The Durban Package: escape hatches, empty shells, and a death notice to equity


IBON* argues that the COP17 outcomes are empty, undermine equity; and therefore communities and movements need to mobilise, to resist.

The next ten years will decide whether the world’s fight against climate change is lost or won. The Durban Package – the set of decisions agreed to in the summit – amounts to more heavy lifting for the South, less obligations for the North, and little help for the poor. It means that the present decade will be a decade of zero progress in curbing global emissions, and one where equity as the basis of the global climate effort will have been abandoned.

Kyoto Protocol

Durban agreed that the Kyoto Protocol – the only treaty regulating the industrialised world’s emissions – will get a second commitment period from 2013 to 2017 or 2020. Countries are expected to convert their emissions pledges into binding targets for adoption in CMP-8 in Qatar. While Kyoto avoided death in Durban, devoid of integrity and substance, it is a corpse surviving on life support. With Japan, Russia, and Canada joining the US out of KP, Kyoto’s second round will cover just a little over one-third of total Annex I emissions and 15% of global emissions. Australia and New Zealand may also pull out. That would leave Kyoto’s second round entirely to Europe. The second round of emission cuts will not be derived from a collective scientific aggregate target but what the second round’s remaining participants will unilaterally pledge next year.

Emissions trading and offsetting (Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanism) will continue in the second round; rules for carbon capture and storage as CDM projects have been approved, after being granted eligibility in Cancun; and surplus allowances and land-use accounting loopholes have not been closed. In exchange for agreeing to keep a mangled Kyoto Protocol alive, the EU secured agreement from developing countries to start a new negotiation process leading to a new legal regime by decade’s end. The understanding is that the regime resulting from these talks will succeed Kyoto – which means that Kyoto’s second round is likely going to be its last. In short, the North has arranged for themselves an escape hatch to a Kyoto-less world via a second commitment period.

Less equity

The new round of negotiations will be done in the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which will begin work in 2012, and conclude with an outcome for adoption in 2015 and entry into force in 2020. The outcome will take the form of “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force,” and will be “applicable to all Parties” of the UNFCCC. The Durban text indicates that the new round will pick up work from the Bali round on areas of interest to developing countries, such as adaptation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building. But its main content is work on a new global mitigation regime.

The Durban Platform means less equity for developing countries and more delay in curbing global emissions. The Durban Platform decision nicely sets up the negotiations to an outcome the North favors: a single global treaty in which all countries take on more or less the same mitigation commitments irrespective of level of development. First, it ends the two-track Bali Roadmap process that would have led to a two-tiered system where the difference between developed and developing country mitigation actions was kept. Second, the text makes no reference to the principles of equity, historical responsibility, or common but differentiated responsibility.

The final arrangement could be one in which poorer countries elevate their obligations at par with rich countries in a strong rules-based regime, or where rich countries dial back theirs in loose and domestically-driven do-nothing regime. In any case, Durban could mark the point where equity, fairness, and the notion of Northern responsibility and leadership as guiding ideas of the international climate effort all received their death notice.

The Durban Platform decision recognises that existing pledges fall short of the necessary cuts to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C, and will initiate work to close this gap from about 2020, a concession to big developing countries for agreeing to the Durban Platform. Until then, all the world will have by way of mitigation actions are the actions countries pledged in 2010. Analyses of these pledges conclude that they put the planet on course to temperature increases of as much as 4-5°C. This decade is crucial in terms of peaking global emissions and the transition to renewable energy systems. Scientists agree that global emissions must peak no later than 2015 and decline rapidly thereafter. Fossil-based infrastructure and technology built over this decade will last decades more into the future, locking us deeper into fossil-dependency. Losing this decade may well cost the world its fight against climate change.

Empty shells: GCF and finance

Durban launched the Green Climate Fund (GCF) with the approval of its governing instrument. Remaining disputes have been settled on the balance in favour of developing countries: the GCF will have legal personality and will have an interim secretariat within the UNFCCC secretariat. Direct private sector access to the Fund has been retained, possibly opening the door for subsidizing large multinationals at the expense of the poor, but a “no-objection procedure” will be devised to give national authorities some say on private sector funding and ensure policy alignment. Yet the GCF is still largely an empty shell, as is the North’s promise to provide scaled up finance. The GCF will rely on voluntary instead of mandatory contributions. Furthermore, there is still no progress in making the North’s pledge of mobilising $100 billion binding; in charting a path to ramp up climate finance towards the 2020 goal; and in identifying and operationalising public sources of finance.

Soil carbon markets.

Durban saw the first time agriculture was included in an LCA outcome – but not for the better. There had been loud voices for “climate smart agriculture” from the World Bank and agribusiness in the sidelines of Durban. Transitioning to sustainable agriculture is important in mitigating emissions, adapting to climate impacts, and ensuring future food security. But the push to include agriculture in the agenda is based on the interest to groom the sector for soil carbon offsetting, and promote corporate industrial agriculture especially in Africa.


Durban showed again how deeply paralysed the UNFCCC process is to deliver the fair and solid action that the poor and the planet need. The North consistently refuses to take responsibility to cut emissions instead of shifting them to poorer countries. By delaying action, Durban’s winners are big corporate polluters and global elites who continue their overconsumption and unsustainable ways.

Time is running out for the world to accomplish a just and sustainable transition. The planet cannot wait for the floundering international negotiations to work. We need a solution grounded on a commitment by governments to steer the world in a new direction – towards a model centered on ending poverty, improving the quality of life, and ensuring basic material and social needs for all, rather than on endless growth, corporate accumulation, and overconsumption of the few. Peoples, communities, and social movements in the North and the South must mobilise to resist big business, push governments, and build alternative systems to set the world on the path to sustainability and equity from the ground up.

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