements.”
However, binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol cover just 15% of global emissions, mainly from the EU. As things stand, the dangerous 2 degrees temperature threshold is likely to be breached, beyond which scientists say climate change becomes irreversible and catastrophic.
For trade unions, as for many other civil society bodies, there’s a tough fight ahead. Unions will not give up. There’s abundant evidence from the 200-strong union delegation in Durban that across all continents we are actively working on climate strategies from the workplace to national level. For the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the weakness of the global pact is a massive disappointment, a far cry from the ITUC’s essential demands for a fair, ambitious and binding deal:
- A legally binding pact effective 2011 – committing developed countries to reduce emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020, and emerging and developing countries to take actions to develop below “business as usual.
- A second Kyoto Protocol – with high ambitions preserving its legally-binding framework.
- Climate finance – with commitments to provide $100 billion annually by 2020.
- A Just Transition – with the ILO overseeing the UN’s work on green jobs, skills and labour and human rights.
Of course, the Durban accord notes “with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of governments’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees.” With global carbon emissions of around 29 billion tonnes a year, the gigatonne gap between cuts and actual emission reductions is building up an environmental debt that will be increasingly costly to pay back through renewable energy investment.
David Attenborough posed a fundamental question at the end of the final programme in his television series: “Can we respond now to what is happening to the Frozen Planet?” Well, No, it seems we cannot. South Africa’s international relations minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, told delegates that the language of the UN’s agreement takes nations “into the future of the climate change regime.” But, as The Guardian’s Damien Carrington commented, “For all the current talk in Europe of austerity – having no comforts or luxuries as the dictionary defines it – the environmental austerity we face as a result of yet more procrastination is far more daunting.”